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Russia seeks volunteers for mock Mars mission

Russia's space agency is seeking volunteers for a 520-day 'flight' to Mars and back. To qualify in the first round of selection, you would need to be aged between 25 and 50 years.
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Russia's space agency is seeking volunteers for a 520-day 'flight' to Mars and back.

To qualify in the first round of selection, you would need to be aged between 25 and 50 years.

Being a doctor, engineer, biologist or computation instrument specialist would win you extra points during the selection process, according to an announcement posted Thursday on the Web site of Russia's Federal Space Agency. The announcement didn't specify how many of the five winners would need to be male or female.  

"The gender structure will be determined by the results of the selection of volunteers," the release said.

The “flight” will be simulated on the premises of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medical and Biological Research in northern Moscow. The ship will consist of five modules with a total space of 19,500 square feet (550 cubic meters), one of which will serve as the Mars landing craft and base. Only three of the five-strong team will make it to the surface, where they will spend up to 30 days.

The "Marsanauts" will spend 250 days flying to the Red Planet, with the return flight to the Earth lasting ten days less. The overall “mission” would last 520 days with an option of extending it to 700 days, according to the space agency's statement.

Throughout the flight, the crew would be able to communicate with "mission control" via e-mail, but will enjoy video links for communications within the ship and with the landing module. As on much of the earth, the crew will have a five-day working week and rest on Saturday and Sundays. Neither smoking nor alcohol will be allowed.

The crew will be subjected to stress, too, as various emergencies are being planned, including the onsite malfunctioning of equipment and systems.

The goals of the simulation is to study how such a deep space mission would impact the crew’s health. Along with monitoring the crew's health, they will also test capabilities for remote diagnosis and treatment via video links, organize crew activities and work to prevent any negative impacts prolonged spaceflight would have on human health.

The experiment is set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to an undated press release, which tops the news section of the official Web site of the Institute of Medical and Biological Research.

The press release said the planned simulation will enable the institute to "refine the concept" of medical and biological support for the planned flight to Mars. Both Russians and citizens of other countries are welcome to apply as it is planned as an "international crew."

The Institute of Medical and Biological Research has been traditionally responsible for medial and human health dimensions of the country’s manned space exploration program. It has run a number of flight simulations on its premises, including some with foreign participation.

During one such flight, two Russian men exchanged blows after one of them tried to forcefully plant a kiss on the lips of a Canadian female volunteer during a New Year's celebration.

The Canadian perceived the attempted kiss as a case of sexual harassment. The institute mounted a big effort to convince the Canadian and her colleagues not to leave the simulator and complete their 110-day stint.

As part of its 10-year program, the Federal Space Agency plans its own interplanetary mission, which would send the Fobos-Grunt probe to one of Mars' satellites to collect samples. The agency has no plans to launch an exclusively Russian program to send human beings to Mars, although it has displayed interest in assisting such a program on the international level.