Crew Selected for Mock Mars Mission
This view, released by Russia's Federal Space Agency, reveals the living quarters of the planned Mars500 simulated mission to Mars.
Credit: Federal Space Agency.

Before humans actually go to Mars, six people will pretend to go first.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) recently announced the crew for the first phase of their joint Mars500 mock mission.

Starting March 31, the selected adventurers will spend 105 days in isolation, as if they were really journeying to the red planet. They will simulate abbreviated periods of travel to and from Mars, as well as a stay on the Martian surface. All the while, scientists from a mock control center will watch what happens to the crewmembers? levels of stress, hormone regulation, immunity, sleep quality, mood and diet.

?We want to learn about the effect of isolation on performance, behavior, and interaction within the group,? said ESA Mars500 program manager Jennifer Ngo-Anh. ?Hopefully, we will test counter measures and things like remote medical assistance, tele-medical equipment.?

Out of 5,600 applicants, ESA chose two prime crewmembers, and two backup. The prime team is Oliver Knickel, a mechanical engineer in the German army, and French airline pilot Cyrille Fournier. Cedric Mabilotte and Arc'hanmael Gaillard, both from France, will serve as backup crewmembers.

The European crew will join four Russian crewmates: cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergei Ryazansky, medical doctor Alexei Baranov, and sports physiologist Alexei Shpakov. ?Right now the team is really motivated and harmonious,? Ngo-Anh told ?They?re a really good team. Ideally, there?ll be no problems, but we?ll see.?

If problems do arise in the isolation facility, located outside Moscow, the crew will try to handle it themselves, with help from the mission controllers. Contact between the crew and the control center will have a 20-minute delay, to simulate the communications lag a real mission would experience. For the duration of the mission, the crew will only have personal contact with each other, and voice contact with mission controllers, family and friends.

While in isolation, the team will follow a similar schedule to that of International Space Station (ISS) astronauts, with work, rest and exercise. They will even eat the same food as the ISS astronauts. The Mars500 crewmembers will be paid 15,500 euros ($20,000) each for their participation. The mock Mars expedition reportedly costs about $15 million.

Later in 2009, an extended 520-day mission will begin, including the 250-day one-way trip to Mars, a 30-day stay on its surface, and the 240-day return flight. The team for that longer experiment has not yet been chosen.