Mars500 Crew Ready To Open Hatch

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With less than 48 hours left to go – and after 520 days – the Mars500 crew will officially “open the hatch” on their isolation on November 4. Scientists are eagerly awaiting the last of the experiments, but the inside team is awaiting freedom. They’ve been there since June of last year!

It’s been 17 long months filled with countless hours of experiments. During this simulated Mars mission, these gents have had their brains monitored, bodies scanned, donated samples and kept house. On top of that, they’ve done it so well that scientists can’t wait to get their hands on the results. The most important question of all has already been answered.

And the answer is “Yes.”

Romain Charles taking an air sample for the European MICHA experiment in Mars500. Credits: ESA
“And the scientists have already highlighted the importance of their investigations for terrestrial medical issues.” says Patrik Sundblad, the human life sciences specialist at ESA. “Yes, the crew can survive the inevitable isolation that is for a mission to Mars and back. Psychologically, we can do it.”

Can you imagine what would almost seem like purgatory? Even the most dedicated of us get days off, and knowing you truly aren’t in space would be a difficult hurdle to overcome. “They have had their ups and downs, but these were to be expected. In fact, we anticipated many more problems, but the crew has been doing surprisingly well.” continues Sunblad. “August was the mental low point: it was the most monotonous phase of the mission, their friends and families were on vacation and didn’t send so many messages, and there was also little variation in food.”

However, things didn’t stay bleak for long. Morale returned as the end came into sight after an artificial delay and communications with friends and family began again on September 15th. “The high fidelity of the simulation has been an important factor in the success of the experiment,” notes Patrik. “Simulating a real mission to Mars as closely as is possible on Earth has been very important for the crew. Knowing this mission is really helping to make a real mission to Mars possible has made the challenging long-duration experiment somehow easier for the crew.”

Wang Yue with EEG measurement device. Credits: ESA
Even as grueling as these simulations might seem to be, it’s still not as stressful as a genuine mission to Mars would be. The reality check is the astronauts would know they couldn’t just be “rescued” in case of an emergency. Add to that weightlessness, radiation and the genuine separation of miles. While you might be able to hibernate in Antarctica to explore some facets of the human psyche, it’s not going to account for everything that goes on in our bodies and minds.“We are using to some extent the same psychological questionnaires with Mars500 as with over-wintering crews at the Concordia base and bedrest studies,” says Patrik. “Comparing them is extremely interesting.”

Crew portrait from May 2011. Credits: ESA
Yep. The mission is ending – but it’s about a lot more than just six men who chose to isolate themselves for science. It’s about international cooperation and the whole infrastructure surrounding the mission. “The crew has worked individually and as team very well, and the cooperation in the outside world has been outstanding,” observes Patrik. “Russia, China and Europe have maintained the integrity of the unique experiment. This is a very important lesson for any future mission to Mars: it is not only about the spacecraft and its crew, but also about close cooperation on Earth between all the teams and the international space agencies.”

Way to go, Mars500 crew! The first round is on the house…

Original Story Source: ESA News Release.

Tammy Plotner

Tammy was a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status. (Tammy passed away in early 2015... she will be missed)

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