Volunteers Prepare For 520 Day, Mars500 Experiment
On June 3rd, six of these men will make their way into a sealed five-capsule, 1,000sq.ft. metal unit, where they will spend the next 520 days. The seventh person, a back-up will get to go only if one of the core six has to back out for any reason.
No, they are not being punished for some bad deeds, but are the lucky ones, who got picked from the thousands that applied to participate in Mars500, an experiment to observe human behavior, when people are placed in such close quarters, for long periods of time.
The simulation, conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) in a mock spacecraft located at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems in Moscow, is necessary if humans are going to go on space missions of six months or longer.
To mimic the exact conditions of a real mission, the team, which comprises of three Russian, two European and one Chinese national, will each be allowed only 3ft. of personal space and follow a strict regiment of working for seven days, with two days off. They will be allowed to take a few personal items, have access to books, films and laptops and be able to exercise.
Once the isolation period starts, their only contact with the world will be via time-delayed e-mail or through the mission controllers. They will also have to manage resources like food and water, so that it lasts them for the entire time they are together.
After 250 days (the time estimated to get to the red planet), the volunteers will be split into two groups - One will stay in the spacecraft, while the other will 'exit' for 30 days to simulate exploring the surface of Mars - Then it will 240 days together again, to get back to Earth.
The most amazing part about this group of people, who don't even speak a common language, is that none of them will ever go to Mars - Partly because only one of them is an astronaut, but largely because, we do not yet have the capability to do this kind of a journey. However, thanks to the lessons learnt from their interaction, one of you, may be able to visit the red planet sometime in the future.
This is not the first time ESA has tried this sort of isolation experiment. In 2009, they confined a six-men crew under similar conditions. While the experiment went well, it was a much shorter time period of 105 days. We wonder how this one will end. To read more about the Mars500 project, check out www.esa.int/esaMI/Mars500.
sources: esa.int.com, telegraph.co.uk