Six astronauts from around the world taking part in a mock mission to Mars have just emerged from 520 days in isolation. NASA aim to land on the red planet by the 2030’s, so we have already started practising.
The main aim of the Moscow Mars500 experiment was to see if the men could survive the journey to Mars and back, while remaining healthy and sane. After 17 months in their 550-cubic meter windowless mock spaceship, the crew all appear well. According to psychologists, the challenge for them now is dealing with the shock that returning to a busy and active normal life will bring.
The crew lived on rations similar to those available on the International Space Station, while being subjected to daily urine and blood testing. The experiment was designed to imitate a real mission as accurately as possible. Even the communication equipment with which the crew kept in touch with the research unit, located only meters away from them physically, was subjected to disruptions and delays. A mock landing also took place at the mission’s half way point, as crew members put on spacesuits and stomped around in a dark, sand-filled room, designed to replicate the surface of Mars. Throughout the experiment various researchers from different fields studied the crew’s every move by 24 hour surveillance cameras.
The experiment was a much greater success than a similar mock mission in 2000, which did not go so smoothly. It ended in a drunken fistfight and one participant trying to forcibly kiss a female colleague.
Although officials say it will be many decades before we have the technology to survive the cosmic radiation and travel the 35 million miles to our nearest neighbouring planet. We now know our astronauts are mentally and physically capable of making it.