Facebook for Mars 500 crew?

4 Jun 2010

They might be sealed in an isolation facility in Moscow, going on an epic non-journey for 520 days, but the crew of Mars 500 will be living as if they were on a real mission to Mars and this means internet access, so email is allowed and possibly a bit of social networking, too.

The crew of six volunteers sealed themselves inside a container in the Russian IBMP (Institute for Biomedical Problems) but were allowed to bring with them certain personal items, including DVDs and a laptop, from which they can send and receive email.

Images of the crew before containment include member Romain Charles in his quarters playing with his Nintendo DS, so some gaming and brain training will probably be on the cards, too, plus his iPod touch is in view, while crew mate Alexy Sitev chose his DSLR camera as one of the gadgets to bring on board.

Communications delay

While they have internet access, the only catch is that all communications will be delayed by 20 minutes, as would happen were they actually on a mission to Mars, but the crew will be able voice contact with family and friends, as well as the simulated control centre. In space, no one can hear you tweet (for at least 20 minutes).

The crew, whose experience encompasses the fields of medicine, engineering, biology and computer engineering, will be responsible for monitoring, controlling and maintaining the life support system but also monitoring their own health, as well as the physical and psychological health of their crew mates.

Some of the more interesting monitoring projects for psychological evaluation include looking at the effect of blue-enhanced light on alertness and sleep-wake behaviour based on the premise that insufficient background lighting could induce harmful physiological changes, affect sleep, performance and even metabolism.

Blue-enriched light will be used as stimulation to see if the cumulative effect of the visible light in the Mars 500 isolation chamber has any effect on sleep-wake behaviour, the quality of sleep, alertness levels, and circadian rhythms.

The effects of group dynamics and loneliness on cognitive and emotional adaptation to extreme, confined environments will also be monitored. Interestingly, no one seems to have tried the 2001: A Space Odyssey or Moon approach to space travel, where one person is isolated with only artificial intelligence for company. Of course there’s no way of knowing whether you’d get a Gert or a Dave …

Photo: Mars 500 crew member Romain Charles in his quarters, playing with his Nintendo DS