18-month exile for cosmonauts

In preparation for the Mars500 project which begins in May, four candidates who wish to accompany the mission at a later date (only two can go), have volunteered to be locked away in steel containers for 18 months in order to test their mental resilience for extended spaceflight.

The four who include two Frenchmen, a Belgian and a Colombian-Italian will live in the containers and even perform a simulated landing. After 250 days the team will split in two before then conducting simulated space walks in Russian Orlan spacesuits throughout a specially constructed, Mars terrain simulator.

The Mars500 test facility is located in Moscow and comprises of a series of four sealed, interconnected modules of a total volume of 550 cubic metres. Crucially, however, there are no windows in any of the containers and the walls have been covered with wooden panelling to make them look slightly less austere.

The goal of the exile period is to accurately simulate life on Mars as well as possible, so while they will be monitored at all times by an on-site control room, the cosmonauts will have to deal with a time-delay in communications (it takes 20 minutes for a message from Mars to reach Earth) and will have to exercise, eat and work without ever seeing the light of day.