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Russians, Europeans upgrade language skills, Chinese studies calligraphy in Mars 500 experiment

November 08, 2011, 19:34 UTC+3

he researchers were more successful in upgrading their professional skills

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MOSCOW, November 8 (Itar-Tass) —— Three Russians, two Europeans and a Chinese who completed the Mars 500 experiment simulating a manned flight to Mars last week said the ‘travel’ was useful although they failed to make some of their wishes come true.

Crew commander Alexei Sitev admitted upgrading his knowledge of English to fluent, and doctor Sukhrob Kamolov made a similar confession.

“I had big language learning plans and was particularly interested in Chinese but it appeared to be too difficult,” engineer Alexander Smoleyevsky said.

Romain Charles of France and Diego Urbina of Italy regretted their failure to learn Russian to the desired degree. Urbina said he impressed his mother with making a restaurant order in Russian but spoke English to the reporters.

The researchers were more successful in upgrading their professional skills. Kamolov and Smoleyevsky learned much about physiology, which was important for their academic theses, and Sitev made a profound research on the Mars 500 module microclimate. Charles and Wang Yue broadened their knowledge of history, and Wang mastered his skills of calligraphy.

The crewmembers had different methods of ridding of stress. The Russians and the Frenchman wrote letters to their families and worked. The Italian preferred psychical exercise, and Wang played a guitar together with Charles.

Six volunteers ended their 520-day isolation in the Mars 500 experiment imitating a manned flight to Mars on November 4.

The module was built on the premises of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The environment was very close to the prospective interplanetary manned spaceship (excluding zero gravity and radiation), and the crew’s only contact with the control station was by the radio. The radio signal came with a delay as the ‘spaceship’ traveled farther from the Earth.

There were three stages in the ‘flight’ – the 240-day journey to Mars, the 30-day landing on the Martian surface and the 240-day return.

The crew fulfilled over 100 experiments, including those clinical, diagnostic, physiological, sanitary-hygiene and microbiological.

Mars 500, which involved the European Space Agency (ESA) and some other partners, aimed to gain certain experience ahead of a real manned mission to Mars. The research will help evaluate the influence of isolation, closed space and stress on psychological and physiological aspects of the human life, such as interaction in a group, sleep, mood, hormone regulation, immunity and catering efficiency, a source at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems said.

“The program was met in full, and that is important,” Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, academic supervisor of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems Anatoly Grigoryev told Itar-Tass. “That was a crucial experiment that simulated a number of situations people may encounter in a real flight to Mars. The success of this experiment is a big victory of science,” he said. “The Mars 500 module will be used for other experiments.”

Apart from fulfilling an academic mission, the experiment aimed to draw public attention to space exploration. “Public attention to space projects has declined. The experiment revives this interest. More than 400 million messages were sent to the Mars 500 website,” he said.

“The Mars 500 experiment starts serious preparations for a real manned flight to Mars. Its results will be used in the medical and biological research and the drafting of the national space program for the period until 2030,” deputy head of the Russian Space Agency Vitaly Davydov told Itar-Tass.

The Mars 500 researchers are well but look a bit tired. They will spend three days under quarantine before passing medical and other tests. Scientific results of the experiment will be discussed at a conference of the Russian Academy of Sciences in April 2012.

The experiment imitating a manned flight to Mars, called Mars 500, started on June 3, 2010. Each of the crewmembers had one’s own duties, but duplication was possible in certain cases. English and Russian were the working languages, Mars 500 project director Boris Morukov said.

The research "aims to assess a possible impact of the closed space and stress on psychological and physiological aspects of human life, such as team spirit, capability for long and healthy sleep, mood, hormone regulation, immunity and efficiency of a food ration," he said.

The Energia Aerospace Corporation developed the Mars 500 flight plan.

"The plan included a brief period of ten to eleven days imitating the orbiting phase, and a few more flight phases, such as the spiral trajectory of the departure from the Earth orbit, the straight trajectory of the flight to Mars and another spiral trajectory on the approaches to the planet. That took about 270 days," Morukov said.

The experiment had the following stages:

Day 1 to 11 was a period of flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of the Earth.

Day 51 to 204 was a period of flight on the heliocentric orbit up to Mars.

Day 205 to 243 was a period of flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of Mars (the so-called twist).

Day 44 to 272 was a period of flight on the Martian orbit with the spaceship’s module landing on the planet for research. The researchers made three walks on the ‘Martian’ surface, while their colleagues were staying at the base.

Day 273 to 309 was a period of flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of Mars (the so-called spin-up).

Day 310 to 467 was a period of flight on the heliocentric orbit up to the Earth.

Day 468 to 520 was a period of flight along the spiral path in the gravitational field of the Earth.

In all, the crew spent 18 months in a special compound imitating the flight to Mars (excluding zero gravity and radiation).

The 'spaceship' was made up of the residential module of 150 cubic meters, the medical module of 100 cubic meters and the household module of 250 cubic meters with trainers, a food storage and a greenhouse. There was also a module imitating the landing capsule and the Martian surface.

The crew was using the Mini-Mars station, an observatory, a magnetometer, and a robot Tourist Gulliver. The robot can be working for an unlimited time, while the time of wearing a spacesuit is limited. The robot picked up and brought to the landing module rock samples of up to 200 grams and installed equipment on the ‘Martian’ surface.

Besides, the crew was using instruments developed for the Soviet lunar program in the 20th century. “These are very convenient instruments. It is hard to bend in a spacesuit for picking up a piece of rock, and the instruments make the process easier,” Morukov said.

"An upgraded closed life-sustenance cycle is of paramount importance for interplanetary expeditions," Yuri Sinyak from the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems said.

In his words, life-sustenance systems of such orbiting stations as the late Russian Mir and the International Space Station (ISS) are different from the prospective systems because they do not have a closed biosphere.

At present, the ISS receives many cargos vital for life-sustenance of its crewmembers from the Earth, while waste is removed by Progress cargo spaceships that are dumped into the ocean, Sinyak said.

That would be impossible in case of a manned flight to Mars, so it is necessary to design and test on the Earth and at the ISS the new equipment, which will regenerate vital components and do away with the waste. The equipment must be highly efficient, have small size and consume little energy.

The main problems to be resolved in interplanetary flights are the endless supply of oxygen, water and food and the dumping of waste. "If the efficiency of the ISS water regenerating system is enlarged by 2.5 times, it may become the foundation of the prospective system for the lunar program," Sinyak said. A new system, which regenerates water from urine, may be a way out. A similar system was installed on board of the Russian Mir orbiting station. The ISS regenerates water only from condensate. The ISS greenhouse will help resolve the problem of oxygen and food.

Apart from forming a closed regeneration system, it is necessary to upgrade the reliability and repairability of the spaceship's hardware and elaborate norms of the flight environment for a period of over three years. This environment must be comfortable. For instance, it is necessary to provide machine wash and dry of astronauts' clothing. Radiation security is another vital problem. Astronauts will need a new spacesuit for visiting alien planets, as well.


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