Russians one step closer to Mars

A team of Russian scientists are starting a major experiment which may pave the way for the world's first manned flight to Mars. Several people will be locked in a tube for more than a year to simulate the long flight to the fiery planet.

The Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems wants to find out how humans cope with the rigours of the trip.

How far is the dream?

The planet is 56 million kilometres away from Earth. That equates to roughly 250 days travel in a spaceship. Then a period spent on Mars and finally a shorter trip back to Earth, all in all 520 days.

And that's what several enthusiasts have volunteered to go through.

“We consider that 520 days are enough to test the facilities, to estimate the condition of the people and the medical support necessary during a flight to Mars,” Viktor Baranov, ‘Mars 500’ project chief manager, said.

Space trip simulator

A special complex was built to mimic the stresses and challenges of the mission. It consists of five interconnected modules: one for supplies, one for experiments, a living space module as well as piloting and communication modules.

The crew will have to live in the mock space craft and experience the cosmonauts' daily routine.

They would also have to deal with simulated emergency situations, some arising from human error, others from failure of equipment.

“When we were modelling a flight to Mars under an experimental programme, we took account of its fundamental differences from a traditional orbit flight,” said Evgeny Demin, technical director of the project. These differences, as he explained, are that on a flight to Mars it will be impossible to deliver additional supplies or replace the space crew in emergency situations.

The cost of the project comes to almost $US15 million and is getting attention from all over the world.

The six crew members were chosen from among 150 applicants and the organisers say the mission could be extended to 700 days.