Recently, 5 scientists clambered into a steel capsule and shut the door behind them, unceremoniously beginning a scientific experiment designed to simulate a 520-day flight to Mars. Their mission is to help space crews of the future understand the stresses of interplanetary travel.
The all-male crew includes 3 Russians, a Chinese man, a Frenchman and an Italian-Colombian. They will execute a rigorous series of experiments and exercises, while being video-monitored the whole time by researchers from the European Space Agency, Russia’s Institute of Medical and Biological Problems and China’s space training center.
Conditions inside the capsule will mimic space travel in every respect, with the important exception of weightlessness.
The participants will communicate with “Earth” using an Internet connection that will be intentionally delayed and disrupted from time-to-time, to simulate likely communication outages during space travel. Their diet will consist of canned food similar to that consumed by astronauts on the International Space Station. They will shower once, and have 2 days off, per week except during simulated emergencies.
Of course, they can’t go far on their days off.
“For me, it will be mainly my family, the sun and fresh air,” French participant Romain Charles answered in response to a reporters question regarding what he will miss most during the project.
“Certainly, the crew is on its own here, with limited communications with the outside world,” the European Space Agency’s Martin Zell told the Washington Post. “They have to cope with a lot of conditions and organize themselves.”
Human beings are decades away from an actual Mars mission because of cost and technological barriers, including the creation of a lightweight shield to protect crews from space radiation.