People have got so much used to the issue of space that it is somewhat boring for us. This is the reason why majority of us are not aware of unique projects carried out by Russian scientists, engineers and investigators. In fact, preparation for a manned flight to Mars started in Russia 30 years ago. One of the program’s final stages – imitation of a flight in a special surface complex – is to take place next year. Preparation for the final stage has already started.
The long-expected space flight will take place on a bright summer, autumn or winter morning of 2005 on the outskirts of Moscow. Astronauts will take their seats, the head of the project will say go and the first in the world history manned expedition to Mars will begin.
This makes no sense that the astronauts will be sitting in a spaceship called a surface experimental complex that scientists themselves call a barrel. The complex was invented by Sergey Korolev. Since those times, generations of investigators have tested the complex to find out what real astronauts feel being in the orbit. This time in the framework of the experiment the astronauts will reach Mars and get back to this planet; the experimental flight will last about 500 days.
However, even before the experimental flight begins researchers must find answers to essential questions: what will be the physical and mental state of the crew, how the autonomous life-support systems will operate and what problems the crew may come across.
Department director of the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems Mark Belakovsky says that the concept of the prospective flight is being polished up currently. Negotiations on participation of other countries in the experiment have been started, so the expedition will be an international one. The crew will highly likely consist of six male investigators: a captain, a pilot, a flight engineer, two expert investigators and a doctor. Technical workers of the Institute are making the complex ready for the mission.
The state-run scientific center the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems started preparation for an expedition to Mars in the 1970s. Researchers observed activity of astronauts and studied the reaction of the human body to the regime of the orbital life, to the space conditions and to the load of the flight. At the same time, researchers studied recovery of the organism after space flights and adaptation to normal life on this planet. Information obtained during the observation helped researchers conduct complex medical experiments meant for prospective space missions.
Russian researchers were the first in the world to conduct a series of experiments involving long hypokinesia and imitated the space zero gravity under the earthly conditions. Groups of investigators spent different periods of time, from several days to 12 months, lying motionless in beds with their heads put 15 centimeters lower than the rest of the body. The people slept, ate, washed, watched TV and fulfilled tasks given by researchers still staying with the heads of the beds lowered. It was not allowed to change the angle of inclination or to put a hand under the head.
Professor Valery Mikhailov, the leader of one of the long experiments told: “The human organism was formed under the terrestrial attraction conditions. A complicated system of resistance to gravitation thus arose. It still functions in the space where the terrestrial attraction is out of action. That is why blood spreads about the body in a particular way in space, which in its turn may have a negative effect upon people”s health and efficiency.”
A horizontal position of the body without a pillow under the head is the simplest model of what actually happens to people in the state of weightlessness. Anyone can try the experiment on a sofa at home and will feel his head is heavy, the blood hummers in the temples, the face swells and the nose is blocked after several hours of lying with> the head down. Astronauts have to spend months with these symptoms and to fulfill complicated scientific programs at the same time. What is the way to save people’s health in space? Investigators participating in experiments on the surface help answer the question. Results of these experiments are incredibly valuable for astronauts.
Every day of these investigators is strictly scheduled: they work with researchers, undergo experiments with equipment, blood tests, the functions of their muscles and organs are examined, and investigators fill in different questionnaires. When the investigators have rest they are allowed to read books, newspapers, watch TV and play computer games but obligatorily still lying in beds. This is curious that thrillers with tense motion and erotic films are particularly popular among the investigators. At that, doctors say that the experimenters will not take medicines to relieve sexual tension, which means the tension is quite tolerable.
Yeugenia Chelnokova, a participant of a 4-months female experiment on hypokinesia says that the four months of the experiment were the most intensive period in her life. At least, that was the period when her contacts with researchers, friends and other participants of the experiment were the most active. “We had much laughter, we joked about ourselves and doctors. Even though the situation of the experiment was unusual, the atmosphere resembled a holiday.”
These experiments, as well as long real space flights were conducted to find an answer to the question how long people could stay in space without serious harm to their health. Doctor Valery Polyakov, an astronaut who spent 438 days in space provided an answer to the question; he is now working on an expedition to Mars.
This expedition poses a number of questions as well. What is the right way to distribute responsibilities among the crew members? What should be the life-supporting systems in space when it is known that no supporting expeditions may arrive from Earth? What is the minimal set of equipment to help astronauts stay healthy and efficient under different conditions?
It is not for the first time that Russian investigators carry out long imitation flights. Several experiments lasting from 90 to 270 days were held within 1994-2000. Experimenter Heider Khobikhozhin took part in the longest international project Sphinx that lasted for nine months. He says: “Return to Earth is the most difficult part of these experiments. It seems that you are absolutely dismissed from all processes going on this planet. The time goes on, but you still stay in the past. You feel the time quite differently on board the spaceship: even the longest period seems to be a long never-ending day. There is a psychological rule saying that a rehabilitation period lasts approximately as long as an impact period. So, it took us almost a year to learn once again to plan our lives and make everyday decisions. However, we experienced incredible satisfaction after participation in the experiment. As for me, I would agree to participate in such an experiment once again.”
Other people participating in these experiments describe similar emotions. It is important that anyone of the experimenters may quit any time without giving any reasons. Foreigners sometimes quit, but Russians never. Skeptics may say that any conditions may be tolerated if participation in experiments is paid for. Indeed, participation in these experiments is paid well. Sums to be paid investigators participating in the imitation mission to Mars are not announced, but experts in the Institute say that the sum may be enough to buy an apartment in Moscow.
Medical experiments were conducted even in the Soviet epoch to find out the condition of the human body under unusual conditions. In the mid-1970s, a research institute studied a newly developed functional bed for patients with spinal injuries. An experimenter had to stay almost motionless lying on the back in the bed within a month. A young surgeon took part in the experiment and was paid 1,0000 rubles while his monthly wage was 130 rubles. He made the decision to take part in the experiment because of money. After a month of lying motionless the young man had to learn to walk again.
Read the original in Russian: (Translated by: Maria Gousseva)