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Yesterday, six men were locked into a spaceship simulator and will not be released for 17 months. Their challenge? To test the viability of a return trip to the Red Planet
Despite the fact that a real manned journey to the Red Planet is believed to be at least two decades away, the scientists organising the experiment say it will help them to understand how well human beings would cope with such a long journey in isolation. The crew will have no access to telephones, television or any other mode
During nearly two years of isolation, the crew members – three Russians, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Italian – will experience many of the conditions likely to be encountered by astronauts on a real space flight, except for radiation and weightlessness.
A 20–minute delay will be built into communications with the control centre to simulate an interplanetary mission and the crew will be given an identical diet to that used for the International Space Station
The Mars500 project, which is located in Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems, conducted a simulation last year for 105 days.
The ESA said astronauts taking parts in the experiments would go down in history as pioneers.
Scientists learn space lessons from Antarctic bases
Pregnancies, brain surgery
In particular, NASA has shown interest in the division's decades-old experience in using super-generalist doctors at its bases. Some of these have been recruited from rural Australia, who are adept at tackling just about any medical challenge.
Doctors down south have conducted brain surgery, fixed fractures and given counselling on mental health problems.
"We have managed pregnancies in Antarctica. That is part of the medical spectrum we have to deal with," Mr Ayton said.
Such broad experience would be crucial on a long-term mission to Mars or beyond. Other medical conditions also present challenges.
Studies have shown Antarctic expeditioners suffer vitamin D deficiencies through lack of sunlight, depression as well as weaker immune systems.
Mr Ayton said studies have shown the reactivation of latent viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus or other members of the herpes virus family.
"It's not fully known to date what causes immune suppression. We've looked at psychological factors on the immune system. We've looked at vitamin D effects on the immune system and the stresses in small, confined environments," he said, adding studies have shown similar changes to the immune system in space.......
Mental health is another top issue.
Being confined to a small base with a dozen or so colleagues for months away from family and friends can be a major source of stress for some expeditioners.
Mr Lugg and Mr Ayton said the vast number of people adapted well to life in Antarctica with only very rare cases of expeditioners suffering mental breakdowns.