Isolation and monotony would plague astronauts traveling to Mars in future

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London, July 29 (ANI): A group of volunteers that spent 105 days locked up in a mock spaceship simulating a trip to Mars has said that the most difficult part of the trip was isolation and monotony.

According to a report in New Scientist, the programme, which was used to test the psychological and physiological effects of isolation, will pave the way for a longer 520-day mission that will take place in the first half of 2010.

The experiment took place in a multi-floored facility in Moscow that includes a mock spacecraft, a descent vehicle, and a simulation of the Martian surface.

Although researchers are still analyzing the results of the tests conducted during the simulation and performing follow-up tests on the participants this week, the mission seems to have finished largely without incident.

"The most difficult part of the mission was not a single event but more the monotony," said Oliver Knickel, a mechanical engineer in the German army and a volunteer for the 105-day mission.

The bulk of the crew's working day was occupied by psychological and physiological tests, Knickel told New Scientist.

The crew ate astronaut-style pre-packaged meals that were intermittently enhanced by fresh vegetables like radishes and cabbage that the crew grew in a small greenhouse.

In his off time, Knickel passed the time by writing letters, learning Russian, and playing poker and dice with his crewmates.

But, the isolation and confinement in a cramped space did take its toll.

"I had a hard time focusing on the things I was doing," said Knickel, adding that he did not retain newly learned Russian vocabulary words was well as he did back home.

During the mission, the crew had to respond to simulated emergencies and deal with a communication delay of up to 20 minutes each way when talking to 'ground controllers' - mimicking the time it takes for radio signals to travel between a Mars-bound spacecraft and Earth.

Such communication lags mean that crews would not be able to respond in real-time to commands from the ground and would probably need to function fairly autonomously.

According to participant Cyrille Fournier, an airline pilot from France, there was a good sense of camaraderie over the 3.5 months the six volunteers spent together.

"We had an outstanding team spirit throughout the entire 105 days," he said.

"Living for that long in a confined environment can only work if the crew is really getting along with each other. The crew is the crucial key to mission success, which became very evident to me during the 105 days," he added. (ANI)

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