Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mars Volunteers Needed!


The mighty Mars500 heads into the next phase of their exciting simulation series! Having taken part in simulations, I’m always keenly interested in seeing progress in any category of research where clever ground sims bring us closer to actual space missions.

One amazing current project is the collaborative effort between the European and Russian space agencies to conduct practical investigations into the time, human factors, and support equipment needed to reach Mars; I’ve blogged about them twice already, and kept up with their Mars500 mission blog.

The Mars 500
The first, 15-day stage, involving scientific investigators, took place in November 2008. The second, 105-day stage, between March and July of 2009 included 6 cosmonaut volunteers. The third, longest stage of the experiment, intended to simulate a complete 520-day mission to Mars, will proceed in 2010.

Per their website, the ESA is now taking applications! They need two candidates and two backups to undergo four months of training, then simulate:
- A 250-day journey to Mars
- A 30-day surface exploration phase
- A 240-day journey back to Earth

"Candidates should be aged 20–50, motivated, in good health and no taller than 185cm. They should speak one of the working languages: English or Russian. Candidates must have a background in medicine, biology, life support systems, computer, electronic or mechanical engineering. Selection will be based on education, experience, medical fitness and social habits. Following an initial assessment, candidates will submit results from medical tests and be invited for interview, to be screened in a process similar to that used in astronaut selection."

For the 'surface exploration', half of the crew will move to the facility’s Martian simulation module and the hatch to the rest of the facility will be closed. Results will examine all the technologies needed for such a trip, physical capabilities and limitations, as well as “telemedical” aspects of a long-duration space mission.

Cramped conditions, very few personal items, no showers... just a sauna & napkins. For 520 days? Sound insane? Maybe so, but just like with the sim programs I joined, the applications are avalanching in… and only a lucky few will be allowed to participate. The ideal team would be a physician, a biologist, an IT specialist and engineer. Roskosmos will round out this population with trained cosmonauts.

The BBC’s Richard Hollingham wrote some excellent commentary about this ambitious plan to put a group of prospective star trekkers in isolation for 17 months, as a potential first step of a mission to Mars. He actually got to see the facility and speak to the scientists involved in project development, lucky chap!

"We need to understand that in a manned flight, the people are the most vulnerable thing."