First Two Crew Chosen to Be Locked in a Can for Mars500 Mission Test

Mars500 crew

Just how grueling will a trip to Mars be? To find out, six people are going to spend 18 months in a steel capsule somewhere in Russia, with no way in or out and a 20-minute delay in all communications with the outside world. The first two ground-based "cosmonauts" have now been selected for the big Mars500 experiment, Romain Charles, a Frenchman, and Diego Urbina, a Colombian-Italian.

The longevity test will determine how easily a 500-day mission to Mars might work out from the human angle. The two chaps will be joined by three Russians and a Chinese volunteer, yet to be announced, and all of them will then be sealed into four windowless metal compartments which are isolated from the rest of the world--meaning that supplies and every piece of equipment will need to be popped inside before the door is bolted.

It's an experiment that builds on similar research performed before (including a 105-day test in 2009), but the full Mars500 is perhaps the most aggressively realistic long-duration mission emulation ever made. The notion is that the sealed environment will simulate some of the human factors that a small crew would face on a real manned mission to Mars, including limited room to move, a tight and unchanging set of colleagues, stress, motivational issues, tests of their ability to follow instructions and so on. Charles, 31, makes "composite panels," and Urbain is 26, and an electronics engineer.

mars500

As well as social factors, Mars500 will investigate basic mission parameters--for example, after 250 days a subset of the crew will enter another "landing craft" module and then simulate a landing on an artificial Mars inside another sealed chamber where they'll lumber around in specially tricked-out Russian space suits. This is why the environment is closed to the world, and why there's a 20-minute delay in communications--the one-way light-speed travel time for a signal to get to or from Mars (which may have a potent psychological effect on the participants).

The entire affair is likely to be difficult to endure--if previous experiments and a host of science-fiction precedents from Red Planet to the recent Defying Gravity TV show are any indicators at all. So Charles, Urbina and their colleagues will be able to bail out mid-test, though they can expect to have to have some serious discussions with Mission Control before they'll be allowed in the escape pod.

Images: ESA

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11 Comments

  • rhobere

    a constant twenty minute delay in communication doesn't make sense. they should start with almost no delay and as they "get further away" have the delay slowly increase. It would not only be more realistic, but I could see the psychological effect being more extreme. With a constant delay, the participants get a chance to get used to the delay early on in the project under relatively low stress. BUT, with an increasing delay, as stress levels increase with the length of the mission so does communication delay which will compound the stress.

  • Deniece Raisinclit

    I could be locked up for 18 months with those two anytime! Diego you're delicious!

  • Dustin

    NASA's yearly budget is about equal to the amount of money that Americans spend on Valentine's Day every year. About $17 billion in 2008. Nobody can convince me that a year's worth of NASA activities are less important than Valentine's Day.

  • Gregory Porter

    Dustin, has anybody ever told you the meaning of "logical fallacy"? The amount of money that Americans spend on Valentine's day is in no way related to NASA's yearly budget. If the necessity or importance of things were measured in relation to the American market I could easily justify giving any amount of money to any cause because consumers demand stupid products.

  • Justin

    So I just stumbled this page.

    Greg, has anybody ever told you the meaning of trolling? Or do you just not like fun?

  • Steven Berge

    It's totally possible to get to Mars. It's just takes forever. We've landed rovers on it before. It's just like landing on the moon (which we definitely did), except it takes a lot longer to get there.

  • adam goldman

    Getting to Mars with biological cargo is actually quite hard -- nothing like getting to the Moon, in fact. Cosmic rays can cause enough cellular damage to kill the astronauts within a year of landing -- and enough shielding to prevent this damage would make the craft heavy enough that liftoff would be impossible. In addition there is the bone degeneration that long term exposure to null-gravity would cause -- when people go into space their bodies start absorbing bone mass. A trip to Mars would take long enough that any astronaut would be completely incapable of withstanding normal gravity (even Martian gravity, which is about 0.38 times that of Earth) by the time their trip was finished. This article refers to an experiment that will only test the psychological issues associated with long-term space travel -- we still have to deal with the biological and engineering issues of getting people there in one piece.

  • adam goldman

    Getting to Mars with biological cargo is actually quite hard -- nothing like getting to the Moon, in fact. Cosmic rays can cause enough cellular damage to kill the astronauts within a year of landing -- and enough shielding to prevent this damage would make the craft heavy enough that liftoff would be impossible. In addition there is the bone degeneration that long term exposure to null-gravity would cause -- when people go into space their bodies start absorbing bone mass. A trip to Mars would take long enough that any astronaut would be completely incapable of withstanding normal gravity (even Martian gravity, which is about 0.38 times that of Earth) by the time their trip was finished. This article refers to an experiment that will only test the psychological issues associated with long-term space travel -- we still have to deal with the biological and engineering issues of getting people there in one piece.

  • nancy

    I could see doing this if it were at all possible to get to Mars. What a waste of money and time.

  • ADeadlierSnake

    Nancy, you are a fucking dumb cunt. I cannot even begin to imagine how lonely you are living under that rock of yours. We have had the technology to send people to Mars (and waaaay further) for YEARS!!! Not to mention there are plans to set up colonies on the moons of mars by 2030. So how is this a waste of time exactly? Or money? And how can you be so ignorant to the world around you to POSSIBLY believe that getting to Mars is just some fantasy sci-fi dream??? You REALLY need to do your research (or just pay attention to shit) before you leave a comment like that. Cheers.