Within the Institute of Biomedical Problems, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, engineers and scientists are completing the construction of a mock-up spaceship which will simulate a voyage to Mars.
The project, called Mars500, due to start in 2008 will recreate all the phases of a mission to Mars. Six volunteers will remain confined in six modules of a mock-up ground-based spaceship: living quarters with individual cabins, an exercise room and storage area for food and supplies, a bio-medical and laboratory area and one recreating the Martian surface. The simulation will also focus on psychological aspects of such a long-duration confinement.
In some respects, the Mars500 concept has many of the ingredients of a reality TV show, with cameras filming the interaction between people in all kinds of situations. But the comparison stops there. This is a serious scientific experiment, and the only way to prepare a really long-duration mission.
The European Space Agency, as a 'strategic partner', is involved at all levels of this international project. Since June this year it has started selecting 12 volunteers, two of them will be part of the six-strong crew. ESA is also choosing the experiments to be carried out during their 500-day confinement.