Crew completes Mars journey simulation after 520 days of isolation

4 Nov 2011

Image credit: ESA

A crew of six has completed a simulation of a mission to Mars, where they were isolated in a mock-up spacecraft which stayed on Earth for 520 days.

The crew were part of the European Space Agency’s Mars500 programme, a full-length, high-fidelity simulation of how humans could cope with a mission to Mars.

The experiment took place at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, Russia, aiming to test new technologies and human endurance for future trips to Mars.

The team was isolated in a spacecraft mock-up for 520 days, undergoing all the objectives required for a real mission to Mars.

This included simulating the conditions of the long trips to and from Mars – which takes more than 200 days each way – and even exploring the surface, which was replicated on a sandy enclosure. Weightlessness wasn’t simulated during the project.

The Mars500 crew eating in the simulated spacecraft

The crew included Diego Urbina and Romain Charles from Europe, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev and Alexandr Smoleevskiy from Russia and Wang Yue from China. They had to use food and equipment stored in the facility, with only electricity, water and some air fed into the compartments from the outside.

They also took books, films and games to keep them entertained throughout the experiment.

Outside communications were artificially delayed to mimic the natural delays caused if making contact on a real Mars flight.

The Mars500 crew after the hatch was opened

The hatch was opened today and the crew will undergo medical checks and psychological evaluations after their prolonged isolation. They will be given some private time before talking to the media about their experiences on 8 November. They will continue to undergo debriefings and tests for the mission’s final data until early December.

“It is great to see you all again,” said Urbina just after emerging from the experiment.

“On the Mars500 mission we have accomplished on Earth the longest space voyage ever so that humankind can one day greet a new dawn on a distant but reachable planet.

“And, as a European Space Agency crew member, I am honoured to have been part of this remarkable challenge together with five of the most professional, friendly and resilient individuals I have ever worked with,” he said.