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Rehearsing a Mars Mission on Earth

With economic survival foremost in the thoughts of most Americans nowadays, survivability in outer space is the last thing on our minds. But for six scientists in Moscow, all the problems here on earth won’t matter for the next 105 days.

Today, the first stage toward realization of the Russian-led Mars-500 project is taking place as six Russian cosmonauts lock themselves in a research lab at the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russia Academy of Sciences in Moscow. The project is designed to simulate the conditions of a manned space flight to Mars, including eating dehydrated food, breathing recycled air, and being physically isolated from everyone other than fellow crew members. The 105-day mission is a dress rehearsal for a planned 520-day simulated Mars mission to take place next year, a time frame that would span launching to landing on Mars and return back to earth.

The Mars-500 project involves scientists from the European Space Agency and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in Houston as well as Russian space agencies. The project is designed to test the physical and psychological ability of humans to live in confined quarters for extended periods, under relatively primitive conditions. It would test human ability to resolve interpersonal conflicts in outer space, as well as test the effectiveness of telemedicine and other facets of space travel.

The Mars-500 project should serve as an effective screening test for anyone who thinks he or she can withstand the rigors of manned interplanetary space missions, if and when they should ever occur. Think you can function in a weightless environment for long periods of time? Not be able to take a clean shower? Not be able to eat your favorite foods? Be out of touch with family and friends? Have to tolerate the habits of a group of relative strangers for endless days and nights?

Call me a wimp or whatever, but no thanks. Let me get back to more pressing earth-bound matters like trying to work on my income taxes.