Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mars500: First Mission Complete!


Taking a break from my Apollo "count up" today. Also taking an apparent break from watching Space Shuttle Endeavour NOT launch... (it's been scrubbed five times now!) to report an update on a very exciting simulation study. Of course, at the core, my blog is all about the details of "spaceflight simulation," and I'm always excited to see new developments in any category.

This past March, I read about a fascinating program being conducted by the Russian and European Space Agencies called the Mars500. A crew of six cosmonauts entered an amazing facility meant to act as a self-sustaining spacecraft, and study the effects of isolation, finite food and water, artificial atmosphere and communications during a trip to Mars. Their first 105-day simulation concluded today!

The crew has undergone a range of scenarios as if they were traveling to the Red Planet – including launch, the initial journey, arrival on Mars, transfer to and from the Martian surface and the return trip home.

I've followed their adventures in medical testing, data collection, keeping up their greenhouse, exercising, conducting scientific experiments, running through daily “spacecraft” tasks as if they were in-flight, simulated "emergencies" and continual questionnaires about the effects of loneliness on their mood and motivation.

They’ve done a great job, and none of the guys seem worse for wear, in spite of not seeing the sun for 105 days!

Mars 500
Their second simulation is scheduled for early 2010. This next program will isolate crew members for 520 days (the time needed to travel to Mars, stay for a month, and travel back to Earth)... but for the time being, they are just looking forward to seeing their girlfriends and enjoying the novelty of being outdoors.

Each member of the team took turns writing in their collective Mars500 Diary, which is truly a great read for anyone interested in the practical concerns we face in preparing to reach Mars.