Simulated Mars mission 'lands' back on Earth

 

The men were applauded at the moment they emerged

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Six men locked away in steel tubes for a year-and-a-half to simulate a mission to Mars have emerged from isolation.

The Mars500 project, undertaken at a Moscow institute, was intended to find out how the human mind and body would cope on a long-duration spaceflight.

It is a venture that has fascinated all who have followed it around the globe.

The study even saw three of the men carry out a pretend landing on Mars, donning real spacesuits and walking across an enclosed sandy yard.

MARS SIMULATION PROJECT

Mars500 crew
  • Aim was to gather knowledge and experience to help prepare for real Mars mission
  • This meant probing the psychological and physiological effects of extended isolation
  • About 100 experiments were planned; crew partook in a series of medical studies
  • Crew used specially made gym equipment to prevent muscle wastage
  • A Nintendo Wii and drums for the game Guitar Hero were supplied to fight boredom
  • Crew member Wang Yue taught the rest of the team Chinese to get over the language barrier

"It's really great to see you all again - rather overwhelming," said European Space Agency (Esa) participant Diego Urbina after stepping through the opened hatch of the Mars500 "spaceship".

"On the Mars500 mission, we have achieved on Earth the longest space voyage ever so that humankind can one day greet a new dawn on the surface of a distant, but reachable, planet."

The rest of the crew - Russians Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Sukhrob Kamolov, European Romain Charles and Chinese national Wang Yue - smiled and waved to family members who had come to greet them at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IMBP).

The crew has now been taken away into quarantine for medical checks.

"The international crew has completed the 520-day mission," Commander Alexey Sitev reported to gathered officials.

"The programme has been fully carried out. All the crew members are in good health. We are now ready for further tests."

For much of the Mars500 project, the six had only limited contact with the outside world. Their spaceship had no windows, and the protocols demanded their communications endured a similar time lag to that encountered by real messages as they travel the vast distance between Earth and Mars.

At its maximum, the round travel time for a question to be sent and for an answer to be received was about 25 minutes.

This meant having to resort to text media, such as email and Twitter, and video blogs.

Asked before he came out what he was most looking forward to, Italian-Colombian Mr Urbina told BBC News via Twitter: "Meeting my family, calling my friends, bumping into strangers, going to the beach."

THE LAYOUT OF THE MARS500 'SPACESHIP'

Mars 500 facility (BBC/Esa)
  • MEDICAL MODULE: A 12m-long cylinder that acted as the laboratory. It was also the sickbay were a crewmember to become ill
  • HABITABLE MODULE: The main living quarters. The 20m-long module has beds, a galley, a social area. It also acted as the main control room
  • LANDING MODULE: This was only used during the 30-day landing operation. Three crewmembers visited the "surface of Mars"
  • UTILITY MODULE: It is divided into four compartments, to store food and other supplies, to house a greenhouse, a gym and a refrigeration unit
  • SURFACE MODULE: To walk across the soil and rocks of Mars, crewmembers put on Orlan spacesuits and passed through an airlock

There were many aspects of a real mission that could not be simulated in a Moscow suburb, of course - such as weightlessness and the dangers associated with space radiation.

But scientists have expressed great satisfaction with the data that has been acquired, and are looking forward to applying the lessons learned to ever more realistic scenarios.

During the 17-plus-months of their virtual voyage, the crew took part in various studies to assess the effect their isolation was having on their psychological and physiological well being.

Their stress and hormone levels were monitored, as were their sleep patterns, and their moods. The men also carried out an assessment of the benefits of dietary supplements in such situations.

"I can only praise the crew for their courage and their great spirit," said Dr Martin Zell from the European Space Agency, which was a major sponsor on the project.

"They were a brilliant team - they really will finish as a crew and not six individuals," he told BBC News.

Tentative discussions have now begun between the partners on the International Space Station (ISS) about the possibility of doing some sort of isolation experiment in orbit.

Initially, this might simply involve introducing a delay in communications to controllers in Moscow and Houston, US. Ultimately, it could also involve removing crew members into separate modules to give them a taste of what the Mars500 participants have gone through.

Certainly, the partners want the ISS to become more of an "exploration testbed" in the decade ahead - a platform to try out the new approaches and new technologies that will help humans move deeper into the Solar System.

Mars simulation We may still be decades away from a real mission to the Red Planet
 

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  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 25.

    To say space travel is a waste of money is IMO a bit small minded.

