By Steve Nichols

Fancy a free 500-day holiday, courtesy of ESA? The downside is that you will be locked up in a tin can in a Russian space camp for more than a year.
The Mars 500 project, which starts next spring, will see a crew of six sent on a simulated 500-day mission to Mars to investigate the psychological and medical aspects of a long-duration mission.

During the ‘mission’ the crew will be put through all types of scenarios as if they really were travelling to the red planet, including a launch, an outward journey of up to 250 days, a walk on the surface and an equally long journey home.
The team will have tasks to do every day, will have to cope with simulated emergencies and may even have real emergencies or illnesses to deal with. To add to their problems, any ‘communication with earth’ will be subject to ‘round-trip delays’ of between 25 and 40 minutes – just like the
real thing.

ESA says that the experiment is meant to find out just what happens to people when they are crammed together in a confined space for extended lengths of time. The information gathered will be vital for any future manned missions to Mars.
Speaking at the show, Jean Pierre Haignere, an ESA astronaut, says the longest anyone has stayed in space is 14 months – a record set by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov on the Mir space station. “We need to run the Mars 500 experiment to see how people manage, how they cope with being with each other and how they deal with the ground controllers on earth,” says Haignere.


“Traditionally, ground control makes all the decisions, but due to the long communications delays we may have to reverse that hierarchy. “One of the challenges will be to see if the crew manages to keep its sense of mission – this is a very long time.”
Viktor Baranov, from the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, says: “A mission to Mars is not like going to the moon. There is no short cut and the psychological aspect is important. In real life the astronauts would have to cope with micro gravity and cosmic radiation too, so the Mars 500 ‘mission’ is actually much easier.”

Source: Flight Daily News