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
    0

    Comment number 65.

    The whole idea of an 18-month manned mission seems daft to me. A few hardy souls might survive the trip but it hardly seems worth investing in a dead-end technology. Get the propulsion sorted and most of the endurance issues go away. I bet the first manned mission takes less than a month to get there.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 64.

    @53
    - of course we were cavemen for longer than we have had 'civilization' - we only developed relatively recently! In time (a very long time) we will have been civilized for longer than we were cavemen (provided the species survives!)
    - I doubt that cavemen spent less time 'working' than us - most of their time was surely spent hunting and gathering food just to survive.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 63.

    2 years in solitary confinement does not parallel traveling to Mars. I suspect there are many more in that country who have never seen the light of day.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 62.

    @ PaulErith It achieved global telecommunications, satellites, massive scientific advances, hundreds of useful (even some life saving) gadgets and gizmos and allowed you to whine about stuff on the internet.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 61.

    To all those citing (a) 'pioneer spirit' of previous Earth explorers, and (b) how we should be grateful for velcro etc. etc.

    (a) There's a big difference, Mars, and all between here and there, is absolutely hostile to human life. Absolutely hostile.
    (b) And I suppose we never made a SINGLE worthwhile discovery before the space race? Or an unconnected one since? Pfftt..

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 60.

    We have managed to have more wars than we can count, overpopulate a whole planet and be on the verge of using up all the natural resources; all in a short space of time.

    How do we warn the universe..........

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 59.

    5.sagat4
    "...I do think they should go to the moon first ...as they have never been there before"
    ---
    Only someone ignorant in science and technology thinks this. They didn't go in secret they went in full view. Anyone with radio telescopes etc could track them and access the telemetry data. Thats why other countries never say it never happened because they could observe it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 58.

    Many of the good ideas from the space programme would have happened anyway , it was a matter of time and the benefits from these ideas pales by comparison with the costs . As for missions to Mars , we may as well do it with unmanned craft that would cost a whole lot less . There are bigger mysteries on earth like how does the stock market remain more or less the same and yet directors pay rise 50%

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 57.

    These volunteers, and those who would send their like on a serious mission, with minimal chance of survival, are in my view, literally mad.

    If Mars were a habitable world, with a breathable atmosphere and the means to sustain life, this would not be so IMO, but we already know for a fact this is not, nor ever reasonably would be the case.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 56.

    We could find out what it's like to be locked up in a metal container in close proximity with other people who slowly drive you up the wall with their BO, bad-breath and annoying habits for what seems like a life-time for a lot less than the Russians have spent. Just buy a season-ticket on any South Eastern Train and travel to/from work each day.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 55.

    Pursuit of space travel is worth it:
    “Economic, scientific & technological returns of space exploration far exceeded the investment. Royalties on NASA patents & licenses go directly to the U.S. Treasury”

    "America’s space flight programs cost $7 billion a year. In 2006, according to the USDA, Americans spent more than $154 billion on alcohol. We spend around $10 billion a month in Iraq.”

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 54.

    41.Frank Lund
    5 Minutes ago
    An Idea for the replacement of Big Bother TV programme:- 500 days in a "spaceship" with no prospect of escape.

    And then watch it burn up on re-entry.

    I like it.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 53.

    Just like to point out that when we 'all sat around in caves' our species was arguably more successful.

    We did it for a hell of a lot longer than 'civilisation'.
    There was a fantastically diverese planet to live on with an abundance of food.
    Humans had to share to survive rather than compete for resources.
    We worked a hell of a lot less and slept and played a lot more.

    I'm just saying!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 52.

    If there was a referendum with a multiple choice question "We have a spare billion pounds. Choose one of the following to spend it on:"

    a) Trident nuclear submarines
    b) Invasion and war in a foreign country
    c) Space exploration

    I have to admit that I'd go for space exploration, of which I'm not a huge fan, as it's the only one that's not designed to kill and maim.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 51.

    Alot of people here keep saying how this is all a waste of money but can you really put a price on advancing our understanding of the universe to the level we have with the exploration of our galaxy, Mars is believed to have held life ad some point in history if we can figure out if it did what kind of life perhaps then we could determine what can of life can be sustained on the red planet.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 50.

    Rather pointless, I hope they were well paid.

    Next time they should stick notorious criminals inside.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 49.

    @PaulErith A lot of our technology has come from space travel, so don't say its a waste of money.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    "The planet Earth is too fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in."

    Rovert A. Heinlein said that many years ago. He's right - if we remain on this rock, the human race is doomed. Whether that's a bad thing or not is a different debate...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 47.

    13.PaulErith
    "...space travel is...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..."
    ---
    With that attitude mankind would still be living in caves. Where do you think all the money went - wages that were spent
    Plus the advance in technology

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    @PaulErith: That's progression for you.

    I'm sure a few 100 years a go Englishmen were saying "Why do we need to this extravagant amount of money exploring this "New World" we have everything we need right here in Europe!"

    They may well have been right as for them there was no benefits. However for future generations there was and now the "New World" is a global superpower.

    Long term investment.

 

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