January 21, 2011

Mars500 Crew Gets Ready To ‘Land’ Mock Mission

The Mars500 mission director said on Friday that six researchers on a 520-day mock flight to Mars are all feeling ready to "land" on the Red Planet after 233 days in a locked steel capsule.

The all-male crew of three Russians, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Italian-Colombian has been inside windowless capsules at a Moscow research center since June.  The crew's mission is to help real space crews in the future cope with the confinement and stress of interplanetary travel.

The researchers are communicating to the outside world through e-mails and video messages.  The crew members eat canned food similar to that eaten on the International Space Station (ISS) and shower only once a week.

Mission director and former cosmonaut Boris Morukov told reporters on Friday that none of the men have considered abandoning the mission, although they are free to walk out at any time.

"They are still motivated, but there is a certain fatigue, which is natural," he said.

The men are due to "land" on Mars on February 12 and spend two days researching the planet.  They then start the months-long return flight back to Earth.

"It will be very tough on the boys because of the monotony," Morukov told reporters. "The fatigue and the thought that the mission is over can be fraught with negative consequences."

The crew stays in living quarters the size of a bus and has other modules connected to the mock-ship for experiments and exercise.  A separate built in imitator of Mars' surface is attached for the mock landing.

A real mission to Mars is decades away because of its huge costs and major technological challenges, particularly the task of creating a compact shield that would protect the crew from deadly space radiation.

Morukov said Friday that mission control will create mock emergencies for the crew to keep them busy on their way back to Earth.

The men spent a day in the dark in December after mission control simulated an emergency blackout, which left them with only a few back-up generators so they had to prioritize their needs.

Morukov said that the organizers did not internationally leave out women but just could not find the right candidate.

The organizers of the mission said before it started that each crew member will be paid $97,000 for taking part in the experiment.


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