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Four Europeans on shortlist for simulated Mars mission

by Staff Writers
Noordwijk, Netherlands (AFP) March 22, 2010
Four Europeans vying to become guinea pigs for a 500-day simulated mission to Mars said Monday they were proud to be putting their young lives on hold for the sake of scientific advancement.

"I want to help humanity take a step forward by improving our level of knowledge," 28-year-old Belgian Jerome Clevers said at the European Space Agency's (ESA) offices in Noordwijk in the western Netherlands of his quest to be part of the isolation study.

Added 26-year-old Italian Diego Urbina: "When the first humans step on Mars I can say: 'yeah I helped do that.' And then we get to use cool space suits, which is also nice!"

The four European candidates, who also include Frenchmen Romain Charles, 30, and Arc'hanmael Gaillard, 34, were presented to the media on Monday.

Two of the four, all engineers by trade, will be picked to take part in a biomedical experiment starting this summer with three Russians and a Chinese in what the ESA has termed "second to none as the ultimate test of human endurance".

After some months of training, the group will be locked away at the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow in an elaborate reconstruction that will include an interplanetary spaceship, a Mars lander and a Martian landscape.

The experiment will test the group's mental and physical ability to cope with life in an enclosed environment, seeing the same faces every day for an extended period of time, under constant stress and isolated from their loved ones back on Earth.

"Fresh air and sun," said Clevers, asked what he was likely to miss most from Earth. "There are no windows in the modules."

"There will be no women," added Urbina.

The experiment will include a 250-day simulated trip to Mars, a 30-day Mars landing and stay, and a 240-day return "flight".

"We want to gather lots of data, knowledge and experience to prepare for a real human mission to Mars," ESA official Martin Zell told reporters.

Among the things to be tested will be stress levels, fluctuations in hormones, immunity and mood, sleep quality, and the effects of dietary supplements on the human body.

Once sealed in, the six-member crew will have direct contact with ground control and home for the first two months, thereafter only via the Internet with a 20-minute delay to simulate a real space mission, said Zell.

They will live in four hermetically sealed, inter-connected habitat modules, totalling 550 cubic metres (19,400 cubic feet) in volume.

Each crew member will have his own compartment of 2.8 metres by 3.2 metres (nine feet by 10.5 feet), with a bed, a desk, a chair and shelves for personal belongings, which Urbina said would include "a huge hard drive with music and videos".

After the first 250 days, half the crew will move to a special module that houses a Martian surface simulator, where they will do "space walks" in real Russian space suits for a month.

"When I was a boy, I dreamt about space and astronauts and that kind of thing," Charles told journalists. "This is that dream."

In July last year six volunteers from Russia and Europe successfully completed a similar three-month experiment in a capsule at the Moscow research facility.

The ESA and US space agency NASA have separately forecast a manned flight to Mars in about three decades.

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

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Russia Shortlists 11 For 520-Day Simulation Of Mars Mission
Moscow, Russia (RIA Novosti) Mar 10, 2010
Russia's Institute of Medical and Biological Problems announced on Thursday the names of 11 volunteers on the shortlist to take part in a 520-day simulation of an expedition to Mars, a spokesman said. The 11 candidates will complete basic spaceflight training and in spring six of them will be chosen to take part in the experiment, which will simulate all aspects of a journey to the Red Pla ... read more

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