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Cosmonauts Plan Mars Walk into Sand Pit
Posted In: Technology Articles  1/27/11
By: Chris Capps

That's one small step for a man.  Actually it really will be as Russian cosmonauts are planning to take the next step in their 500 day mission to simulate an expedition to Mars.  The study of how confinement can affect astronauts over the long term is said to be one of the cornerstones of the study, and the spacewalk will be one of the first times a cosmonaut will be allowed to move out of the Mars 500 capsule and take one small step into the next stage of the experiment.

The next stage of the experiment will involve the astronauts, who have been completely physically isolated and to a lesser extend socially isolated taking their first steps out of the capsule and into the outside world onto a red stage where Martian surface will be reproduced.  Unable to move around for the past 200 days, the explorers will spend 20 days stretching their legs and walking around taking samples and performing basic experiments before moving on to the next step.

Despite the strenuous and cramped conditions the crew has been living in and the isolation they have endured, no one has so far left the pod prematurely or demanded they be let back outside.  The group need only survive in a capsule for 220 more days and then it's back to "Earth" and a paycheck of $92,000.  Of course the prize is hardly the winnings of a reality TV show, even if the premise seems like one.

The living conditions themselves are no larger than a shipping container or bus, but they are able to communicate with far away loved ones via email.  The monotony of the trip is said to be one of the greatest drains on those conducting the experiment.  Of course spirits are high as the group plans to move to the next stage and actually land on their simulated planet and leave the capsule.

One of the biggest problems facing those on a 500 day journey to Mars would be the severe isolation as outlined in this experiment, but there would be other hurdles to overcome as well.  Though a bus is hardly a large enough space to live comfortably for too long, astronauts may actually have to live in a capsule even smaller than that for efficiency and weight purposes.  Each cubic inch would have to be scrutinized and its weight would have to be valued.

And of course there are the other problems that astronauts may have to handle as well.  In addition to severe isolation they may have solar flares, radiation, systems malfunctions, and of course let's not forget mysterious transmissions from their destination.  No word on whether scientists will simulate inhabitants on the red planet to see how the extreme isolation has affected the cosmonauts' perception of the bizarre.  Of course that might ruin the isolation portion of the experiment somewhat.

It's all part of the long journey science has yet to take before human footprints finally reach millions of miles away to the red planet.


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