Image: Mars500's Diego Urbina
ESA
Mars500 crew member Diego Urbina looks through a hatch in the isolation chamber that is serving as a simulated Mars spacecraft at Russia's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.
By
updated 1/21/2011 10:39:34 AM ET 2011-01-21T15:39:34

After 233 days in a locked steel capsule, six researchers on a 520-day mock flight to Mars are all feeling strong and ready to "land" on the Red Planet, the mission director said Friday.

The all-male crew of three Russians, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Italian-Colombian has been inside windowless capsules at a Moscow research center since June. Their mission aims to help real space crews in the future cope with the confinement and stress of interplanetary travel.

The researchers communicate with the outside world via e-mails and video messages — occasionally delayed to give them the feel of being farther than a few yards (meters) away from mission control. The crew members eat canned food similar to that eaten on the International Space Station and shower only once a week.

None of the men has considered abandoning the mission, although they are free to walk out at any time, mission director and former cosmonaut Boris Morukov told reporters on Friday.

"They are still motivated, but there is a certain fatigue, which is natural," he said.

The six men are due to "land" on Mars on Feb. 12 and spend two days researching the planet. They then begin the months-long return flight to Earth, expected to be the most challenging part of the mission.

"It will be very tough on the boys because of the monotony," Morukov said. "The fatigue and the thought that the mission is over can be fraught with negative consequences."

The Mars-500 experiment is being conducted by the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems, the European Space Agency and China's space training center.

In an effort to reproduce the conditions of space travel, with exception of weightlessness, the crew has living quarters the size of a bus connected with several other modules for experiments and exercise. A separate built-in imitator of the Red Planet's surface is attached for the mock landing.

A real mission to Mars is decades away because of its huge costs and major technological challenges, particularly the task of creating a compact shield that would protect the crew from deadly space radiation.

Mission control will create mock emergencies for the crew to keep them busy on their way back to Earth, Morukov said Friday.

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The six men had to spend a day in the dark in December, after mission control simulated an emergency blackout, leaving them with only a few back-up generators so they had to prioritize their needs.

The length of interplanetary missions is why the conditions of a Mars flight cannot be tested on astronauts at the International Space Station. The space station is in Earth orbit and in case of emergency the astronauts can always return to Earth in two hours' time. On interplanetary missions, there is no quick way back.

Although the crew is all-male, Morukov stressed that the organizers did not intentionally leave out women but just couldn't find the right candidate.

A similar experiment in 1999-2000 at the same Moscow research center went awry when a Canadian woman complained of being forcibly kissed by the Russian team captain. She also said two Russian crew members had a fist fight that left blood splattered on the walls. Russian officials downplayed the incidents, attributing them to cultural gaps and stress.

The organizers earlier said each crew member will be paid about $97,000 for taking part in the experiment.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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