Final Crew Unveiled for Record Mock Mars Mission
From left to right and top to bottom: Sukhrob Kamolov, Romain Charles, Diego Urbina, Wang Yue, Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy, Mikhail Sinelnikov Press conference on the announcement of the crew of 520-day isolation.
Credit: IBMP/Oleg Voloshin

The full international team of mock astronauts that will be locked in a pretend spaceship complex for a record 520 days in a simulated mission to Mars is all set for their endurance trial, Russia's Federal Space Agency announced Wednesday.

The volunteer 6-man crew, made up of three Russians, two Europeans and a Chinese astronaut instructor, will enter an 18,800 square-foot (1,750 square-meter), five-module complex on June 3, and live like Mars-bound astronauts, as part of the elaborate Mars500 simulated mission to the red planet.

Over 6,000 people from 40 countries applied to join the $15 million endurance test of the psychological and physiological effects of long-term confinement, said Mark Belakovsky, deputy head of the Mars500 project, according to news reports in Moscow.

One of the four Russians who also made the cut will serve as a replacement in the event that someone drops out.

Full mock Mars crew revealed

The Russian crew members include engineers Alexei Sitev and Mikhail Sinelnikov, surgeon Sukhrob Kamolov and physiologist Alexander Smoleevsky. They will be joined by Chinese astronaut trainer Wang Yue, Italian engineer Diego Urbina and French engineer Romain Charles. Each of the volunteers will earn about $99,000 for their participation.

For a total of 17 months, the crewmates will seal themselves inside the isolation module set up at Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. The mock spaceship also includes an interplanetary vehicle, a Mars lander and base, as well as an area carefully sculpted to simulate the Martian landscape.

Endurance "Mars" marathon

The crew's confinement in the mock Mars spaceship could help scientists determine the human endurance breaking point when faced with living in close quarters with strangers during a 520-day period of isolation, cut off from the outside world. Researchers in Europe and Russia will watch and record the crew's psychological and physiological signs throughout the experiment.

Communication is restricted solely to e-mail, and will undergo occasional disruption, as would occur in a real Mars mission due to solar storms and other such issues. The crew must also deal with as much as 40 minutes of delay when transmitting back to Earth during the Mars operational phase of the simulation.

The first 250 days of the experiment will replicate the amount of time it would take to reach the Martian surface using current technology. After reaching Mars, three crewmembers will spend 30 days "exploring and colonizing" the red planet before returning to the spacecraft for the 240-day return flight, Belakovsky said.

This 520-day mock mission is the final phase of the three-part Mars500 project, which was partly funded by the European Space Agency. The experiment was first proposed more than a decade ago.

Previously, a six-man crew performed a 14-day simulation in November 2007 that tested facilities and operational procedures. The second phase kicked off in March 2009, when six crewmembers spent 105 days in the artificial spaceship complex.

None of the previous crewmembers applied to participate in the final stage of the experiment, which starts next month.

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