The six-mancrew of a mock Mars mission cracked open the hatch of their simulated spaceship forthe first time in 105 days Tuesday, setting the stage for an even longer spaceflight experiment in Russia. ?
The fourRussians and two Europeans spent 3 1/2 months living in cramped quarters,conducting experiments and collecting information to help assess thepsychological and medical demands of a future missionto Mars. Based in Moscow, the mission was part of the joint Mars500isolation experiment by the European and Russian space agencies,
The nextphase will begin next year and is even more ambitious: 520 days of isolation.
?Living forthat long in a confined environment can only work if the crew is really gettingalong with each other,? said Cyrille Fournier, a French airline pilot whoparticipated in the experiment, in a statement. ?The crew is the crucial key tomission success, which became very evident to me during the 105 days. We had anoutstanding team spirit throughout the entire 105 days.?
An actualtrip to Mars by humans would be the longest spaceflight by astronauts to date.Today, astronauts typically spend up to sixmonths aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The current world recordfor the longest single spaceflight by a human is 438 days. It is held byRussian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who made the flight between 1994 and 1995aboard Russia?s Mir Space Station.
SimulatingMars on Earth
Duringtheir mock mission, the first Mars500 crew engaged in simulations red planettravel, including the launch, cruise stages to orbit and back, as well as landingon and leaving theMartian surface.
They tackledmock emergencies and experienced a communication delay of up to 20 minutes eachway, which is the time it takes signals to reach or return from Mars. Scientistswill use the crew?s experiences to evaluate the psychological and physiologicaleffects of isolation.
The crewalso published a diary about their experience in which they described theirresearch and their daily lives.
Among someof their activities: The Mars500 volunteers conducted daily medical checks,exercised, prepared microwavable foods from each others? countries, playedpoker and collected their own urine for analysis.. They also grew some of their ownfood, such as lettuce, radishes and cabbage, to supplement the astronaut-stylepre-packaged meals.
?The crew hasdone 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 steppedout of the module. ?These studies, like many other activities we carry out onEarth in space exploration analogue facilities, will help Europe to moveforward in human exploration - making use of the ISS to go back the Moon andone day also beyond.?
The 105-day experiment was the precursor to a longer simulation of afull-fledged mission to Mars and back due to start in early 2010. That exercisewill see another six-member crew sealed in the same chamber to experience acomplete 520-dayMars mission.
?We havesuccessfully completed our mission,? said Oliver Knickel, a German mechanicalengineer and member of the ESA. ?This is a big accomplishment that I am veryproud of. I hope that the scientific data we have provided over the last monthswill help to make a mission to Mars possible.?
- Video- The Next Big Step on Mars: Part 1, Part2
- Video- Europe's Plan for Manned Mars Flight
- Images- A Mars Base of the Future