Moscow, Feb 14: After 257 days in a locked steel capsule, an international crew of six researchers on a mock trip to Mars prepared Monday to simulate landing on the Red Planet.
The crew of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese entered a cascade of modules at a Moscow research center last June to imitate the 520-day flight. Three of the crew are to don space suits to perform the mock landing.
The Mars-500 experiment is conducted by the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems in cooperation with the European Space Agency and China's space training center. It aims to reproduce the conditions of space travel, minus the weightlessness.
As part of the simulation the crew members are to plant the flags, take rock samples and test scientific equipment.
The facility for the experiment is in western Moscow and includes living compartments the size of a bus connected with several other modules for experiments and exercise. A separate built-in imitator of the Red Planet's surface is also attached for a mock landing.
The mission director, cosmonaut Boris Morukov, has said the experiment could be disrupted for medical or technical reasons, or if some of the participants demand it be stopped.
Psychologists said long confinement would put the team members under stress as they grow increasingly tired of each other's company. Psychological conditions can even be more challenging on a mock mission than a real flight because the crew won't experience any of the euphoria or dangers of actual space travel.
A similar experiment in 1999-2000 at the same Moscow institute went awry when a Canadian woman complained of being forcibly kissed by a Russian team captain. She also said two Russian crew members had a fist fight that left blood splattered on the walls. Russian officials downplayed the incidents, attributing them to cultural gaps and stress.
A real mission to Mars is decades away because of huge costs and massive technological challenges, particularly the task of creating a compact shield that will protect the crew from deadly space radiation. President Barack Obama said last month that he foresaw sending astronauts to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s. AP