In 1914, the famous Antarctic explorer Shackleton purportedly posted an add to recruit his crew that read:
MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.
Nearly 100 years later, the same could be said for the first volunteers to explorer Mars. With conventional propulsion technology, it will take about 8 months of floating in the cold blackness of space just to reach Mars. Dangers like radiation exposure and physiological deconditioning are big uncertainties, as are the pyschological effects of being in close quarters for so long.
Addressing these challenges, the European and Russian space agencies launched the ambitious Mars500 Project last June. Since then, six crewmembers have been locked up in a simulated interplanetary spacecraft pretending to be in transit to the Red Planet. With over 100 scientific experiments on the mission, it's the longest and most rigorous study of the isolation and confinement humans will face under long duration space mission conditions. Click on the image to the right for a complete PDF overview of the Mars500 Project.
Just like my FMARS and MDRS simulated Mars missions, they observe a strict 20-minute communication delay with "Earth" and only take showers once per week to conserve water.
Imagine spending 1152 days at sea with no land in site, living off only the provisions you brought with you. That's just what adventurer Reid Stowe did from April 2007 to June 2010 when he drifted the seas in his 70-foot schooner on an expedition called the "Mars Ocean Odyssey" with the bold intention of demonstrating how a small crew could handle the isolation on a trip to Mars.
Stowe's record-breaking voyage roughly simulated the duration of an opposition-class mission to Mars, which is the most favored scenario for most Mars mission planners. After 244 days in isolation, the Mars500 crew went into virtual orbit around Mars this week, which signifies the near halfway point of their simulated conjunction-class Mars mission. They will "land" on the surface on February 12 in what is sure to be an exciting event. Both the Stowe and Mars500 missions can teach us a great deal about the psychological factors crews will face when undergoing long-duration deep space missions.