Video: Mars500 crew emerges from 520-day mission

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/4/2011 7:42:51 AM ET 2011-11-04T11:42:51

Pale but smiling, an international crew of researchers on Friday walked out of a set of windowless modules after a grueling 520-day simulation of a flight to Mars.

The all-male crew of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese citizen slowly emerged from the western Moscow facility, which simulated the confinement, stress and fatigue of interplanetary travel — minus the weightlessness.

Dressed in blue track suits emblazoned with the mission emblem, they carefully walked down a metal ladder to a greeting crowd of officials and journalists.

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"The crew has completed the experiment," team leader Alexey Sitev reported to Russian space officials. "The mission is accomplished, the crew is in good health and is ready for new missions."

Psychologists said long confinement put the team members under stress as they grew increasingly tired of each other's company. They said that psychological conditions can even be more challenging on a mock mission than a real flight because the crew won't experience any of the euphoria or dangers of actual space travel.

The crew showed signs of fatigue but no signs of stress as they walked to microphones to speak before cameras. "We hope that we can help in designing the future missions to Mars," Frenchman Romain Charles said with a smile.

What advice would he give real Marsonauts to survive the monotony? "Always stay busy," Charles said, and "don't forget your e-book reader!"

His Italian-Colombian crewmate Diego Urbina said the crew felt proud to achieve the longest-ever imitation of space flight, so that "humankind can one day greet a new dawn on the surface of distant but reachable planet."

Canned food for 520 days
During the $15 million experiment, the crew communicated with the organizers and their families via the Internet, which was delayed and occasionally disrupted to imitate the effects of space travel. They ate canned food similar to that offered on the International Space Station.

Each crew member will be paid about $100,000 — except for the Chinese researcher, whose reward hasn't been revealed by Chinese officials.

Image: The crew emerges from the simulator
Oleg Voloshin  /  AP/IBMP
The six members of the Mars500 simulation crew face the cameras outside the hatch of their windowless isolation module. Alexander Smoleyevesky is at the top of the ladder, and the others are (from left) Alexey Sitov, Diego Urbina, Sukhrob Kamolov, Romain Charles and Yue Wang.

The men will spend the next few days undergoing medical checkups. There's a chance that the noise and activity of returning to life outside their metal-walled habitat may come as a shock, organizers of the experiment at Moscow's Institute for Biomedical Problems said.

"Time seems to have flown by since we closed the hatch last year. But how time really felt to the crew we'll soon know. Probably we'll have a very big difference of opinion," said the head of the institute, Igor Ushakov.

Massive challenges ahead
A real flight to Mars is decades away because of huge costs and massive technological challenges, particularly the task of creating a compact and relatively lightweight shield that will protect the crew from deadly space radiation.

NASA is aiming for a nearby asteroid around 2025 and then on to Mars in the 2030s.

Vitaly Davydov, a deputy head of the Russian space agency, said the experiment completed Friday will help pave the way for a real Mars mission. He added that it's not expected until the mid-2030s and should be done in close international cooperation.

More about Mars:

This report includes information from The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014
  2. AURA / STSCI / NASA
    Slideshow (24) The greatest hits from Mars

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