Mars crew "lands" after 520 days in isolation

Fri Nov 4, 2011 8:15pm EDT
 
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Pale-faced but smiling, the crew of a long-duration isolation study emerged bleary-eyed to daylight and applause on Friday after 520 days locked away in windowless, cramped cells to simulate the length of a journey to Mars.

The $15 million Mars500 experiment aims to answer one of the big unknowns of deep-space travel: can people stay healthy and sane during six months rocketing to the Red Planet?

The six male volunteers were allowed to briefly embrace family and friends before being ushered into a three-day quarantine period at the end of an experiment to recreate the psychological strain of a real Mars mission as closely as possible.

Clothed in blue jumpsuits, the would-be astronauts from Europe, Russia and China grinned and waved as the heavy metal door was shut on their home of the last 17 months in a mock spaceship at a Moscow research institute.

"It's really, really great to see you all again, rather heartwarming," said Diego Urbina, an Italian-Colombian participant, who was shaky and red-eyed.

"On this mission we've achieved the longest isolation ever so that humankind can go to a distant but reachable planet."

Psychologists fear a return to the noise and activity of ordinary life will come as a shock to the men.

"Time seems to have flown by since we closed the hatch last year. But how time really felt to the crew we'll soon know. Probably we'll have a very big difference of opinion," said Igor Ushakov, head of the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems, which runs the "spaceship."   Continued...

 
<p>Mars500 experiment crew members react after leaving the mock spaceship in Moscow November 4, 2011. REUTERS/IBMP/Oleg Voloshin/Handout</p>