February 11, 2011

Mars-500 Team ‘Landing’ On Mars Saturday

On Saturday a group of volunteers will reach a stage in their one-and-a-half year experiment to study the effects of a mission to Mars when they "land" on the Red Planet's surface.

Three of the six volunteers will "touch down" on Saturday before moving out of their lander for a first "space walk" Monday on the Martian surface.

The landing marks the approximate halfway point for the experiment in which participants spend 520 days in isolation from the world to test how humans would respond to the pressure of the long voyage.

The first steps of Mars for the three volunteers from Italy, Russia and China will be relayed to the flight control center that monitors real space missions, which is part of an experiment organized by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems.

The team of six men have been locked up since June in a mock-up spaceship to test the psychological effects of an 18-month round trip to Mars experiment known as Mars500.

The volunteers aged from mid-20s to late 30s are crammed into a mock-up spaceship just 60-feet long and less than 12-feet across.

Phone calls are barred, although email and radio communication is allowed, with a time delay, and the men eat the same food in tubes as astronauts.

Russian Alexander Smoleyevsky, Italian Diego Urbina and Chinese Wang Yue are the three men who will land on Mars while Romain Charles from France and Sukhrob Kamolov from Russia will "remain in orbit" on a separate module.

Smoleyevsky and Urbina will jump into modified Russian Orlan spacesuits and exit the lander's airlock on Monday for the first of three space walks onto a simulated Martian surface next to their capsule.

They will rejoin their colleagues "in orbit" around Mars on February 27.

The crew will carry out scientific experiments for about a month in an environment designed to mimic that of Mars.  The crew was scheduled to have entered Mars' orbit on February 1.

Jennifer Ngo-Anh, the organizer at the ESA, insisted that the virtual astronauts take their work very seriously.  "They will do everything as in a real Mars mission," she told AFP.

"Of course, during a real trip to Mars, there are additional, other challenges that we have to address, for example: gravity and the problem of radiation."

She said that despite the monotony and close quarters, the crew members were "highly motivated and enthusiastic."

Their space ship is due to "land" back on Earth in November, ending 520 days of isolation.

The same Moscow institute earlier carried out experiments on the effects of prolonged weightlessness in which volunteers spent a week lying in a bath.  Six volunteers simulated spending 105 days in a space flight last year.

Russia plans to send a real flight to Mars in 20 to 30 years, possibly in a joint effort with NASA.


On the Net: