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ESA Presents European Participants in 520-day Simulated Mars Mission

March 12, 2010

A crew of six, including two Europeans, will soon begin a simulated mission to Mars in a mockup that includes an interplanetary spaceship, a Mars lander and a martian landscape. The Mars500 experiment, as long as a real journey to Mars, will be second to none as the ultimate test of human endurance.

Four ESA-selected Europeans, Belgian Jerome Clevers, Arc’hanmael Gaillard and Romain Charles from France and Colombian-Italian Diego Urbina, started the mission training at the end of February with the other crew-members at the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow. Two of these four candidates will be selected as European participants in Mars500. This first full-duration simulated mission to Mars will start in a special human habitat at IBMP in Moscow next summer.

The Mars500 name comes from the blueprint for a possible human Mars mission in the future using conventional propulsion: 250 days for the trip to Mars, 30 days on the martian surface and 240 days for the return journey, totaling 520 days.

Apart from the technical challenges, the big question on a long mission to Mars is the human factor: how best to select and prepare humans to mentally and physically endure a spaceflight of at least one and half years -possibly much longer- in a closed environment, seeing the same faces, under constant stress and isolated from family and friends on Earth.

The European candidates who will help to answer these fundamental questions will be presented to the media on 22 March 2010 at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Media representatives wishing to attend the event are kindly requested to fill in the attached accreditation form and return it by fax to the ESA Headquarters Media Relations Office by March 18, 2010.

Background

Extensive preparations

The upcoming 520-day isolation study is the key part of the Mars500 program that began back in 2007. The first phase in November 2007 was a 14-day simulation that mainly tested the facilities and operational procedures. The second phase followed in 2009, when four Russian and two European crew-members were shut into the facility for 105 days on 31 March. One of the current European candidates, Arc’hanmael Gaillard, was a member of the backup crew for that 105-day study.

During the long-duration experiment, the crew will be hermetically isolated in a confined habitat with limited consumables and communication only via the internet, occasionally disrupted and with a 20-minute delay, as for a real Mars mission owing to the distance between the spacecraft and Earth. The crew will be monitored and their psychological, medical and physical signs recorded throughout the mission. This will benefit the technical development and operational planning of long-duration human exploration missions in the future.

The Mars500 experiment is being conducted by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) with extensive participation by ESA. ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight is undertaking Mars500 as part of its European Program for Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS) to prepare for future human missions to the Moon and Mars.

The facility is located on the IBMP site in Moscow, in a special building that houses the isolation unit and the operations control center, technical services and offices. The isolation facility comprises four hermetically sealed interconnected habitat modules, along with an external module for simulating the martian surface. The total interior volume of the modules is 550 cubic meters.

Living like astronauts on the ISS

The European candidates started their training in Moscow for the isolation experiment on 25 February with their Russian and Chinese counterparts. Finally, six of them, two from Europe, three from Russia and potentially also one from China, will form a crew that will spend about 520 days (possibly even up to 700) in a mockup. The candidates have been selected like astronauts on criteria such as education, professional experience, medical fitness and social habits. They all speak Russian and English and have experience in medicine, engineering, biology and information technology.

During the simulated Mars ‘surface operations’ after 250 days, the crew will be divided up: three will move to the martian surface simulator and three will remain in the orbiting ‘spacecraft’. The external hatch will be closed for a month. The crewmembers on the ‘surface’ will also do spacewalks wearing modified Russian Orlan spacesuits.

The crew will have all the food stored inside the habitat needed for the whole duration of the experiment, so they will have to ration their supplies for the entire time. The diet will be identical to that of the crews on the International Space Station (ISS). Tasks performed by the crew are identical to those of the ISS astronauts: operations, maintenance, scientific experiments and daily exercise. They will work shifts within a seven-day week with two days off, except when special and emergency situations are simulated.

This mission might lack some of the glory and feeling of the real flight, but it is just as tough and will yield a lot of experience for the future. The first humans to walk on Mars will surely remember these pioneers.

Image Caption: The Mars500 study is set to take place in a special facility at the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. Credit: ESA – S. Corvaja

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