European Space Agency, ESA, NASA

Simulation Experiment Could Make Mars Mission More Viable

November 12, 2008 07:55 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Eight men are finalists to participate in a 105-day isolation experiment during which they will live, eat, sleep and work inside a sealed laboratory.

Mars Mission Inching Closer to Reality

Two astronauts will later be chosen out of the eight candidates to be sealed in a Moscow lab with four Russian crew members starting in March, according to the European Space Agency.

“The purpose of the Mars500 study is to gather data, knowledge and experience to help prepare one day for a real mission to Mars. The participants will 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 ESA said in a press release.

The 105-day experiment will be a precursor to a longer simulation to be conducted in 2009, in which astronauts will be sealed in the laboratory for 520 days, roughly the length of a complete Mars mission. Both simulations aim for the lab occupants to “experience elements of a simulated Mars mission,” according to the ESA.

The eight candidates for the test are all men between the ages of 28 and 39, and hail from Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France and Belgium. The experiments are a joint project of the ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight and the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems.

ESA and its American counterpart, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), have both aimed at achieving a manned flight to Mars in the next three decades. The distance from Earth to Mars varies between about 34 to 250 million miles, and a trip between the two is estimated to take at least 18 months. The crew’s psychological and physical health is considered to be as great a challenge as the financial and technical obstacles that would hinder such a trip. 

Some technology in development could make other aspects of such a trip easier.

For example, a recent advance in fusion research may make it feasible for scientists to create a force field that could protect astronauts from space radiation on their way to Mars. Fusion researchers in the U.K., Portugal and Sweden said in research published on Tuesday that a “mini-magnetosphere” could block radiation harmful to astronauts by creating “a small ‘hole’ in a Solar Wind plasma... in which an inhabited spacecraft could reside in relative safety. A major issue for the future of manned space exploration is the potentially lethal damage to human tissue from exposure to radiation in space arising, for example, from the solar wind,” the research paper states.

Once the astronauts make it to Mars, they may be making use of the “robo-Freud,” a new robot designed to treat psychological problems in space. Scientists at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) are developing the interactive, multimedia robot that is meant to be used by astronauts during long spaceflights. “While astronauts are not particularly prone to psychological problems, the environment is very demanding,” said former astronaut and project co-developer, Jay Buckey. “On a mission, they face a lot of challenges that could lead to depression.”

Related Topics: The latest news from space

Reference: Astronaut training

Not all astronauts go through long simulations like the ones for the Mars mission, but their training is always rigorous both mentally and physically. According to NASA, astronauts must undergo extensive physical training, often in difficult conditions such as inclement weather or in simulators. They are also required to do a lot of reading and to undergo classroom instruction.

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