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 145.

    I agree with all that PaulErith says. In times of recession and when we're trying to reduced energy wastage, I find this kind of project such as waste of time and money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    If PaulErith held the purse strings in 15th/16th century Europe, Magellan, Columbus and Drake would still be sat on the dockside twiddling their thumbs! Though I suspect his real motives are to wind everyone up - exploration is never a 'waste'.

  • Comment number 143.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Space exploration requires the development of cutting edge technologies which benefit all of us. It also offers the chance for nations to unite and work together for a change not to mention the philosophical implications of space travel. Remember for every dollar invested in Apollo eight dollars were returned to the economy. Space exploration is essential.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Forget Mars. Let's go to Venus.
    Unfortunately the comics lied to us. The surface of Venus is hotter than a domestic oven and its atmosphere is mainly Carbon Dioxide.
    It does however carry a warning, a little greenhouse effect is a good thing (the Earth) and a runaway greenhouse effect (Venus) will kill us all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    As helpful as I'm sure this experiment was, it doesn't fully take all the variables into account. Yes of course being locked away for 18 months will answer some questions, but these astronauts knew they were never in any kind of real danger and that surely will bias the psychological results. Knowing you are safely on the ground is slightly different to knowing you are 225,000,000 km away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Waste of money, eh? You do realize that our long-term survival as a species depends on humanity colonizing star systems beyond the Solar System, right? Our Sun isn't going to last forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    @PaulErith please watch this video, and then make your comment again:

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    One day there could be a planet within our grasp that could be the new home to the human race. Obviously I'm not expecting this in my lifetime however if we dont put the work in now we would never be able to achieve it or get there when its a feasible reality. If man hadn't gone to the moon we wouldn't have mobile phones as they are. (How many lives have current gen mobile phones saved??)

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    @ Paul Erith 13 and anyone else moanong about the waste of money in space travel. There are technologies, including lifesaving medical tech that have come about through research into space travel. far too much to list but I see space travel as progress.

  • Comment number 135.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I found it astounding how many people view this accomplishment as negative, and furthermore, don't provide an appropriate answer to what is "meaningful", or have mistakenly blamed science for hogging the money millions so desperately need. If science is hogging all the money, I say the police are too...and the hospitals, teachers, truckers, construction workers, librarians, pilots, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    I don't know why they worried about these guys who volunteered to sit in a capsule for 18 months losing their mind. Clearly they'd already done that when they volunteered. I hope these people aren't revered in years to come for their 'achievement' of sitting in a capsule!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Brilliant, however I think we need to send a few more robots to Mars before we even risk sending human beings. I can only think of 4 safe landings, the Viking Landers and the Mars Rovers.

    Because of the vast distance, and subsequent time any radio wave would take to reach Mars, it could be an ideal project for the development and deployment of intelligent devices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


    Did space exploration result in the discovery of Penicilin? Improve sanitation or clean drinking water?

    No, the majority of the benefits have come from the research into Space exploration, not from Space itself.

    Ironically, war has provided massive technological impetus and many advancements in a wide range of fields, where would we be without it??

    I don't see you demanding more WARS...

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    PaulErith, to answer your question, what the space race and moon landings achieved was to prevent a nuclear war, as the Cold War era USA and USSR were able to compete to get into orbit, to the moon, etc. rather than launching missiles at each other. A good investment, I'd say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    @90 .KPP
    "If Christopher Columbus et al had had that attitude towards exploration, PaulErith, then we would never have discovered America."

    America wasn't discovered, people were already living there, and look what "we" did to them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Forget Mars. Let's go to Venus. That's the planet with all the beautiful alien space babes. I've read about it in a lot of 1950s scifi stories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Most of us can't even see the stars/planets now because of technology.

    In reality,in trying to escape to God knows where (Oh yeah,this time it's Mars - I forgot) We may actually help the real issues affecting us.

    When the time machine is perfected,I'd still volunteer to go back and urinate on that first manufactured fire though!

    We had it made!

    You don't know what you have until it's gone.

  • Comment number 126.

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


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