March 30, 2009

Officials, Volunteers Prepare For Mars Simulator Mission

A simulated manned mission to Mars, scheduled to start on Tuesday, will see six European and Russian volunteers locked up in a capsule in Moscow for over three months to simulate the conditions of a trip to the Red Planet, the AFP reported.

The crew will spend 105 days at the facility until their "mission" ends, allowing scientists to assess the psychological effects of long duration space flight.

The scientific experiment will show the impact of prolonged isolation on stress, hormones, sleep and mood.

The participants are allowed to take books, laptops and DVDs into the facility at Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow.

The IBMP's strict rules for the experiment state that the volunteers can only quit the capsule if they have decided to pull out of the experiment for good.

It said in a mission statement: "The evacuation of individual members of the crew due to illness or personal wish is comparable to the 'death' of the cosmonaut."

The main obstacle for a manned mission to Mars is ensuring the full autonomy of the crew for the year-and-a-half round trip, the Institute said.

"The crew will themselves resolve all problems and uncomfortable situations which do not require the evacuation of crew members," the IBMP said.

Any communications with a mission control center and loved ones outside will be subjected to a time delay of 20 minutes, to exactly simulate possible scenarios of a manned mission.

Each participant inside the 19,500 cubic feet facility will have tiny individual bedrooms a maximum of 34 square feet in area, which have been minimally furnished with a desk, chair and small bed.

There is also a "landing module simulator" which the crew will occupy for the 30 day "orbit" around Mars, which will replicate the exact conditions of a Mars mission.

By the end of the year, the IBMP and the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning to send six more crew into the isolation facility for 520 days to match the estimated duration of a return trip to Mars.

Both the ESA and NASA are hoping for a manned flight to Mars within 30 years from now.

Mars varies from 34 million miles to more than 250 million miles from Earth.


Image 2: The Mars500 study will take place in a special facility at IBMP in Moscow


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