Mock Mars mission ‘returns’ to Earth
In a few hours, the crew of the international “mission” to Mars will finally “return” to Earth in Moscow, bringing one of the world's most grueling scientific experiments to a close.
Six volunteers, including three Russians (Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Sukhrob Kamolov), as well as representatives from Europe (Romain Charles), China (Wang Yue) and South America (Diego Urbina), will see daylight for the first time in 520 days. That is the exact time they spent isolated in their mock spaceship, simulating a trip to the Red Planet and back.
The men have been sealed in the mock spacecraft for 17 months. But they never left the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, and could have quit the Mars-500 isolation experiment at any time.
“It’s not even the first step, we’ve only lifted our foot to take that step,” the head of the Mars-500 project, Boris Morukov, explains. “Before we decide on the equipment that we used in the flight to Mars, we first need to have an understanding of the limits of the human body, its psychological and physiological capacities. Research in human capacities should go before the design of a spacecraft, though our scientists are quite active in designing new vehicles.”
A piece of string was set into wax on June the 3rd 2010, but despite many predictions to the contrary, that seal has remained unbroken throughout the experiment. Only now, after all this time, are the men inside being reunited with the outside world.
“I was afraid of conflicts that could lead to an early termination of the experiment. We tried to consider all potential risks and to nip all tensions in the bud,” says Yury Bubeyev, a psychologist and physiologist.
The scientists behind it wanted to see if the six-man crew would be able to go all that time without severe psychological effects. There have been worries about something called "social narrowing" – the name given to some of the effects of spending a long time in isolation. There have been reports of cosmonauts and astronauts in space suffering from what some have dubbed as “space madness”, when staying in a metal box in space for a long time was cause severe stress.
In 2000, when a shorter version of the same experiment was held, two crew members started fighting, while another tried to kiss a female member. Luckily, nothing similar happened this time.
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