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CAN HUMANS SURVIVE THE LONG, LONELY MISSION TO MARS?

Mars500 was a 520-day simulated mission to Mars that took place in Moscow, Russia. It was a joint mission between Russia, China, and the European Space Agency (ESA) and had six crew members. Three were Russian, one Chinese, one French and one was Italian. The six crew members were sealed inside the isolation facility on June 3, 2010 and remained inside until it was reopened on the simulated return to Earth on November 4, 2011. The purpose of the mission was to study the human physiological and psychological effects of extreme isolation that accompany long spaceflight journeys (European Space Agency. “Mars500: Study Overview”). The crew members participated in over 100 experiments related to human health factors of a real Mars mission while onboard.


The isolation facility was 550 cubic meters and comprised of four hermetically sealed interconnected habitat modules and one external module, used to simulate the Martian surface. The living quarters for the crew contained six individual compartments for crew bedrooms, a kitchen/dining room, a living room, the main control room, and a toilet. The medical module contained equipment from routine medical examinations and a “telemedical” laboratory for diagnostic investigations, where a crew member would be isolated and treated when feeling ill (European Space Agency. “Mars500: Study Overview”). The storage module contained a fridge for food storage, non-perishable food storage, an experimental greenhouse, the bathroom, sauna and gym. Lastly, the Mars landing module was used only during the 30-day Mars ‘orbiting’ phase and contained the necessities for three crew to live and communicate during this time.


Since the purpose of the experiment was to study mainly the medical and psychological effects on humans during extended space travel, the isolation facility was only semi-closed loop. All food was packed beforehand and stored in the storage module, retrieved using a barcode reader to satisfy a specific menu determined beforehand. The greenhouse was used to produce food, but its purpose was mostly geared towards creating a pleasant aesthetic environment and linked to physiological studies more than food production. Supplies for the first half of the mission were kept in the Storage module. Resources for the second half were retrieved from the landing module when it was opened during a simulated landing on Mars, reflecting a real scenario where supplies would be sent in advance in an unmanned spacecraft. The Life Support Systems onboard monitored and controlled air quality, including humidity, temperature, CO2 concentration, CO concentration, O2 concentration, and pressure. Water was an open loop, but was very limited (showers were only allowed every ten days). Air was a semi-closed loop as carbon dioxide was scrubbed out of the air (Urbina. “Symposium keynote”).


The Mars500 study was an overall success in yielding data on the human effects of isolation experienced during a deep space mission. The simulated mission experienced challenges related to human health, communications lag, resource rationing, autonomy, monotony and isolation. The crew returned healthy after the 520 days with no major negative events. A particular group of studies showed that the astronauts experienced problems with sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm due the lack of lighting to simulate a 24 hour day (Tafforin, “The Mars-500 crew”). However, each individual responded differently, leading to the necessity to identify the vulnerably of the astronauts and to provide proper training and countermeasures for the real mission to Mars.

KEYWORDS: Isolation, Autopoiesis

KEY FAILURES

CHALLENGES TO HUMAN HEALTH: The simulated mission experienced challenges related to human health, communications lag, resource rationing, autonomy, monotony and isolation.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION: A particular group of studies showed that the astronauts experienced problems with sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm due the lack of lighting to simulate a 24 hour day.

CHALLENGES TO HUMAN HEALTH: Each individual responded differently, leading to the necessity to identify the vulnerably of the astronauts and to provide proper training and countermeasures for the real mission to Mars.

MARS500
Collaboration of Russia, China, and the European Space Agency (ESA), Moscow, Russia, 2007 – 2011