Moscow, June 4 (ANI): Six fearless volunteer astronauts who have taken on the challenge of undertaking a 520-day simulated mission to Mars in Moscow, have rebutted critics claims of it amounting to little more than sitting inside a giant tin can in a Moscow hangar with no sun, no fresh water, no alcohol and (one assumes) no sex."
Stating that exercise should not be seen as a joke, the six volunteers sealed themselves inside a simulated mission to Mars on Thursday afternoon, grinning and waving goodbye to their families before "blast-off".
The Guardian quoted scientists as insisting that they were embarking on an unprecedented experiment that was no laughing matter.
The crewmen - three are Russian, one French, one Chinese and one a Colombian-born Italian - won't emerge from their isolation until November 2011.
Their goal is to recreate a return journey to the red planet, spanning a year and a half, complete with simulated emergency situations and realistic psychological pressures.
It will, say scientists, provide invaluable data on how a crew would cope with the difficulties and inevitable tedium of long-duration space flight.
"This isn't a joke. It will give a lot of useful information, not just about Mars but also for Earth," said Dr Christer Fuglesang, a Swedish astronaut with the human space flight directorate of the European Space Agency (ESA).
He rejected suggestions that the experiment, named Mars 500, was more Red Dwarf than red planet.
"People are isolated in many places in the world. We have scientists in the South Pole for a long time, or in submarines. Then, there are all those in jail," Dr. Fugelsang said.
The astronauts would be free to leave the experiment at any point, Fuglesang said, adding that he was confident none of them would.
The crew will live and work in a chain of cramped metal capsules. The highlight of their voyage will be a simulated space walk on Mars, which will take place in a large sandpit.
The experiment is taking place in a sprawling hangar at Moscow's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems, in a suburb of dingy tower blocks and poplar trees.
The institute began studying the likely effects of a Mars mission in the early 1960s. (ANI)