Six men "take off" for 520-day simulated Mars trip

Thu Jun 3, 2010 11:21am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Clad in a blue jumpsuit and waving, crew member Sukhrob Kamolov quipped "See you in 520 days!" before hopping into sealed-off chambers Thursday with five other men taking part in a simulated trip to Mars.

To cheers and air kisses from their wives and relatives, three Russians, a Chinese man, a Frenchman and an Italian-Colombian entered the wood-paneled modules where they will live until November 2011, in an experiment to test how isolation affects people.

"So many experiments out there must be done for the first time, and this is what we are doing for Mars," Anatoly Grigoriev, vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told reporters before the crew "departed."

But the European Space Agency (ESA) said it would be at least 30 years before humans could go to Mars, adding it would take up to nine months each way to reach it.

Unlike a real trip to the Red Planet, the crew on the record-breaking Mars500 simulated flight, housed in Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems, will have gravity and no exposure to radiation.

But as on a true Mars mission, there is an alcohol ban, no fresh air, vegetables must be grown on board and the only contact with Earth will be via e-mail, with a 40-minute delay.

"When I was a little boy I asked if I could go to Mars and I am now proud that I am part of making this one day happen," said Frenchman Romain Charles, who added he will bring along his guitar for entertainment.

Wang Yue, who had trained to be an astronaut in China, said he would learn Russian during the 520 days spent closeted away to communicate with the rest of the crew.   Continued...

<p>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. A crew of six, who have begun a simulated mission to Mars in a mockup that includes an interplanetary spaceship and Mars lander, will be isolated for 520 days to test human endurance. The crew comprises of (L-R): Alexey Sitev, Wang Yue, Romain Charles, Sukhrob Kamolov, Diego Urbina and Alexander Smoleevskiy. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin</p>