    With out the likes of the people in the space program we would still be sat in a cave wearing fur.

    All the money in the world wont solve the problems in the world. Corruption by world governments "waste" more money than the space program ever will.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 24.

    #13 waste of money? it is the advancement of the human race, would you rather we were all still living in caves? have you never read 2001: A Space Odyssey? It is our duty to advance and explore. What else would you spend the money on? More healthcare so we can have a larger population living longer and sitting on their behinds doing nothing remotely worthwhile?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 23.

    @13.PaulErith
    One positive is that it actually shows how meaningless the human construct we call money actually is.
    Remove that stigma and we see that this is simply the pursuit of expanded knowledge, which is good. It's a better use of our finite resources on this planet than many other activities, and might net us more resources.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 22.

    The US consumer spent more on cosmetics than than NASA did on the Moon Missions.,
    I had always hoped I would see the first men land on the Moon, I never expected to see the last.
    The Russians have spent a long time studying the effects of long periods in space, physical and psychological.
    During the Age of Exploration on Earth ,crews were away for 5-7 years.

  • rate this
    -26

    Comment number 21.

    What a colossal waste of time and money. You only get 3 score years and ten, and they have spent 18 months in a bunch of tubes. More fool them. We've exploited and messed this planet up, so now let's get prepared and ready to leave and mess another planet up. Brilliant idea.

  • rate this
    +18

    Comment number 20.

    Space exploration and the development of new technology is exactly what we should be doing to inject growth into our economies and make the lives of people better both at home and abroad. It's funny how commenters here continue to use some of the most advanced communications technology available to try and convince everyone of the pointlessness of advanced technology....

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 19.

    An excellent experiment.Well done to all those involved.
    When we go to Mars though, let's not forget to take some 'germs', just in case!

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 18.

    Please don't tell the bankers about this, they have been involved in most of the worst investments known to man. I'm sure the Martians don't deserve a visit from 'us' to screw up their planet too.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 17.

    Maybe if all politicians were all locked away in similar isolation then the world would be a safer place & real people with real experience of life & without political party biased idealistic affiliation & dictate could replace them.

    It's REAL people with REAL skills who have managed this experiment, REAL people are needed to manage the Human life experiment & NOT inept political idealists.

  • rate this
    +39

    Comment number 16.

    @ "sending humans to Mars is pointless"
    No. The pursuit of knowledge and exploration is not pointless. I mean it seems almost as pointless as going to the moon right? that only gave us: Memory Foam, Anti-corrosion Coating, Cochlear Implants, Scratch-resistant Eyeglass Lenses, Water Filters, CAT scanners, Cordless tools, Satellite television, better Smoke detectors, Shoe insoles to name just a FEW

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    Not sure how well I would deal with those conditions. Do we know if they were kept up to date with world events? Just think, those poor sods went into isolation during a recession, hoping to find the garden nice and rosy when they came out.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    Have they raised the bar?

  • rate this
    -111

    Comment number 13.

    Personally I think space travel is, and always has been, the most outrageous waste of money. So a few guys walked about on the moon - What exactly did that achieve? Billions of pounds have been wasted. This money could have made a real difference to people's lives on Earth.

  • rate this
    +24

    Comment number 12.

    Why go for Mars?
    Why not go for the Milky Way?
    Its cheaper, lighter and won't spoil your appetite.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 11.

    Given the state of things here, I'd stay where they are if I were them.

  • rate this
    -51

    Comment number 10.

    Complete waste of money.

    Fukushima is still melting down, poverty war environmental destruction everywhere, and people are buying iPad2s and dreaming of going to Mars.

    What for ? So you can have WW4 up there, and destroy the environment ?

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 9.

    Can we send all the bankers to Mars, they seem to live on another planet anyway.

  • rate this
    +30

    Comment number 8.

    I hope these guys got paid a shed load......One and half years in isolation for mission they probably be able to do, that still decades away.

    Sending humans to another planent is by NO means pointless. The lessons learnt and technology developed will only accelerate space expoloration. Did explorers of old think crossing the Atlantic/Pacfic pointless?

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 7.

    1.stitt29rg
    7 Minutes ago
    sending humans to Mars is pointless


    Why? Perhaps in a few hundred years from now, we'll have the technology to make Mars into another Earth? It's possible.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 6.

    18 months away from everyone and everything?

    Where do I sign up?

 

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