Monday, April 02, 2007

ESA Mars 500 Mission

Preparing for a long-duration human mission to Mars

Starting in spring next year, a crew of six will be sent on a 500 day simulated mission to Mars.

During the simulated Mars mission, known as Mars500, the crew will remain in a special isolation facility in Russia. To investigate the psychological and medical aspects of a long-duration mission, such as to Mars, ESA is looking for experiment proposals for research to be carried out during their stay.

Locked in the facility in Moscow, the crew will be put through all kinds of scenarios as if they really were travelling to the Red Planet – including a launch, an outward journey of up to 250 days, arrival at Mars and, after an excursion to the surface, they will face the long journey home.
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The crew will have tasks similar to those they would have on a real space mission. They will have to cope with simulated emergencies; they may even have real emergencies or illnesses. Communication delays of as much as 20 minutes each way will not make life any easier.

Instead of having a spacecraft as their home, the crew will live in a series of metal tanks. Using narrow connecting passages, they can move between a medical area, a research area, a crew compartment and a kitchen – an area of only 200m2. There is even a special tank representing the Mars descent vehicle for simulation of a stay on the Martian surface.

Why is ESA participating in this study?

To look at the psychology of such a mission, knowing that you are enclosed for 500 days. As soon as there is a problem, the crew knows that they are on their own, and they have to solve it themselves. The only help available from the outside is through communications which may take up to 40 minutes.

At the start of their mission the crew will be supplied with all the food they will have to live off for the duration of the study. They have to keep track of their consumables amongst themselves. This limited food supply could lead to additional tensions amongst the crew.

To look at the psychological effects of the situation on your mental well-being, and on your capabilities of performing certain tasks, even tasks critical to the mission. In a real mission, for example, whether you are able to land a vehicle on the surface of Mars, and are you able to do the science once you are there? How will group relations evolve? What are the potential dangers we could encounter? What kind of countermeasures can we invent that can prevent this? And to learn about what types of personality we should select for a real mission.

Almost as important, to learn more about the medical procedures. How do you define a good medical environment so that you can treat diseases? What are the medicines that you want to take with you on the journey? There will be one person amongst the crew with real medical training. But of course that person can also fall ill. So you have to have all kinds of back-up scenarios.

A full simulation should alert us to any potential risks and better prepare us for the real thing.

The proposal could also cover research in the Concordia Station Credits: IPEV
The Concordia Station is a scientific base built in Antarctica by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) and the Italian Antarctic Programme (PNRA) .

Read more ESA prepares for a human mission to Mars 02 April 2007.

Mars Spots From Astroprofs Page

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