Crew 'back on Earth' after Mars mission

15th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The experiment, in which six volunteers were kept in an isolated space module, which stayed firmly on Earth, for six months was meant to test the effects of long-term space travel on humans.

Moscow -- Six volunteers from Russia and Europe Tuesday emerged from a capsule inside a Moscow research facility where they have been locked away for the last three months to simulate a mission to Mars.

The six stepped out of the module smiling and in apparent good health after 105 days cut off from the outside world at the isolation facility at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP), an AFP correspondent saw.

At precisely 1000 GMT, an engineer removed the lock on the hatch, cut the seal and the volunteers stepped outside the capsule that had been their home for the last three months.

Dressed in blue overalls like real-life spacemen, the four Russians, Frenchman and German were handed bouquets of flowers and waved at well-wishers as they stood arm-in-arm outside the capsule.

The experiment "has been a success," the Russian "commander" of the crew, Sergei Ryazansky, formally reported to his superiors from the Russian space agency Roskosmos.

The volunteers were whisked away to a medical and were due to give a news conference later in the afternoon.

While their module had stayed firmly on Earth at the Moscow research centre for the past three months, the experiment has been aimed at exactly replicating the conditions of a manned mission to Mars.

The experiment including a simulated landing on the Martian surface, communication delays of up to 20 minutes and unexpected emergency situations.

Scientists have been monitoring the psychological and physical effects of the prolonged isolation on the participants and are hoping this will bring a better understanding of the problems of long-term space flight.

The experiment -- a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the IBMP -- is only the precursor to an even more daunting project planned to start in early 2010.

This will see a six-member crew locked up in the same capsule but this time for 520 days, the estimated time for a return trip to Mars, ESA said in a statement.

The six have for the last three months lived in the 550 cubic metre (19,500 cubic feet) facility which has tiny individual bedrooms a maximum of 3.2 square metres (34 square feet) in area.

Since the hatch slammed shut on March 31, their only chance to leave was if illness or other factors forced one of the volunteers to quit the experiment. All six however have made it to the end with no reports of any major problems.

"None of us can deny that we are looking forward to a return to normal life, but all of us will also have special memories of the past months as an extraordinary event and a successfully mastered challenge in our lives," the German participant Oliver Knickel wrote in a final diary entry before leaving the capsule.

"I must admit that I have absolutely lost the feeling for time on a long-term basis ... I absolutely have no idea about the total length of time we have spent inside the module now," he added in the diary, published on the ESA website.

The ESA and the US space agency NASA have separately sketched dates around three decades from now for a manned flight to Mars.

The Red Planet's distance from Earth varies between 55 million kilometres (34 million miles) and more than 400 million kilometres (250 million miles).

Amelie Herenstein/AFP/Expatica

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