Beating boredom was biggest challenge for 'Mars astronauts'
Six men who spent 520 days locked in a series of metal tubes in a Moscow car park to simulate a mission to Mars emerged blinking into the daylight yesterday, saying their biggest enemy had been boredom.
Visibly delighted that their peculiar ordeal was over, one of the participants, Romain Charles, said the key to staying sane had been keeping busy and not giving in to boredom.
The endurance test, called Mars 500, was organised by the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems in co-operation with the European Space Agency. They wanted to study the effects of long-haul space flight on humans in anticipation of a real mission to Mars, even though that is decades away.
The volunteers' days were strictly regimented, with eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours for leisure.
They were able to communicate with loved ones via email -- albeit with a delay to simulate deep space. For leisure, the men -- who were paid the equivalent of about €74,000 -- read, learnt foreign languages, watched DVDs, played video games and were occasionally allowed to watch news bulletins. They also grew tomatoes, peas and onions in the greenhouse. There was no zero gravity, though, and no women present, to avoid sexual tension.
"On this mission we have achieved the longest isolation ever so that humankind can go to a distant but reachable planet." Alexei Sitev, the captain, told assembled officials after they emerged on Thursday.
The six must now undergo medical tests and will not emerge in public again until a press conference on Tuesday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)