MOSCOW -- A grueling 520-day mock flight to Mars came to an end on November 4, as six male researchers emerged from the hatch of a sealed metal capsule where they have been confined for 17 months.
The $15 million experiment known as Mars500 was designed to test the ability of the human mind to sustain the punishing isolation of travel to the Red Planet, even though a manned space voyage to Mars still appears decades away.
Dressed in blue cosmonaut suits, the pallid crew members exchanged smiles as they briefly spoke to journalists beneath natural light before being taken away for further testing.
"It is really great to see you all again -- rather overwhelming," said Diego Urbina, an Italian-Colombian member of the team that also includes three Russians, a Chinese man, and a Frenchman. "On the Mars500 mission, we have achieved on Earth the longest space voyage ever, so that humankind can one day create a new dawn on the surface of a distant but reachable planet."
"After 520 days of a motionless trip, we are proud today to prove that humans can go to Mars," said French crew member Romain Charles.
Scientists are now avidly awaiting the results of further testing.
Throughout the experiment, located in a Russian laboratory, the crew members regularly tested their own blood and urine to gauge the stress of traveling at least 54 million kilometers away from Earth -- and back.
The team was under constant video surveillance everywhere, except the toilet.
Communication with the outside world was conducted with a 20- minute delay, while their simulated journey included power cuts and mock emergencies.
Aleksei Sityov, the commander of team that began their human isolation on June 3, 2010, claimed that the mission's task had been accomplished.
"The program has been fulfilled entirely, all are safe and sound," he said.
Emotional And Informational Starvation
Leader Sityov was reported to have got married only weeks before embarking on his 17-month isolation and scientists warn against underestimating the emotional and informational starvation that the crew was subjected to.
Crew members earned a reported $110,000.
The crew was afforded some luxuries. Their 550-cubic-meter steel capsule was fitted with a wood-paneled, microwave-equipped kitchen.
A video blog made by two of the researchers features one of them strumming a guitar in between the many experiments they carried out.
Reuters reported that a previous 420-day experiment ended badly in 2000 after a male crew member attempted to forcibly kiss a female team member.
This may explain Mars500’s male-only team.
The Russian Space Agency has now floated the possibility of repeating the experiment on board the International Space Station in two years to establish if the crew would have handled the stress of long exposure to actual space.
Crew member Charles saw the experiment as a resounding success:
"We have all acquired a lot of valuable experience here, and we hope that we can help in designing and planning the next, future missions to Mars," he said. "And we are ready to get into the next space ship going there."
compiled from agency reports