Mock Mars Mission Crew Emerges From 'Spaceship'
The first Mars500 crew for an initial 105-day experiment prepares to enter the isolation facility on March,31 2009.
Credit: ESA/S. Corvaja.

The six-man crew of a mock Mars mission cracked open the hatch of their simulated spaceship for the first time in 105 days Tuesday, setting the stage for an even longer spaceflight experiment in Russia. ?

The four Russians and two Europeans spent 3 1/2 months living in cramped quarters, conducting experiments and collecting information to help assess the psychological and medical demands of a future mission to Mars. Based in Moscow, the mission was part of the joint Mars500 isolation experiment by the European and Russian space agencies,

The next phase will begin next year and is even more ambitious: 520 days of isolation.

?Living for that long in a confined environment can only work if the crew is really getting along with each other,? said Cyrille Fournier, a French airline pilot who participated in the experiment, in a statement. ?The crew is the crucial key to mission success, which became very evident to me during the 105 days. We had an outstanding team spirit throughout the entire 105 days.?

An actual trip to Mars by humans would be the longest spaceflight by astronauts to date. Today, astronauts typically spend up to six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The current world record for the longest single spaceflight by a human is 438 days. It is held by Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who made the flight between 1994 and 1995 aboard Russia?s Mir Space Station.

Simulating Mars on Earth

During their mock mission, the first Mars500 crew engaged in simulations red planet travel, including the launch, cruise stages to orbit and back, as well as landing on and leaving the Martian surface.

They tackled mock emergencies and experienced a communication delay of up to 20 minutes each way, which is the time it takes signals to reach or return from Mars. Scientists will use the crew?s experiences to evaluate the psychological and physiological effects of isolation.

The crew also published a diary about their experience in which they described their research and their daily lives.

Among some of their activities: The Mars500 volunteers conducted daily medical checks, exercised, prepared microwavable foods from each others? countries, played poker and collected their own urine for analysis.. They also grew some of their own food, such as lettuce, radishes and cabbage, to supplement the astronaut-style pre-packaged meals.

?The crew has done an excellent job,? said Simonetta Di Pippo, a spaceflight director at the ESA. DiPippo attended the opening of the hatch and greeted the crew as they stepped out of the module. ?These studies, like many other activities we carry out on Earth in space exploration analogue facilities, will help Europe to move forward in human exploration - making use of the ISS to go back the Moon and one day also beyond.?

The 105-day experiment was the precursor to a longer simulation of a full-fledged mission to Mars and back due to start in early 2010. That exercise will see another six-member crew sealed in the same chamber to experience a complete 520-day Mars mission.

?We have successfully completed our mission,? said Oliver Knickel, a German mechanical engineer and member of the ESA. ?This is a big accomplishment that I am very proud of. I hope that the scientific data we have provided over the last months will help to make a mission to Mars possible.?

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