On June 3rd 2010, six brave astronauts bid adieu to their family and friends and launched off to Mars - This of course was not an actual mission to the Red Planet, but a simulated journey that entailed confining them inside a sealed five-capsule 1000sq.ft. unit, for 520 days.
Spearheaded by the European Space Agency (ESA), the mission was conducted largely to observe how humans would interact with each other, if forced to live in close quarters for long periods of time, which would be the case when astronauts embark on a real mission to Mars.
The living capsule comprised of 6 individual compartments, a tiny dining area, a control room and a bathroom. A separate utility module contained a greenhouse to grow some vegetables and fruit, a refrigerator for perishable food and, a gym.
In order to make it as realistic as possible, the astronauts' only contact with the outside world after they 'left' earth, was via time-delayed e-mail or through the mission controllers. They also had to manage their food and water, since there are no places to stock-up, along the way.
On February 12th, the mission reached a major milestone - The shuttle's Lander module separated from the Mothership and made a successful landing on the Red Planet. In this case it meant that three of the six men moved to an even tinier compartment within the modular buildings and stayed there for about a month, conducting experiments and spacewalks, as well as, collecting samples from the surface of the pretend Red Planet.
Meanwhile, the other three astronauts, which included Russia's Alexei Sityov and Sukhrob Kamolov and France's Romain Charles, remained aboard the Mothership and continued to orbit, awaiting the successful return of their colleagues.
On February 23rd, after completing a wildly successful mission, the six began their journey back to earth, landing flawlessly on Friday, November 4th. When the astronauts finally emerged from the shuttle that had been their home for about 18 months, they were a little paler from the lack of sun but otherwise, seemed in good health.
Though they will still be under observation as they assimilate back into society, the mission is being considered a success. While the real mission to Mars is still decades away, thanks to the huge costs and technology challenges, this mock mission has helped resolve some of the concerns about the effects on humans when confined together in small spaces for such a long period of time.