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This Friday, June 3, will mark one full year in isolation for the Mars500 crew. The joint venture between the European Space Agency and the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems is meant to simulate a 520 day journey to Mars, gathering information about how humans would weather such a trip, in particular the psychological and physiological effects of long-term isolation.The project began in 2007 with a brief 14-day trial to test the facilities -- which include three living/storage modules and one Mars landing simulator module -- and operational procedures, followed by a 105-day period in 2009. On June 3, 2010, the all-male, six-member crew “lifted off from Earth” to begin their 520-day study. They “arrived” on Mars in February, spending just over a week on the faux red planet and simulating three egresses in the simulator module. The mission is currently on its way back to Earth and scheduled to “land” on November 5, 2011. Most recently the crew has been dealing with communications and power blackouts, sometimes with a warning, and sometimes “caused by” sudden solar flares that knock out systems. Early this month, the crew reported that a week-long communications blackout allowed them to focus on the high degree of autonomy required for such a trip, when ground control isn’t there to monitor their every move. As the report notes:The responsibility for planning their daily activities fell on the crew and the six men managed to organise their life very well. Previous studies indicated that a period of high autonomy is not always stressful – it can be motivating. It was like a holiday from the tight control of every day, letting the crew make independent decisions. The crew autonomy issue was a central one at the Mars-ISS conference in April.The Mars500 crew recently finished the “Greenhouse in Space” project to grow Arabidopsis seeds in miniature greenhouses, along with the International Space Station and about 800 school children around Europe. The students followed along with the astronauts and worked to come up with new ideas to make the plants grow better. Unfortunately, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli aboard the ISS had to toss their greenhouse when it developed a fungus -- likely harmless but still too much of a risk to have on the station.You can see photos and video from the Mars 500 project, including their simulated walks on Mars, at their website and YouTube channel; you can also send the crew questions, and follow crewmember Diego Urbina on Twitter.
The responsibility for planning their daily activities fell on the crew and the six men managed to organise their life very well. Previous studies indicated that a period of high autonomy is not always stressful – it can be motivating. It was like a holiday from the tight control of every day, letting the crew make independent decisions.
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