The crew selection for a simulated Mars mission moved a step closer to completion recently with ESA's last eight candidates being put through extensive medical screening in Moscow. Two of the European candidates will be chosen to join four Russian crew members on a 105-day study due to start in March next year.
For 105 days, as part of a cooperative project between ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight and the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP), the six-strong crew will live, eat, sleep and work in a specially designed and recently refurbished facility in Moscow.
During this time they will experience elements of a simulated Mars mission. Their stay is a precursor to the full Mars500 study due to start later in 2009, which will see another six-member crew sealed in the chamber to experience a complete 520-day Mars mission.
The purpose of the Mars500 study is to gather data, knowledge and experience to help prepare one day for a real mission to Mars. The participants will act as subjects in scientific investigations to assess the effect that isolation has on various psychological and physiological aspects, such as stress, hormone regulation and immunity, sleep quality, mood and the effectiveness of dietary supplements.
The final eight candidates are all male, aged between 28 and 39, and come from Denmark, Sweden, Germany (2), France (3) and Belgium.
In Moscow they were put through their paces at the Central Clinical Hospital of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There, for several days, they underwent extensive medical examinations, including an ECG at rest and during exercise, X-ray of chest and spine, ultrasound of internal organs and blood tests. There were also consultations with specialists including a neurologist, a dentist, a psychologist and an ophthalmologist.
These tests are essential to ensure that the final crew is totally healthy before embarking on their mission. "Our Mars500 candidates undergo exactly the same medical examinations as spaceflight participants*. This ensures that we only send completely healthy candidates on the simulated journey to Mars," explains Jennifer Ngo-Anh, ESA's Mars500 Programme Manager.
Going through the medical was at times uncomfortable, although the shared experience gave the candidates a chance to get to know each other better. "All the candidates I met were very fine individuals with very impressive backgrounds," says German father of three. The Danish candidate agrees: "They are all open-minded, very intelligent and very sympathetic. I hope the real astronauts are made of the same stuff!"
If selected to join the 105-day study, the candidates are unanimous, most of all they would miss their families and friends. But all are naturally excited at the prospect of being part of the crew; in particular they are looking forward the challenge, as well as meeting new people and learning new things.
Whilst in Moscow the candidates also had the opportunity to tour the Mars500 facility and to meet with the Russian cosmonaut who will command the 105-day study. By all accounts the commander made a good impression. "He comes across serious, well-trained and highly qualified, while still being easy-going, open-minded and dynamic," says one candidate from France. "It would be a pleasure to be a member of his team."
Having started the selection process with some 5600 applicants, the final selection of ESA's two crew members plus two others who will train as their back-up will be announced mid-December. "Now that we examined them all from head to toe and know them from inside and outside, we will be able to make our final selection. We will only pick the best candidates, the aim being to make the study successful – the information that we gather in this programme will help us in the future for selection of a crew for a real Mars mission," says Ngo-Anh.
* Spaceflight participants usually spend 10 days on board the ISS and pay the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, for their flight opportunity. They have to undergo a thorough medical check in order to be allowed to fly, which is similar to the medical that astronauts and cosmonauts have to undergo.
ESA Mars500 Programme Manager
Tel. +31 71 565 8609
Mars500 @ esa.int
ESA Communication Officer for the Directorate of Human Spaceflight
Tel: + 31 71 565 6799
Markus.Bauer @ esa.int