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Mars500 mission begins; hatch closes on six-man crew

Mars500 crew at the press conference. Esa photo

NEW DELHI (BNS): The hatch closed on the six-man crew Thursday as they entered their ‘spacecraft’ to begin the first full-length simulated mission to Mars.

The Mars500 mission started at 13:49 local time (11:49 CET) in Moscow after the crew talked to the press and then walked into the modules that will be their home for the next 520 days. The experiment will run until November next year, Esa said.

The crew- Diego Urbina and Romain Charles from Europe, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Mikhail Sinelnikov from Russia and Wang Yue from China – will face a mission that is as close as possible to a real space voyage without leaving the ground.

They will live and work like astronauts, eat special food and exercise in the same way as crews aboard the International Space Station. Their mission is to ‘fly to Mars’ in 250 days, ‘land on and explore Mars’ for a month and ‘return to Earth’ in 230 days, using their imitation interplanetary spacecraft, lander and martian surface.

The hatch will remain closed until November 2011. The crew will manage using the food and equipment stored in the facility. Only electricity, water and some air will be fed into the compartments from outside.

The ‘astronauts’ will normally divide their weekdays equally between work, free time and rest, with the weekends usually free. They have taken plenty of films, books, games, musical instruments and entertainment with them.

The facility is not a spacecraft, but it uses many systems that will be found on a real Mars craft. The crews have been trained to repair every single bolt of their ‘craft’ and outside help will be given only in extreme situations.

Throughout their mission, Diego Urbina and Romain Charles, the ESA crewmembers, will send diary updates and videos to ESA’s Mars500 site.

The 520-day simulation is the last and core part of the Mars500 experiment that began back in 2007. The first phase was a 14-day simulation that mainly tested the facilities and operational procedures. The second phase followed in 2009, when four Russian and two European crewmembers were shut into the facility for 105 days.

Mars500 is being conducted by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP), with extensive participation by ESA.

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