It seemed more like a bizarre reality TV show than high-tech international space travel experiment: Six men lived in cramped, windowless compartments for more than 17 months to simulate a mission to Mars.
When they emerged from their claustrophobic capsules yesterday in Moscow, the researchers in blue jumpsuits looked haggard but were all smiles -- dreaming of lying on the beach, taking long strolls and driving fast cars.
Organisers said the 520-day experiment was the longest mock space mission ever, measuring human responses to the confinement, stress and fatigue of a round trip to Mars -- minus the weightlessness, of course.
The facility at Russia's premier space medicine centre, included living compartments the size of a bus, connected with several other similarly sized modules for experiments and exercise.
Scientists who organised the mock Mars mission said it differed from the other experiments by relying on the latest achievements in space medicine and human biology.
The crew of three Russians, one Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese will be paid about $100,000 each.
The crew will spend three days in quarantine before holding a news conference.
Midway through the mission, the crew even conducted a mock landing, venturing from their quarters in heavy space suits to trudge into a sand-covered room and plant the flags of Russia, China and the European Space Agency on a simulated Martian surface.
A real flight to Mars is a distant prospect due to challenges such as creating a lightweight spacecraft that would shield the crew from deadly cosmic radiation.