Fake Mars mission to open hatch on 520 days isolation

Thu Nov 3, 2011 8:57am EDT
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The crew of an isolation experiment to simulate a 520-day mission to Mars are in the final countdown before the opening on Friday of the hatch on the windowless cells in which they have been locked away since June last year.

The $15-million Mars500 experiment aims to answer one of the big questions of deep-space travel: could people endure the stresses of a voyage of more than six months to the Red Planet?

The six male volunteers from Europe, China and Russia are not exposed to weightlessness or solar radiation, but in just about every other way life inside the 550-cubic-meter mock spaceship in Moscow resembles that of a real space flight.

Clothed in blue jumpsuits, the would-be astronauts take daily urine and blood samples, eat rations like those of real astronauts and do not shower often.

Communication with the outside world comes with a 20-minute lag and the crew have faced power outages and other impromptu glitches.

Halfway through, two crew members donned 32-kg (70-pound) spacesuits to clomp about in a dark sand-filled container meant to imitate the surface of Mars.

"The research we have points to levels of high stress," said Igor Ushakov, the head of the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems which runs the "spaceship."

"The most difficult thing for them was being starved of information."   Continued...

<p>In this file photo, participants of the Mars500 experiment, which simulates a 520-day flight to Mars, pose for a picture before entering a confinement module to start their mission in Moscow June 3, 2010. The crew comprises of (L-R): Alexey Sitev, Wang Yue, Romain Charles, Sukhrob Kamolov, Diego Urbina and Alexander Smoleevskiy. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin</p>