On June 3, 2010, six 'astronauts' will commence a virtual trip to Mars. Sealed into a cramped container at the Moscow Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) for 520 days, they will experience the rigours and isolation of long-duration spaceflight.
This marks the start of the main part of the Mars 500 experiment, and on completion will constitute the longest ever space simulation experiment. Scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and other German research institutions such as the Charité medical school in Berlin are 'back on board', along with staff from the universities of Erlangen and Bonn.
When the hatch closes on 3 June, the six-person crew from Russia, Europe and China will set out on their simulated 520-day journey to the Red Planet. For their virtual outbound leg, they will need 250 days, then have scheduled 30 days for their 'stay' on Mars, after which the crew embarks on its 240-day return journey to Earth. The experiment will take place in a special-purpose test facility at the IMBP in Moscow, where the previous 109-day experiment was conducted in 2009. With the exception of weightlessness and exposure to radiation, in-space conditions will be simulated as realistically as possible. The crew will experience isolation, food and emergency situations of the kind they would encounter on a real long-duration mission. During these 520 days, about 100 tests are planned, covering the fields of psychology, psychophysiology, clinical diagnostics, physiology and microbiology.
Crew needs a high level of autonomy
Whether on their way to Mars or to some other planet, a high degree of autonomy is required from any crew on a long-duration mission of this nature. The crew must maintain and service their technical systems without help from any external source. The effects of isolation on their psychological and physiological health and performance capabilities are of particular interest to the scientists involved.
During this long-duration mission, German scientists will be investigating the group dynamics and psychophysiological performance capabilities of the crew. They will also examine how astronauts deal with illness or emergency situations. Another group of researchers will examine how, inside a sealed system, the microbiology and health of a crew develop. The German scientists will also be monitoring the crew's salt and fluid levels, blood pressure regulation and bone metabolism. To investigate physiological questions associated with nutrition, eight German companies are collaborating with the University of Erlangen to provide the team with selected products.
Tests conducted by German scientists during Mars500
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