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Hatch closed! 18-month Mars500 mission has begun

Press Release From: ESA Mars 500
Posted: Thursday, June 3, 2010

image Mars500, the first full-length simulated mission to Mars, started today in Moscow at 13:49 local time (11:49 CET), when the six-man crew entered their 'spacecraft' and the hatch was closed. The experiment will end in November 2011.

The mood was serious, intense but very determined in the Mars500 facility at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow this afternoon, as the crew of the Mars500 talked to the press and and then walked into the modules that will be their home for next 520 days.

The last and the most interesting part of the Mars500 isolation study is now underway. Diego Urbina and Romain Charles from Europe, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Mikhail Sinelnikov from Russia and Wang Yue from China face a mission that is as close as possible to a real space voyage. They will live and work like astronauts, eat special food and exercise in the same way as crews aboard the International Space Station.

Their mission is to 'fly to Mars' in 250 days, divide in two groups, 'land on and explore Mars' for a month and 'return to Earth' in 230 days, in their special facility imitating an interplanetary spacecraft, lander and martian terrain.

The hatch of the facility will remain closed until November 2011 and the crew has to manage using the food, equipment and all other material stored in the facility. Only electricity, water and some air will be fed into the compartments from outside.

In addition to evaluating many novel technologies, Mars500 is the ultimate test of human endurance. Staying almost 18 months inside the metallic containers will be hard, even when properly trained and briefed by astronauts and submariners. The crew will no doubt have ups and downs during their long mission and these psychological changes are a key part of the experiment.

The 'astronauts' will normally have 8 hours of work, 8 hours of free time and 8 hours of rest a day, with the weekends free (except in special situations). They have taken plenty of films, books, games, musical instruments and entertainment with them.

The physiological aspects of the experiments are also of great interest. Their bodies will start to adapt to new conditions - a closed environment with restricted space can quickly lead to poor physical condition. The crew needs to exercise up to two hours a day, but they can shower only once a week.

What have I forgotten? Preparing everything from soap and clothing to food and spare camera batteries for an autonomous 1.5-year-mission is a complex task, so the logistics are vital.

And finally the technology: the facility is not a spacecraft, but it uses many systems that will be used in some form when developing a real craft for a Mars mission. Testing these in realistic conditions is important. The crew has been trained to repair every single bolt of their 'craft' and outside help will be given only in extreme situations.

Throughout their mission, Diego Urbina and Romain Charles, the ESA-selected crewmembers, will send diary updates and videos to ESA's Mars500 site. The first diary entry has been published today: "Goodbye Sun, goodbye Earth, we are leaving for Mars!".

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