Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Human Mission To Mars Launches June 3, ESA Simulation of Journey to Red Planet Will Seal 6 Member Crew in Isolation Facility for 520 Days

In order to investigate the human factors of such a mission, ESA has teamed up with the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) and will send a joint crew of six on a 520-day simulated mission to Mars.

The simulation follows the mission profile of a real Mars mission, including an exploration phase on the surface of Mars. Nutrition will be identical to that provided on board the International Space Station.
Image credit: ESA

The first full-duration simulation of a human mission to Mars is about to begin. After closing the hatch, the crew of six will remain in their 'spacecraft' for 520 days. The media has been invited to witness the 'launch' of this historic Mars500 mission.

The 520-day simulated mission to Mars will start on 3 June, when the isolation facility is sealed and the international crew start their record-breaking experiment.

The crew will basically live and work like astronauts on the International Space Station, with maintenance work, scientific experiments and daily exercise. They will follow a seven-day week, with two days off, except when special and emergency situations are simulated.

There are six crewmembers plus a Russian backup: ESA-selected Diego Urbina (Italian/ Colombian, age 27) and Romain Charles (French, 31); Sukhrob Kamolov (32), Alexey Sitev (38), Alexandr Smoleevskiy (33) and Mikhail Sinelnikov (37) from Russia; and Wang Yue (26) from China.

Housed in Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, the 550 m³ sealed space mockup includes an interplanetary spaceship, a Mars lander and a martian landscape.

The crew will have to take care of themselves for almost two years during the roundtrip. Their survival is in their own hands, relying on the work of thousands of engineers and scientists back on Earth, who made such a mission possible.

They will experience extreme isolation and confinement. They will lose sight of planet Earth. A radio contact will take 40 minutes to travel to us and then back to the space explorers.

A human mission to Mars is a bold vision for the time beyond the International Space Station. However, preparations have already started today. They are geared and committed to one goal: to send humans on an exploration mission to Mars, individuals who will live and work together in a spaceship for over 500 days.

Human exploration of our Solar System is an important focus for ESA. The Agency has started on the path to making this a reality in the future. Making sure that our astronauts are prepared mentally and physically for the demands of long exploration missions is imperative a mission’s success.

 Human exploration of our Solar System is an important focus for ESA. The Agency has started on the path to making this a reality in the future. Making sure that our astronauts are prepared mentally and physically for the demands of long exploration missions is imperative a mission’s success.

In light of this, ESA is undertaking a cooperative project with the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, called Mars500.

Where the crew will be housed. 
Image credit:  ESA

ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight has a long tradition of conducting research on the physiological and psychological aspects of spaceflight. ESA’s bedrest studies, in particular, are at the forefront of scientific research to understand how the human body reacts under weightless conditions, in order to devise effective countermeasures and enable humans to undertake long missions in space effectively. Mars500 is part of these scientific efforts to prepare for human exploration missions.

When preparing for long space missions beyond the six-month range currently undertaken by Expedition crews on the International Space Station (ISS), medical and psychological aspects become an issue of major importance.

When contemplating missions beyond Low Earth Orbit, such as to the Moon and Mars, daily crew life and operational capabilities may be affected by the hazardous space environment, the need for full autonomy and resourcefulness, the isolation, the interaction with fellow crewmembers and other aspects. 

A better understanding of these aspects is essential for development of the elements necessary for an exploration mission. Whereas research onboard the ISS is essential for answering questions concerning the possible impact of weightlessness, radiation and other space-specific factors, other aspects such as the effect of long-term isolation and confinement can be more appropriately addressed via ground-based simulations.

The purpose of the Mars500 study is to gather data, knowledge and experience to help prepare for a real mission to Mars. Obviously there will be no effect of weightlessness, but the study will help to determine key psychological and physiological effects of being in such an enclosed environment for such an extended period of time.

The participants act as subjects in scientific investigations to assess the effect that isolation has on various psychological and physiological aspects, such as stress, hormone regulation and immunity, sleep quality, mood and the effectiveness of dietary supplements.

The knowledge gained during the study is invaluable in providing the basis for the potential development of countermeasures to deal with any unwanted side effects of such a mission, and also to help in astronaut selection procedures, and at a modest expense.

On the European side, the Mars500 programme is financed from the European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences in Space (ELIPS) and involves scientists from across Europe.

Examples of the food items the crew eats during Mars500 isolation, on the left breakfast, in the middle snacks and on the right main dishes. Six crewmembers are living in a special habitat at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) until mid-July. The crew acts as subjects in scientific investigations to assess the effect of isolation on various psychological and physiological aspects, such as stress, hormone regulation and immunity, sleep quality, mood and the effectiveness of dietary supplements. The 105-day study precedes a full simulation of a mission to Mars, due to start late in 2009. This will see another six-member crew sealed in the same chamber to experience a complete 520-day Mars mission simulation. 
 Image credit: ESA

The six Mars500 crewmembers are subjects in many experiments. During their stay in the isolation facility at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, Russia, the crew are used as subjects in many different experiments. The purpose of the Mars500 study is to gather data, knowledge and experience to help prepare one day for a real mission to Mars. 
 Image credit: ESA

A bedroom inside the Mars500 facility at the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP). 
 Image credit: ESA

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