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Space

After 520 days, crew completes simulated roundtrip flight to Mars

Six researchers have shown they can survive the isolation and the cramped quarters that would be asked of any person attempting the long trip to Mars and back.

Mars

The simulation is prep for a real trip to Mars someday

The six men emerged pale but smiling. They had just endured the longest isolation experiment in the history of space travel, 520 days locked in windowless, cramped cells to simulate a journey to Mars and back.

French engineer Romain Charles, Russian surgeon Sukhrob Kamolov, Russian engineer and mission commander Aleksei Sityev, Russian physiologist Aleksandr Somlyeevsky, Italian-Colombian engineer Diego Urbina and Chinese aerospace instructor Wang Yue entered the mock spaceship at a Moscow research institute on June 3, 2010.

The crew pose for a photo inside the simulated spacecraft

The crew spent almost a year and a half in the mock spaceship

During their time inside they had little contact with the outside world despite being monitored constantly by doctors and psychologists via a data link with a 20-minute delay to simulate the time it would take for a message to travel from Earth to a Mars spaceship. Halfway through the mission, three of the crewmembers even donned spacesuits and conducted a series of walks on a mocked up Mars surface.

Close relatives and mission controllers greeted the men with applause as they exited their simulated spaceship.

"It's really, really great to see you all again, rather heartwarming," said Diego-Urbina, the Italian-Colombian participant. "On this mission we've achieved the longest isolation ever so that humankind can go to a distant but reachable planet."

Space officials say technology is still decades away from allowing for a safe manned mission to Mars. Aleksei Krasnov, the head of Russia's piloted space vehicle program, said the simulation had provided information that would be critical to making an actual trip to Mars successful.

The Mars 500 experiment cost $15 million (10.9 million euros) and was funded mainly by Russia, the European Space Agency and Germany.

Author: Holly Fox (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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