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Flight Crew Isolation in Mars Mission Simulator

Heather Archuletta's picture

The Russian Institute of Medical and Biological Problems (IMBP), in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), have selected six individuals to simulate space flight to the planet Mars. Scientists arranged to copy all conditions that can be imitated on Earth, such as finite food and water resources, an artificial atmosphere, and even time delays in communications to mimic the radio lag between Mars and Earth.

Beginning on March 31, 2009, volunteers will endure long-term isolation in a 1,250-square-foot set of hermetically-sealed modules, under conditions of complete self-support. Once inside, the “flight crew” will have the same diet designed for inhabitants of the International Space Station, and follow the same ISS schedule for 105 days – work (8 hours per day, 5 days per week in shifts), sleep (8 hours) and exercise (2 hours).

Over the past year, the program received over 5,000 applications through Roskosmos and the ESA.

After repeated educational, medical and psychological surveys, the chosen few are:

  • Oleg Artemyev – Cosmonaut / Latvia
  • Sergei Ryazansky – Cosmonaut / Russia
  • Alexei Baranov – Physician / Russia
  • Alexei Shpakov – Sports physiologist / Russia
  • Cyrille Fournier – Pilot / France
  • Oliver Knickel – Mechanical Engineer, Germany
  • (Cedric Mabilotte – Backup / France)
  • (Arc'hanmael Gaillard – Backup / France)

The 105-day program is a precursor to a 520-day simulation scheduled for later this year, which will attempt to predict realistic aspects of a possible journey to Mars. Colloquially referred to as “The Mars 500,” the longer study will include 250 travel days, 30 days on the Red planet to conduct research and collect samples, and another 240 days to return to Earth.

In both programs, the medical professionals will be tasked with maintaining the health of the crew, testing efficiency of the medical equipment, and conducting biological research. Everyone “aboard” will test communications systems, uphold life support and safety measures, undergo equipment failure drills, and conduct various scientific experiments.

A separate module will function as the surface of the Red Planet, where three test subjects will practice landing upon and exploring the Martian surface. Observing scientists in the mock control center will monitor hormonal changes, sleeping patterns, moods, stress, and immune system responses.

How will missions of such duration affect human beings in an enclosed area? Some of the stresses and challenges are well-known to Mir and ISS personnel who serve 6-month (soon to be 1-year) missions, but results from an 18-month simulation may provide new insights.

We know humans can survive, but would they also remain healthy in both body and mind? What we hope to learn about Mars must be worth the cost of getting a crew there – and to be effective explorers after their long isolation, they must be able to perform competent surveys, adapt to conditions, contend with injuries, settle any personal conflicts that may arise, and calmly handle unexpected dangers. Volunteers will only be permitted to quit the experiment if they develop severe psychological stress.

Mars. The ultimate camping trip. The short feasibility study pays 15,500 Euros or 700,000 Russian Rubles (about $20,000 US dollars). The longer study will pay 50,000 Euros or 1.8 million Rubles (about $73,467). The mock Mars expeditions reportedly cost about $15 million, and results will be made available to all world space agencies.


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