One of the realities of humans travelling to Mars is the need to confine as many people as possible into the smallest possible craft, obliged to enjoy or endure each others’ company for months at a time – and to that end, many experiments will be carried out here on Earth, in which it is hoped that problems and frictions that could arise can be spotted here, with possible solutions being found that would help avoid or forestall such concerns on a live mission, before it even blasts off…

More than four-and-a half thousand people have applied to take part in a joint Russian-European venture in which six people will be locked inside a mock spacecraft for 520 days to simulate an expedition to Mars.

Russia’s space agency is sifting through piles of applications from would-be astronauts, including Britons, prepared to suffer extreme privation to test endurance levels for a Mars odyssey.

Successful candidates will be locked inside a cramped barrel-shaped spacecraft in central Moscow for a year and a half: 250 days to Mars, followed by a month on the surface, and 240 days to get back. The craft comprises tiny modules – a claustrophobic 550 cubic metres in total that aims to replicate the psychological pressures of an arduous long-distance space voyage.

Although this is superficially a good idea, one thing it appears they’ve forgotten to factor in is that a crew in space will at least have a sense that they are going somewhere, progressing on their mission as the days go by, whereas the volunteers in the Moscow experiment will have no such sense of purpose, knowing full well that they are remaining in exactly the same place, only able to count down the days, without the satisfaction of ticking off another million miles here, or a slightly larger Mars looming into view as the trip progresses there – on the other hand, the Mosconauts know that if it all gets too much, or they get seriously ill or fall victim to a grave emergency, they can presumably knock on the cabin window, to be released back into the real world, a mere footstep away.

Astronauts will be exposed to all aspects of life in space, apart from radiation and weightlessness. Communicating with mission control will be subject to a 20-minute delay: the time taken to send a signal to Earth. Before they “land”, three astronauts destined to “live” on Mars will spend a month in a separate module, lying on their backs with their heads lower than their feet to simulate zero gravity.

I would have thought that the 20-minute delay in communication transmissions would have to be modified, depending on how far the crew are supposedly from Earth – on the outbound journey, there would be a gradual lengthening of this delay, as the distance between craft and Earth increased – whilst one of the better, or morale-boosting aspects of the return trip, would be a corresponding decrease in the time delay of communications, with responses getting slightly quicker with every passing day, until almost instantaneous communications were possible in the final days of the return mission.

All food and water will be taken on board before the trip. Alcohol and smoking will be forbidden, and sex frowned upon. “It’s not a reality show – it is a serious pioneering research experiment,” Dr Mark Belakovsky told Associated Press, adding that there would be moments of tension.

“If you and your girlfriend were to shut yourselves in a room for three days, five days, a month – believe me, you would have a million problems. Either she would strangle you or you would strangle her. Anything can happen,” he said.

Dr Mark, of the Institute of Biomedical Problems, said male and female applicants had to be aged 25 to 50. Doctors would be preferred, he said.

I imagine a dentist would be a good idea as well – nothing like a raging tooth-ache to take the edge off even the most intrepid cosmonaut, whilst a psychologist and some sort of motivation expert, with added experience in entertainment strategies, would also be indispensable – but in the long run, it may well be more prudent to find a way of putting most of the crew in to hibernation for either shifts of a few weeks at a time, or for most of the trip – for the sake of both the ship’s stores, and maybe the sanity of the crew as well.

It’ll probably be another 20 or 30 years minimum before such missions get under way, during which time any number of technological innovations may arise to significantly ease the burden of long journeys for short-lived humans not so keen on spending all day every day with the same five or so faces, for months or even eventually, years on end.

We can only hope such missions don’t find themselves being subject to the vagaries of budgets and funding – receiving a message from Earth, saying something to the effect of ‘ Sorry guys, we just ran out of money – you’re on your own – but don’t worry, at least you’re insured – probably.’ (TJ)

see also: Space.com – ‘Future Mars Explorers Face Dusty Challenges

and: ‘NASA Fears Dust Storm Could Doom Mars Rovers

Cosmos Magazine: ‘Going Somewhere Else

image from here

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