Space agency wants volunteers to fly to Mars. Sort of.

The European Space Agency wants volunteers to take the 520-day trip to Mars. Well ok, a simulated version of the red planet voyage but you would get to go to Moscow and pretend you were on a spaceship.

Starting in 2010, an international crew of six will simulate a 520-day round-trip to Mars, including a 30-day stay on the Martian surface. The 'mission' is part of the Mars500 program being conducted by ESA and Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) to study human psychological, medical and physical capabilities and limitations in space through fundamental and operational research.

The crew will follow a program designed to simulate a 250-day journey to Mars, a 30-day surface exploration phase and 240 days travelling back to Earth. For the surface exploration, half of the crew will move to the facility's Martian simulation module and the hatch to the rest of the facility will be closed, ESA stated.

The reason for such research? When preparing for long-duration space missions beyond the six month range currently undertaken by Expedition crews on the International Space Station (ISS), medical and psychological aspects become an issue of major importance. When contemplating missions beyond Low Earth Orbit, such as to the Moon and Mars, daily crew life and operational capabilities may be affected by the hazardous space environment, the need for full autonomy and resourcefulness, the isolation, the interaction with fellow crewmembers and other aspects, the ESA stated.

Potential Mars explorers should be 20-50 years old, motivated, in good health and no taller than 6ft. They should speak one of the working languages: English and Russian. Candidates must have a background and work experience in medicine, biology, life support systems engineering, computer engineering, electronic engineering or mechanical engineering, the ESA stated.

Except for weightlessness and radiation, the simulations will be as close to a real Mars mission as possible including:

• The crew will live and work in a facility in Moscow, which has been specifically designed for the needs of these simulations. The facility comprises a medical module: it will accommodate up to 2 crewmembers in case of illness, and has equipment for routine medical and laboratory investigations; living quarters with 6 individual compartments; a kitchen-dining room, living room and a toilet; a Mars landing module, which will only be used during the 30 day Mars orbiting phase and; a storage module containing food supplies, an experimental greenhouse, sauna and gym.• Nutrition and hygiene of the crewmembers will be comparable to that on-board the ISS, i.e. food will be predefined and carefully rationed, there will be no shower, smoking and consumption of alcoholic beverages will not be allowed.• The crew will largely be autonomous, which will be expressed in independent decision-making, control of the environmental situation and of consumable resources, to name a few.• A signal passage delay of up to 20 minutes one-way during communication of the crew and the ground-based control center will be gradually built in with the aim of simulating a real interplanetary mission. Additionally, private communication to family and friends will be limited comparable to a spaceflight situation.• During work time the crew will conduct scientific experiments, perform physical exercise, as well as tasks related to maintenance of the facility, life support system control and maintenance, sanitary and hygienic procedures

Selection will be based on education, professional experience, medical fitness and social habits. Following an initial assessment, potential candidates will have to submit results from medical tests and will then be invited for interview, to be screened in a process similar to that used in astronaut selection.

The kicker? You have to be a citizen of ESA Member States meaning: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden and Canada.

This story, "Space agency wants volunteers to fly to Mars. Sort of." was originally published by Network World.

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