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.


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."


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

    Comment number 45.

    lets not loose sight of the monetary potential here - off planet mineing - fed up of mineral companies strip mining areas of national beauty - no problem, strip mine some asteriods! maybe build a few 100 mile wide solar power stations that can beam microwave energy back to earth cheaply and efficently - it's not going to happen tomorrow but it could soon thanks to pioneers like these, well done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Experiments like this are not that uncommon. Firms relocating departments to distant cities simulate the move in a practice, when staff have to sit out several hours in waiting rooms pretending to travel to meetings with colleagues in their new locations.

    Many of us hope to see man on the surface of Mars one day. But will it be sufficiently another giant leap for mankind to win the budget?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Just received this message:

    "Attention Earthlings. When you visit for real - please take all your litter home and remeber Thursday is late night shopping"

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It is great they did the experiment with all guys. Now it is time to go a step beyond and add women into the mix. Ultimately, space travel will be accomplished by mixed gender crews.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    An Idea for the replacement of Big Bother TV programme:- 500 days in a "spaceship" with no prospect of escape.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Yes, yes - let's spend more of our money on the endless populating of planet earth. Let's build more houses for more people, use more land to feed more people and never lift our eyes above the horizon. There was a time that travelling from Europe to the Americas (unknown by most) seemed impossible. "Rash" explorers of the past undertook journeys that are now commonplace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    PaulErith (13)
    This is exactly the type of research and development we should be doing.
    or did you miss the articles about overpopulation, energy depletion and melting ice shelves, or are you "someone else's problem" or "Thats for future generations, I'm alright jack"
    Have you not noticed, the Earth will be full !!!!
    Who are you gonna sacrifice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "Space travel waste of money? What exactly did that achieve?" here some examples:

    Memory Foam, Anti-corrosion Coating, Cochlear Implants, Scratch-resistant Eyeglass Lenses, Water Filters, CAT scanners, Cordless tools, Satellite television, better Smoke detectors, Shoe insoles, Long-distance Telecommunications, Insulation, better Swimsuits, Invisible braces, Ear Thermometer to name just a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Seriously, can we not have one debate without the banker-bashers going off topic?
    As for it being a waste on money - space exploration is doing a lot more for the future of our species than other things the UK government wastes money on - like quangos, IVF and the Olympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I think its great what special people they are just the thought of being locked away for a year and a half makes me wince.Good luck to them.I know it costs alot of money but I think its worth it.We dont know what the future holds and thousands of people do benefit from this.GREAT STUFF.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The day we stop trying to do amazing things is the day we stop being human beings, there must always be room for this.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    There's more to space travel than isolation to be considered. Without weighlessness and loss of muscle tone, this experiment is only a partical success. I'm not convinced at all - sorry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I consider things like the Iraq/Afghan wars to be a bigger waste of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "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."

    Sounds like a repeat of the "moon landing". They should have televised it and passed it off as real!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    7. sceptik

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


    Oh great - let us go and ruin another environment, then when Mars is destroyed, move onto another planet, and another, until we have killed them all. Perhaps by then we will have found a way to travel into outer space...

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    13. PaulErith

    ...Billions of pounds have been wasted. This money could have made a real difference to people's lives on Earth.


    So could an asteroid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @13 Paul Erith Aside from the various tangible benefits space exploration has brought humanity (as another poster has listed), it gives humans a lofty goal to achieve and inspires future generations to stand on the shoulders of those before them and and keep on exploring and discovering. It's what we do. If all humans had the same attitude as you our ancestors would have never left the savannah

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    ''...and no-one down here knows how to work the brakes...
    but uncle errr...Joe's on Mars.

    Actually no, he isn't. It's all pretend, no insights into how men will function in the isolation from Earth, no possible 'realistic' simulation of the pitfalls of such an extended journey....just a ridiculous exercise for the 'public' eye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    This is at best a flawed experiment, at worst a complete waste of time. How can Esa hope to analyse the physical effects of long-term space travel by studying a sample group who haven't even left Moscow, let alone the planet, or the psychological effects of a group destined never to reach actually visit Mars? The emotional output of those to be the first to reach Mars will be vastly different.


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