May 4, 2010

ESA Preparing For Simulated Mars Mission

A group of volunteer astronauts are beginning their final round of training in preparation for a simulated mission to Mars that will last 520 days, according to Tuesday media reports.

In late May or early June, a team of three Russian, one Chinese, and a pair of European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts will be locked into a 1,000 square foot module near Moscow. The mission, which has been dubbed Mars500, was designed to simulate the journey from Earth to the Red Planet, and will help illustrate the possible physical and mental toll that it will take on the participants.

As part of the simulated mission, three members of the team will be quarantined to a module designed to mimic the Mars landing craft, while two others will be asked to explore a mock-up of the planet's surface. They will spend eight hours of each day working, sleep for another eight hours, and have the rest of the day available for leisure time, according to Elise Menand of the AFP.

"The biggest risk of such an isolation is psychological," Alexander Suvorov, the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) researcher in charge of the experiment, told Menand on May 3. "Of course relations between the crew will not always be harmonious, some will get on with others, others will not. But the priority is to be able to carry out tasks in spite of this."

"Mars500 will be the first full-duration simulated mission to Mars, starting in a special facility in Moscow next summer," the ESA website notes, adding that 250 days of the mission will simulate the journey to Mars, 30 days will simulate the surface exploration portion, and the remaining 240 days will simulate the return trip back to Earth.

Vital signs will be monitored throughout the mission, according to the ESA, and food rations for the missions will be provided. Furthermore, the agency notes, "Tasks performed by the crew will be comparable to those of the ISS [International Space Station] astronauts, but for a much longer time: maintenance, scientific experiments and daily exercise."

"This mission might lack some of the glory and feeling of the real spaceflight, but it will be just as tough. The first humans to walk on Mars will surely remember these pioneers," the website adds.


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