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An elaborate 500-day simulation of a manned mission to Mars has reached the halfway point, culminating in a simulated landing on the red planet. The project, named Mars500, is an international study between the European Space Agency, Russia, and China on the effects of long-term confinement that would be encountered on such a voyage. Six volunteer ‘astronauts’ have been encased in a model spaceship, complete with no windows to the outside world, since June. But on Saturday, they began a 10-day mock tour of an artificially constructed Martian surface. To further test the emotional resolve of the volunteers, mission control will be introducing glitches into the communications scystem, as well as generating some emergency scenarios.

Space suits for the Mars500 mission. Courtesy of

While it has often been discussed the potential benefits/detriments of exploring new planets, the goal of such studies as this – which are not uncommon in spaceflight research – is to study potential psychological and physiological effects on a model crew to aid in prevention and/or mitigation in the event of such an occurrence in a real mission. All in all, at the end of this mission, the crew members will have experienced 18 consecutive months (through November) together in a series of interconnected space winnebagos in as high fidelity of an experiment as possible. To further mimic a real space flight, schedules closely mirroring those employed by the International Space Station have been put in place, during which the ‘astronauts’ are expected to perform maintenance, conduct experiments, and exercise daily to stave off the effects of prolonged space travel. In addition, the crew encounters a 20-minute lag in all communications to mission control and is only allowed one shower per week.

Lay-out of the 'space winnebagos' in which the crew is confined. Courtesy of

Now if only we could simulate the hostile alien artifacts

Still from "Mission to Mars"