Cosmonauts ready for Mars test

 A Belgian, two Frenchmen and a
Colombian-Italian have agreed to be locked away in steel containers for 18
months to simulate a mission to Mars.

Their self-imposed exile will test
the physical and mental requirements of ultra-long duration spaceflight.

The Europeans will join a
predominantly Russian crew for the Mars500 project, which is due to start in
May.

All the food and water needed for
the “journey” will have to be loaded into the “spacecraft”
before “departure”.

There will even be a simulated
landing.

After about 250 days, the crew will
be split in two and three “cosmonauts” will move into a separate
container to walk on the “surface of the Red Planet” wearing modified
Russian Orlan spacesuits.

“I think you’ve got to be a
little bit crazy to undertake this venture, but it’s a healthy craziness,”
said Diego Urbina, a 26-year-old electronic engineer from Italy.

Urbina joins the Belgian Jerome
Clevers and the Frenchmen Arc’hanmael Gaillard and Romain Charles as the
European Space Agency candidates on the project. Their number will shortly be
reduced to two.

The selected pair will then join
three Russians and a Chinese individual in the simulation spacecraft.

The experiment is being run by
Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems with the key participation of the
space agency.

The Mars500 facility, which is
located in Moscow, comprises four sealed modules. The total
interior volume is about 550 cubic metres. There are no windows.

The organisers say that if a
crew-member decides halfway through the simulation that they really cannot cope
with the isolation anymore and want to leave, they will be allowed to so;
although every effort will be made to try to persuade them to stay.

The Mars500 is so called because it
simulates the duration of a possible human Mars mission in the future using
conventional propulsion: 250 days for the trip to the Red Planet, 30 days on
the Martian surface and 240 days for the return journey, totalling 520 days (in
reality it would probably take a lot longer than this).

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