The Concordia crew of 2017-2018 returns to the European Astronaut Centre after their Antarctica work for a programme follow up. They met ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, who recently returned from his six-month mission on the International Space Station.
Concordia research station is a collaboration between the French Polar Institute and the Italian Antarctic programme. It is one of only three bases that is inhabited all year long, and is located at the mountain plateau called Dome C.
As well as offering around nine months of complete isolation, Concordia’s location at 3233 m altitude means the crew experience chronic hypobaric hypoxia – lack of oxygen in the brain. During the Antarctic winter, the crew of up to 15 people also endure four months of complete darkness: the sun disappears from May and is not seen again until late August. Temperatures can drop to –80°C in the winter, with a yearly average of –50°C.
As a station set in Earth’s harshest space, Concordia is an ideal stand-in for studying the human psychological and physiological effects of extreme cold, isolation and darkness.