Restless sleep on the way to Mars
22 January 2013
When humans eventually travel to Mars, they will face an exceptional journey. Scientists have analysed what happened during the simulated Mars500 mission of 2010-2011, giving them a much better idea of the mental and physical problems that might come up during a Mars mission.
The crew of six ‘marsonauts’ was locked in a simulated spaceship near Moscow, Russia, for 520 days. That’s being locked up for almost one year and a half! This is the time it will take to fly to Mars and back, plus 30 days for exploring its surface. During their ‘mission’, the crew lived in isolation, without fresh food, sunlight or fresh air. The study showed that every detail must be planned, including diet and sleep.
Because they couldn’t see the Sun in the sky, the volunteers had to find other ways of regulating their sleep patterns, such as checking their watches or being woken by other crew members. Problems did arise with crew sleeping at different times.
ESA scientists are continuing to look into the problem of getting a good night’s sleep. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will measure hormones linked with sleep during his six-month stay on the International Space Station this year. The sleep patterns of people living on the Concordia base in Antarctica during the long, dark, polar winter are also being studied.
Other surprising findings from the mock Mars mission show that our bodies do not absorb and remove salt constantly. It seems that our kidneys process salt in a weekly cycle, working harder to remove salt on some days than others. These findings will not only benefit astronauts in space but also everyone on Earth who works irregular hours, has problems sleeping or suffers salt-related high blood pressure.