Friday, November 4, 2011

Mars500 Lands on Earth


After 520 days inside the space ship, the crew of the Mars500 project opened the hatch this morning! Well, morning for me. At 4:00 am crazy space lady time, which was about 2:00 pm in Moscow, 6 men who have dedicated 2 years of their lives to the most complex Mars voyage simulation returned to Earth.

Hatch Opens Mars 500
You can watch the replay on the ESA site, a brief affair where Sukrob, Romain, Wang, Diego, Aleksandr and Commander Alexey emerged from their facility and took turns addressing their applauding organizers (and the press) in 6 languages – Russian, English, French, Chinese, Italian and Spanish. They were then whisked away for medical checks, after which they were finally reunited with their families.

The joy of Twitter allowed me to watch along with my friend Stefania in Italy, who noted they looked good but PALE. You would be too if you hadn't seen the sun in 520 days! She also cracked that they "show no sign of post zeroG dizziness! ;)" … LOL! Okay, so the sim skipped some aspects of spaceflight, such as weightlessness, but the overall exercise yielded amazing results for researchers on the physiological and psychological effects of isolation.

Mars500 Hatch Opening
RIA Novosti declared the experiment a success because no participants opted out, everyone stayed healthy, and according to Mars 500 executive officer Alexander Suvorov, all retained their working efficiency throughout the project. None of the scientists are surprised with these outcomes, given the rigorous screenings for tough, experienced, dedicated Marsonauts.

Only the best of the best would go to the Red Planet, something detractors should keep in mind before criticizing science objectives they barely understand. I won't mention names, and I certainly won't link to the Bozo Factor – but some alleged "news" outlets have entirely missed the point of examining how the human body reacts to stress and prolonged confinement.

Mars 500 Crew
Unexpected findings included decrease in metabolic rates for all crew members, reduced motor performance and increased levels of sleep disorders. It's useful to know what we would be up against when we are prepared, as a species, for long-duration manned flights to other planets.

Are we ready for that? Of course not, and no one in the Mars500 program suggested that the rocket should be ready tomorrow. The single biggest barrier in getting to Mars is the onslaught of invisible beams from our nearest star. They're aware.

Brain neurons are annihilated by high-speed particles emitted by the Sun, and during a 520-day mission, an astronaut might lose between 13-40% of his or her brain. Yikes. (For comparison, the average Alzheimer patient loses about 5% per year). So until we invent effective protection from radiation, actual missions are still considered to be "in development." Heads up: sims like this count as development. And they matter.

I'd also like to give a shout out to my cyber-buddy @Mantic59, who said in June of 2010, and I quote: "This will be interesting to follow but I am very skeptical that they'll complete it. Too many psychological factors."

So here, finally, is my official response: "They made it!"

I waited more than a year for that. ;)