Mock Mars mission to test mettle of recruits
SPENDING long periods in a confined space is a trusted method of testing potential astronauts for the "right stuff", but nothing can prepare them for the reality of a genuine space mission.
The most obvious difference for the six men who will spend 520 days in five inter-connected modules on the ground in Moscow on a simulated Mars journey -- apart from the lack of real danger -- is that they will not be exposed to the weightlessness of space, a state that takes its toll on the human body.
In space, fluids within the body get redistributed, leading to a build-up in the chest and head. The heart rate falls, fewer red blood cells are produced, the immune system weakens and astronauts begin to experience sleep problems, nasal congestion, puffiness in the face and excessive flatulence.
Ten years ago, the European Space Agency tried to simulate -- without real success -- the effects of long-term weightlessness by recruiting a couple of dozen able-bodied young men to spend three months in bed.
And while claustrophobia may not always be associated with space travel, it can also become a problem. And the psychological pressures of spending long periods in the 'Mars 500 spaceship' with five other men cannot match the pressures of a real mission. For one thing, the researchers are free to leave if they can't cope any more. (© Independent News Service)