China launches 200-day simulated space station experiment

Four Chinese University students have begun a 200-day experiment in which they will live in a simulated space station, isolated from the rest of the world and forced to survive using only the resources that they would find while living on another world, according to media reports.

Dubbed Lunar Palace 365, the experiment is taking place in Beijing and will force the students to obtain oxygen from plants grown in the facility, recycle their own urine into drinkable water, and to complete daily tasks in a station completely devoid of sunlight, explained Engadget.

“We’ve designed it so the oxygen (produced by plants at the station) is exactly enough to satisfy the humans, the animals, and the organisms that break down the waste materials,” Liu Hong, a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Beihang University) and the coordinator of the Lunar Palace 365 project, told Reuters on Sunday.

However, while preparations were made to ensure that the students’ physical needs were taken care of, Liu emphasized that it was important to make sure that their emotional health was also taken into consideration. “They can become a bit depressed,” the professor noted. “If you spend a long time in this type of environment it can create some psychological problems.”

While participants will be given a series of daily tasks to complete in order to keep them happy, students who were involved with a similar, shorter-length experiment to concluded recently told Reuters that they sometimes felt “a bit low” after finishing up their work for a given day.

Similar experiments also ongoing in Hawaii, according to reports

Last August, a similar project, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) came to an end after participants spent a full year living in a simulated space station, according to Engadget. That NASA-backed initiative was deemed to be a success, showing that a group could continue to work together and be productive during an extended off-world stay.

Conducted atop the dome on  Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, HI-SEAS was designed to show that astronauts could survive the mental and physical rigors of a mission to Mars. The crew members could only leave their living facility if they wore spacesuits, and they could only eat simple foods such as canned or powdered goods. It was like camping, but for a much longer period of time.

Experiments like these are “vital when it comes to picking crews, figuring out how people are going to actually work on different kinds of missions, and… the human factors element of space travel [and] colonization,” Tristan Bassingthwaighte, a University of Hawaii at Manoa student who served as the architect for the HI-SEAS crew, said in a statement last August.

“I can give you my personal impression which is that a mission to Mars in the close future is realistic. I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome,” said Cyprien Verseux, a HI-SEAS crew member from France. Another HI-SEAS experiment began back in January but is only expected to last eight months, according to a university press release, and one has also been scheduled to take place in 2018.


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