The program, named Mars500
, is being carried out in Moscow by the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP), Russian Academy of Sciences and the European Space Agency (ESA
). The study has been divided into three phases. In November 2007, a first experiment was conducted in which six Russian volunteers, including a woman biologist, were isolated from the outside world for fifteen days to test technical equipment, facilities, and operating procedures in the flight simulator. Later on, another all- Russian crew held a mock flight planned to last for 105 days, ending on July 14, 2009.
The third phase
began on June 3 and should last 520 days. The duration of the “expedition” includes 250 days of “outward travel” to Mars, a 30 day period “orbiting and landing” on Mars, and 240 days estimated to be duration of the “return trip” to Earth. The crew in this third phase is comprised by three Russians, two Europeans (French and Italian-Colombian) and one Chinese. The team is headed by Commander Alexei Sitev, a Russian engineer.
The distance from our planet to Mars can vary between 55 million Km, when Earth and Mars are in the same side and in line with the Sun, to about 400 million Km when both planets are at opposite sides of the Sun. It is estimated that by now the Mars500 "spaceship" would be about 20 million kilometres away from Earth and about 190 million km from Mars. The arrival to Mars and beginning of the “orbital phase” is estimated by mid December 2010. A “landing” on the Martian surface is planned sometime in February 2011 while the return to the Earth surface is planned to take place in early November 2011.
The “Inter-Planetary Space-Ship” or isolation facility has four hermetically sealed interconnected sections. These include a habitable module, medical and storage modules, and a Mars Landing Module simulator. The storage module consists of cold and non-perishable food compartments, an experimental green-house, a bathroom, sauna and gym. A basic toilet is located in connection with the living quarters.
The scientific research program includes about 105 experiments and observations of biological parameters and psychological performance. The factors under study encompass physiological functions, immunity, fitness, and plasma cortisol levels to evaluate stress and adaptation; group structure, dynamics, communications and psychological resilience; monitoring of microbial ecology in the hermetic, confined quarters; the effect of dietary supplements on performance and mood, and many more.
As the “voyage” progresses, and aiming to compensate for any loss of muscle mass in the flying conditions of the experiment, the participants are increasing their physical activity and more frequently using the treadmill, stationary bike and other physical fitness equipment. The delay of communications with the mission control on Earth will gradually increase similar to what they would experience if they were actually moving farther away from Earth.
In the "Mars landing" phase of the experiment, they will use a 1,200 cubic meters pad simulating the Red Planet's surface. In this occasion the landing crew will wear specially designed spacesuits and helmets to “explore” the Martian environment.
Under the rules of the experiment, a participant who wishes to, or for any reason must, leave the extended experimental isolation can do so, however, he must be deemed as dead during the mission.