Mission to Nowhere

A 1,000 square foot house — while small — is hardly unmanageable.   Sharing it with five others?  Getting difficult.   And with no windows?   Doable for short amounts of time.

Not being able to leave for 520 days?  Or bring anything inside?  That’s a problem.  But for six people in Russia on a dry run “Mission to Mars,” it’s reality, since June of this year.

The project, called Mars500, simulates the roughly 35 week trip from the Earth to Mars.  The six cosmonauts are locked inside a capsule (a picture of the main cabin is right; see the layout here) for the 250 day trip to Mars, only to don spacesuits, pass through an air lock, and exit into a second chamber, made to be a faux Mars surface.  There, the team will “explore” the alien planet for 30 days, and then return home — a relatively short trip at only 240 days.

During the entire 520 day mission, the crew is limited to supplies and rations they have on-board — no ordering pizza, for example — and a large portion of their payload is clothes.  They don’t do laundry, but rather wear clothes until they’re too dirty to wear any further, then casting them off into “outer space.”   Crew members can shower using stowed water, but limit themselves to one shower every ten days.

Communications are also incredibly limited.   All communications are on a twenty minute delay, so in case of emergency (or even minor sickness), the crew will have to work out a solution with limited help from mission control.  And some other emergencies (glitches in the life support system, perhaps) will be simulated to see how the crew reacts.

All said and done, however, this crew won’t be going to Mars for real.  Most experts predict that the first manned mission to Mars is at least two decades away, as the cost of a mission is incredibly high and the value potentially tiny.

Bonus fact:  Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, took a very short walk while up there, totally only a few hundred feet.  But his walk should have been even shorter — Armstrong shouldn’t have been an astronaut at all.  He applied for (and, obviously, was accepted into) NASA’s second astronaut program, but his application arrived after the deadline.  A friend at NASA slipped it into the pile anyway.

From the Archives: Marooned on the Moon: What if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin hadn’t been able to make it back to Earth?

RelatedMission to Mars, the movie. 333 reviews, 3 stars.

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