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

By Michael Cooney, Network World |  Science, space exploration

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:

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