Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Month Left For Mars500


Today is day number #490 out of 520 mission days for the Mars500 crew, so they have now officially reached their final month! It has been an amazing trek to Mars and back, having broken the record for long-term space simulation.

It's been far more than a year since they were sealed into their "ship" -- and in that time, none of them have had a hot-water shower, breathed fresh air, seen the sun, or spent time with their family and friends. Quite a commitment! I often wonder if I could make it that long without going a little batty in isolation...

Boredom often produces beards

As I've read through my past 16 posts about Mars 500 since March of 2009, I've read through the old comments, and noted one reader who said, "As much as I want to be an astronaut some day, 520 days? I do not think its a valid test anyway. They already know from orbital missions that folks lose it in shorter time periods in more space... but not often publicized!"

I agree that overall validity remains to be judged in their published conclusions, but studies like these gain ground in ensuring people DO NOT "lose it" in space during a genuine mission. Some incidents have been publicized though; does anyone remember the "24-Hour Mutiny" aboard Skylab, or am I dating myself? ;)

"It's science fiction, man. We're in Star Trek."
(Sukrob is waaaay too excited about the camera!)

Astronaut Jake Garn holds the record for physical space sickness, but another man has the distinction for the most acute psychological sickness. In 1996, John Blaha deployed to the Mir space station for 128 days. Just before his four-month mark, he began to exhibit hostility toward other crew members, and occasionally complete withdrawal while he battled insomnia and depression.

Not long after, astronaut Jerry Linenger, another inhabitant of Mir (during a stressful accident resulting in a fire he claimed Russian authorities tried to cover up), had what was interpreted as a breakdown and eventually refused to respond to mission control on the ground.

We didn't know much about the effects of long-term spaceflight during the Mir era, so it's not surprising these incidents came to light at that time; it's also not hard to imagine that psychological problems on Mir and the ISS arose from cultural and political differences between Russian and American crews.

We clearly cannot afford this sort of schism on a 520-trek to a faraway celestial body, so I don't think it's an accident that three space agencies joined forces in this simulation, deliberately choosing crews across different countries. One of their ongoing goals is estimating working personality types. That will be an important component in a trip to Mars: screening the right mix of temperaments who are able to work together. And keeping them all BUSY.

Diego Urbina
Group effort produced Chocolate Martian Balls.
And that, my friends, is the height of civilization.

I want to stress that in reading the entire Mars500 website and blog for many months now, their projects encompass far more that the "isolation" or "collaboration" aspects. They are testing communications, conducting medical experiments, inventing and documenting procedures and even testing whether food grown in a self-sustaining greenhouse is feasible along the way to the red planet.

Many of their results will be published after they land on November 4th!