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Mars500 crew ready for experiment

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Mars500. An Esa photo

NEW DELHI (BNS): A crew of six people will soon begin a simulated mission to Mars. The “Mars500” experiment will be a simulation of a 520-day round-trip visit to the red planet.

The final crew will include two Europeans, one Chinese and three Russians. The first full-duration simulated mission to Mars will start in a special human habitat at Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow next summer, an Esa statement said.

The crew will enter a completely isolated capsule. The tiny capsule consists of four connected modules, each with a volume of 550 cubic meters. There are no windows.

Their diet will be identical to the freeze-dried menu on the International Space Station.

Scientific investigations during the "voyage" will assess the effect that isolation has on various psychological and physiological aspects such as stress, hormone levels, sleep quality, mood and the impact of dietary supplements.

If a crew-member decides halfway through the simulation that he really cannot cope with the separation anymore and wants to leave, he will be allowed to do so, the organizers said.

The Mars500 experiment is being conducted by Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) with extensive participation by ESA.

The Mars500 is so called because it simulates the duration of a possible human Mars mission in the future using conventional propulsion: 250 days for the trip to the Red Planet, 30 days on the Martian surface and 240 days for the return journey, totaling 520 days which in reality probably may take a lot longer than this.

Besides testing the grit of the crew, a support crew will be working around the clock at IBMP for the duration of the mission.

Communication between mission control and the crew will have an automatically enforced delay of as long as 20 minutes to account for the distance between Earth and the capsule during its 100 million-mile jaunt.

One simulated emergency that they are certain to face is a solar flare. In the space outside of Earth's magnetic shielding, astronauts will be vulnerable to the Sun's periodic belches of plasma and high-energy radiation. Once the alarm sounds, the Mars500 crew will have to scramble to emergency shielding to wait out the flare.

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