Six volunteers spent 105 days in an isolation module as part of an international experiment in preparation for a manned space mission to Mars.
Under constant surveillance, the all-male crew carried out 72 different experiments to gather data in readyness for a mission to Mars. All the key aspects of a long spaceship flight were simulated – barring of course the effects of weightlessness and solar radiation, which are more easily researched on the international space station. The participants found the experiments very interesting and commented that they felt it was important to give the volunteers feedback about the progress of the experiments. Monotony was the main difficulty encountered by the volunteers. Samples for analysis were delivered to researchers through a hatch in the isolation module, and researchers also monitored medical data, including exhalation bags as part of on-going research to find efficient non-invasive methods of diagnosing diseases at an early stage. This is important for astranauts but can also help people on earth. Scientists across Europe are calling this mission a success, although the findings have not yet been disclosed. The analysis of the data will primarily be used to prepare the next stage of the Mars-500 experiment, planned to begin in 2010 with another crew of participants. The experiments during the 105 days were primarily on the medical effects on the men – that is, in the psychological and physiological fields. Stress linked with cardiovascular problems, effects on the immune system. Of course co-operation and co-existence of the people in the team was also studied, along with dietary aspects. The main goal was to discover the limits of personal resources in a confined space. There were therefore many psychological experiemtns as well as the physiological ones. How are they sleeping? How are they communicating with their fellow crew members? Keeping the experience as authentic as possible, the videolink connecting the control centre to the isolation module was set with a time lapse of 20 minutes each way to simulate the time it takes for a radio signal to bounce between Earth and Mars. The crew had to be completely self reliant, maintaining the module and monitoring each other’s health and behaviour. Sleep deprivation was also studied. Disturbed sleep leads to changes in irritability levels. The more sleep people lose the more irritable they become and the less perceptive to communication.” Looking back, the crew members said that those three and a half months didn’t really feel that long – they perceived the time spent in confinement as no more than a few weeks. The next and final phase of research will be five times as long and inevitably more complicated. The research module in Moscow is being prepared to welcome another international crew for a full-scale simulation of a 250-day trip to Mars, plus 20 days on the red planet and another 250 days to get back to Earth. The first manned interplanetary mission is expected to take place sometime after the year 2030. For more information about ESA see tagURLhttp://www.esa.int/￼ For more information about the Mars 500 Project see tagURLhttp://www.esa.int/specialsPECIALS/Mars500/￼