Washington, Nov 12 : The European Space Agency's search for two people who will spend 105 days in an isolated chamber that will feature Earth-bound simulations of a Mars mission, has narrowed down to eight candidates.
The eight candidates have been selected from more than 5600 applicants.
Two of these eight candidates will join four Russian participants in March 2009 in an isolation chamber in Moscow. They will remain in the chamber, which mimics a space station, for 105 days.
To get this far, the eight candidates have endured rigorous psychological and medical examinations, which included ultrasound scans of their internal organs, blood tests, and extended consultations with neurologists and psychologists.
"The candidates undergo exactly the same medical examinations as spaceflight participants. This ensures that we only send completely healthy candidates on the simulated journey to Mars," said Jennifer Ngo-Anh, ESA's Mars500 Programme Manager.
Further tests will then determine the two final candidates who will participate in the first simulation - a decision that will be made in December 2008.
Once inside the isolation chamber, the team will live their lives as if they are on a space mission, with just frozen meals to eat, no natural sunlight and a 20-minute delay to their communication with "ground control".
They will be expected to perform tasks such as cleaning, cooking and conducting scientific experiments, while being studied by outside researchers.
The results of this first 105-day experiment will allow ESA and the IBMP (Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems) to fine tune a longer 500-day run in the isolation chamber, currently scheduled for later in 2009, that would mimic all stages of a Mars mission - including the journey, landing and return to Earth.
Together, both simulations should provide vital information on how participants cope with isolation for such long periods, with the team studying their stress, hormone regulation, immune response and sleep patterns, and the dynamics of the group and how they react to different situations.
This information could then be used to plan a real trip to Mars.