Shut-Ins Wanted: Russia Seeks Volunteers for Simulated Mars Mission

Russia's space agency is seekingvolunteers for a 520-day 'flight' to Mars and back.

To qualifyin the first round of selection, you would need to be aged between 25 and 50years.

Being adoctor, engineer, biologist or computation instrument specialist would win youextra points during the selection process, according to an announcement posted August3 on the web site of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos). Theannouncement didn't specify how many of the five winners would need to be maleor female.  

"Thegender structure will be determined by the results of the selection ofvolunteers," the release said.

The "flight"will be simulated on the premises of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medical and Biological Research in northern Moscow. The ship will consist of fivemodules, one ofwhich will serve as the Mars landing craft and base. Only three of thefive-strong team will make it to the surface to spend up to 30 days.

The"Marsanauts" will spend 250 days flying to the Red Planet, with thereturn flight to the Earth lasting ten days less. The overall "mission" wouldlast 520 days with an option of extending it to 700 days, according to theRoskosmos statement.

Throughoutthe flight, the crew would be able to communicate with 'mission control' viae-mail, but will enjoy video links for communications within the ship and withthe landing module. As on much of the Earth, the crew will have a five-dayworking week and rest on Saturday and Sundays. Neither smoking nor alcohol willbe allowed.

The crewwill be subjected to stress too, as various emergencies are being planned,including the onsite malfunctioning of equipment and systems.

The goalsof the simulation is to study how such a deep space mission would impact thecrew's health. Along with monitoring the crew's health, they will also test capabilitiesfor remote diagnosis and treatment via video-links, organize crew activitiesand work to prevent any negative impacts prolonged spaceflight would have onhuman health.

Theexperiment is set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to anundated press release, which tops the news section of the official web site ofthe Institute of Medical and Biological Research.

The pressrelease said the planned simulation will enable the institute to "refinethe concept" of medical and biological support for the planned flight toMars. Both Russians andcitizens of other countries are welcome to apply as it is planned as an"international crew."

The Institute of Medical and Biological Research has been traditionally responsible for medial and human health dimensions of the country's manned space exploration program.It has run a number of flight simulations on its premises, including some with foreignparticipation.

During one suchflight, two Russian men exchanged blows after one of them tried to forcefullyplant a kiss on the lips of a Canadian female volunteer during a New Year'scelebration.

TheCanadian perceived the attempted kiss as a case of sexual harassment and it tookthe institute's staff a big effort to convince the Canadian and her colleaguesnot to leave the simulator and complete their 110-day stint.

As part ofits 10-year program, the Federal Space Agency plans its own interplanetary mission,which would send the Fobos-Grunt probe to one of Mars' satellites to collectsamples. However, the agency has no plans to launch a sovereign program to sendhuman beings to Mars, albeit it has displayed interest in assisting such aprogram.

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