To Mars and back -- as real as it gets

March 23, 2010
Mars500 experiment facility in Moscow. Credits: ESA

( -- A crew of six, including two Europeans, will soon begin a simulated mission to Mars in a mockup that includes an interplanetary spaceship, Mars lander and martian landscape. The Mars500 experiment, as long as a real journey to Mars, is the ultimate test of human endurance.

Their mission is to mimic a full mission to and back as accurately as possible without actually going there: Mars500 will be the first full-duration simulated mission to Mars, starting in a special facility in Moscow next summer. 250 days for the trip to Mars, 30 days on the surface and 240 days for the return journey, totalling 520 days.

There wasn’t much isolation yesterday on Monday 22 March though, when the four European candidates for Mars500 were presented to the press at ESA’s Technology Centre ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

Belgian Jerome Clevers, Arc’hanmael Gaillard, Romain Charles from France and Colombian-Italian Diego Urbina took a break from their mission training that began on 24 February in Russia, to meet the press. Two of the four will take part in the final 520-day ’mission’, along with three Russians and one Chinese participant.

“Mars is the ultimate goal of the global human exploration programme”, said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight. “In addition to developing the necessary space infrastructure for exploration missions, ESA’s Directorate of also has an ongoing programme of ground-based analogues and ISS research activities to make sure that our astronauts are as prepared as possible in the future for the physical and mental demands of long-duration exploration missions, and to develop countermeasures against any adverse effects of such a mission. Mars500 isolation study is a major milestone in this. The cooperation between ESA and Russia in this experiment is also an asset.”

The 520-day isolation test is the last and core part of the Mars500 experiment that began back in 2007. The first phase in November 2007 was a 14-day simulation that mainly tested the facilities and operational procedures. The second phase followed in 2009, when four Russian and two European crewmembers were shut into the facility for 105 days on 31 March.

Mars500 is being conducted by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP), with extensive participation by ESA as part of its European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS) to prepare for future human missions to the Moon and Mars.

During the experiment, the crew will be hermetically isolated in confined space with limited consumables and communication only via the Internet, occasionally disrupted and with a 20-minute delay, as for a real Mars mission, due to the distance between the spacecraft and Earth.

The crew will be monitored and their psychological, medical and physical signs recorded throughout the mission. During the ‘surface operations’ after 250 days, the crew will be divided in half, three will move to the martian surface simulator and three will remain in the ‘spacecraft’.

The crew will have all the food needed from the beginning of the experiment and they will have to ration out their supplies for the entire time. The diet will be similar to that of the crews on the International Space Station (ISS). Tasks performed by the crew will be comparable to those of the ISS astronauts, but for a much longer time: maintenance, scientific experiments and daily exercise. They will follow a seven-day week with two days off, except when special and emergency situations are simulated.

This mission might lack some of the glory and feeling of the real spaceflight, but it will be just as tough. The first humans to walk on Mars will surely remember these pioneers.

Explore further: Preparing for a journey to Mars: Crew locked for 105 days in simulator

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not rated yet Mar 23, 2010
Holy cow, I'm all for a manned Mars mission, but 250 days out, 30 on the surface, and 240 days back? What kind of nonsense is that? Who would want to travel in a spaceship for months and months, to only spend 30 days at Mars? That's nonsense, and certainly not a way to have a sustained exploration effort.

MARS DIRECT mission plan is far more generous for true exploration, with 6 month outbound trip, 18 months exploration on the surface of Mars, and 6 months back.
If they are going to model any mission plan, my opinion is this would be the one to model.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2010
I once pretended I was an astronaut in my tree fort for a whole day. Did that make me an official space pioneer too?
1 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2010
250 days for the trip to Mars and an additional 250 days for the return journey? What kind of rockets are these people using? Obviously not 200MW VASIMR rockets, because if they were using 200MW VASIMR rockets they could get to Mars in 3.9 days.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
This mission seems too long - I agree, wait until something like VASIMR is operational and do it properly.
I don't think it's 3.9 days though unless you want to be crushed by the g-forces (Inertial Dampeners don't exist yet!). It's still a few months flight.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
Wow wow wow, these people are a bit outdated on the current(?) technology. 540 days in isolation seems unbearable. Wait another 10 years for the VASMIR drive which will take 39 days to reach mars.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
It's a 30 day trip with VASIMR. 90 days is not exactly a picnic but doable.
Especially because the VASIMR could provide a shield, protecting the crew from harmful radiation (like the earth magnetic field does).
NASA should embrace the VASIMR project and go to Mars in 2012.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010

I'm sure its just 30 days in the trial because they really are testing the logistics of the flight, more so than the actual martian exploration phase. 30 days is enough time to see how well they can set themselves up and pack up to go, without spending months wandering around in a simulation which wouldn't accomplish much beyond testing the stress on the astronauts who have already spent nearly a year in a capsule and are going to spend almost another year afterward in that same capsule. Maybe they should stretch it out anyways but I can imagine why they might see it as unnecessary and also a slight reprieve for their human guinea pigs.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
Plasma rockets such as VASIMR should be powered by a strong source of electric energy. I think the aneutronic reactor could be the best option for long journeys, because it doesn't emit neutrons, preventing injury to crew members.
not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
Jo01-December 20th 2012 would be the day to target for that as a just in

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