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18-Month Mars500 Mission Has Begun

Mars500 520-day isolation crew photographed just before the entry to the facility at 13:49 local time in Moscow (11:49 CET) on 3 June 2010. They will stay in the facility for more than 17 months simulating a mission to Mars. Credits: ESA / Elena Tokmantseva
by Staff Writers
Moscow, Russia (ESA) Jun 04, 2010
Hatch closed: 18-month Mars500 mission has begun. Mars500, the first full-length simulated mission to Mars, started today in Moscow at 13:49 local time (11:49 CET), when the six-man crew entered their 'spacecraft' and the hatch was closed. The experiment will run until November next year.

The mood was serious and very determined in the Mars500 facility at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow this afternoon, as the crew talked to the press and then walked into the modules that will be their home for the next 520 days.

Diego Urbina and Romain Charles from Europe, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Mikhail Sinelnikov from Russia and Wang Yue from China face a mission that is as close as possible to a real space voyage without leaving the ground. They will live and work like astronauts, eat special food and exercise in the same way as crews aboard the International Space Station.

Their mission is to 'fly to Mars' in 250 days, 'land on and explore Mars' for a month and 'return to Earth' in 230 days, using their imitation interplanetary spacecraft, lander and martian surface.

The hatch will remain closed until November 2011 and the crew must manage using the food and equipment stored in the facility. Only electricity, water and some air will be fed into the compartments from outside.

Problems ahead
In addition to testing many novel technologies, Mars500 is an extreme test of human endurance. Staying almost 18 months inside the metallic containers will be hard, even after being trained and briefed by astronauts and submariners.

The crew will no doubt have their ups and downs during the long mission, and these psychological changes are a key part of the experiment.

The 'astronauts' will normally divide their weekdays equally between work, free time and rest, with the weekends usually free. They have taken plenty of films, books, games, musical instruments and entertainment with them.

Their bodies will start to adapt to the new conditions - a closed environment with restricted space can quickly lead to poor physical condition. The crew need to exercise up to two hours a day, but they can shower only once a week.

What have I forgotten? Preparing everything from soap and clothing to food and spare camera batteries for a self-contained 18-month mission is a critical and complex task.

And finally the technology: the facility is not a spacecraft, but it uses many systems that will be found on a real Mars craft. Testing these in realistic conditions is important. The crew have been trained to repair every single bolt of their 'craft' and outside help will be given only in extreme situations.

related report
Mars 'expedition' starts in Moscow
The participants in a simulated Mars expedition waved good-bye to journalists, sealed the hatches and "took off" for a 520-day "space trip" on Thursday, a spokesman for the Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems said.

Six people will take part in the experiment in the Mars-500 module, which will simulate all aspects of a journey to the Red Planet, with a 250-day trip there, a 30-day stay on its surface, and a 240-day return flight, Pavel Morgunov said.

The exploration of Mars has been an important part of the space exploration programs of the Soviet Union, the United States, Europe, and Japan. It has become a focus of the U.S. space program as President Barack Obama scrapped the lunar program earlier this year.

During nearly two years of isolation, the crew members will experience many of the conditions likely to be encountered by astronauts on a real space flight, except for radiation and weightlessness.

Three of the six crew members will leave the "spacecraft" and "walk" on Mars, becoming the first people to "set foot" on the Red Planet.

Each of the crew members will receive about 3 million rubles ($100,000) for participating in the mission, which is headed by Russia's Alexei Sityev.

The crew will communicate with Earth via e-mails with a 40-minute delay, Morgunov said. The crew's "spacecraft" is equipped with a laboratory, living area, warehouse and mini-garden.

The project initially involved 11 candidates: seven candidates from Russia and one each from China, France, Italy and Belgium. Three Russians, a Frenchman, a Chinese, and an Italian have been selected to take part in the mission.

The French astronaut packed a guitar for the mission, while his Italian space buddy took an electronic percussion instrument "to accompany his friend."

Morgunov said that after this mission is completed, the next one was proposed to be comprised of women.

related report
Google launches Mars flight simulation mission's online flight logbook
The Russian scientific institute that started on Thursday the Mars-500 simulation of a manned mission to the Red Planet has launched an interactive website on the experiment in cooperation with Google.

The new website, created by Google and the Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, carries a wealth of information about the 520-day experiment and about the planet itself.

The logbook is based on Google Blogger platform and is fully devoted to the Mars-500 project.

Google said in a statement that the site ( would allow visitors to "experience what the flight to Mars is like" and let them explore the Red Planet.

"You'll be able to watch detailed video reports about Mars-500 and take a virtual tour of Mars. Walk along the Valles Marineris canyons, climb the Olympus Mons, (or even) take a peek into the Gusev crater or climb down into one of Mars' lakes," the statement said.

Visitors will also be able to monitor the progress of the flight with an interactive map showing the location of the 'spaceship,' its speed and distance covered.

Six people are taking part in the experiment in the Mars-500 module, which will simulate all aspects of a journey to the Red Planet, with a 250-day trip there, a 30-day stay on the surface, and a 240-day return flight.

During nearly a year and a half of isolation, the crew members will experience many of the conditions likely to be encountered by astronauts on a real space flight, except for radiation and weightlessness.

Meanwhile, a real mission to the Red Planet will not become possible until at least 2030 or 2035, the head of Roscosmos manned spaceflight programs, Alexei Krasnov said on Thursday.

"A real mission to Mars before 2035 is hardly possible. Present technology does not allow us to build a Martian spacecraft small enough: if you built it now, it would be the size of the International Space Station," Krasnov said.

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