How did Mars500 work?

The Mars500 mission was an important study to ascertain the mental and physical strain on humans in closed isolation on a long-haul trip to Mars. The mission was a join project between the ESA and Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems, beginning on 3 June 2010 and culminating on 4 November 2011. In it, six candidates (three Russians, two Europeans and one Chinese) were sealed in an isolation chamber for 520 days, the approximate journey time for a real mission to and from the Red Planet.

The isolation facility they were held in was based in Moscow and consisted of five modules; three to replicate the spacecraft (where the volunteers spent the majority of their time), one to replicate the Mars-lander astronauts would travel in to the surface and another to simulate the Martian surface, with a total combined area of 550 m³ (19,423 ft³).

To accurately simulate a mission to Mars, the volunteers were subjected to the same conditions that would be apparent for astronauts making the trip for real. For example, all communications outside the pod were given a time delay, ranging from one-minute when near “Earth” to 20 minutes at “Mars”, while the crew were also given a diet identical to that of astronauts on board the International Space Station.

The volunteers carried out the same tasks that astronauts would in a real-life Mars trip, including simulating a Martian landing and performing experiments. The participants were able to talk to friends and family via video link at various points in the mission, albeit with the aforementioned time delay.

With the mission finished, future astronauts making the long-haul trip to our neighbouring planet will have useful knowledge of the conditions they might expect when being in isolation for such a long period of time and at such a great distance from home.

Mars500 images courtesy of ESA