Czech researchers map crew’s behaviour on simulated Mars flight

On Tuesday, six volunteers in Moscow began a 105-day simulated trip to Mars, a project organised by the European and Russian space agencies. The aim of Mars-500, as the project is called, is to study how well humans cope in long isolation and cramped conditions, necessary on any real flight to the Red Planet. Czech researchers from the Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín are among those contributing to Mars-500: they are monitoring relationships and communication among the crew as well as potential points of conflict.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Four hermetically-sealed modules at a Moscow research facility: for six volunteers for the next 105 days – this will be home. The crew climbed aboard the mock spaceship on Tuesday and with a last look around sealed the hatch. The aim of the first part of Mars-500 (a longer simulated flight is to follow) is to monitor how individuals cope – and interact – under some very tough conditions: crammed quarters, next to no communication with the outside world (due to a 40-minute delay in communication with the command centre, just like on a real flight), with moments of intense activity but also boredom. All can take a psychological toll and lead to frayed edges. Czech researchers developed software now being used in Mars-500 to map the crew’s relationships, to see how members deal with stress, as well as to map potential conflicts and how they might be avoided. One of those involved in the project is psychologist Tomáš Srb.

“A very important factor is isolation, social isolation, that you lose contact with your family and your friends for a long time. So that’s one stress factor. It’s a limited space that you have: each of us is used to having personal space – here that will be lost, so that’s another stress factor. Generally, the longer it is the more stressful it is.”

Over the 105 days, the crew of volunteers – four Russians, a German, and a Frenchman (who were selected in a rigorous process for the task) will face staged emergency situations to test their reactions and capabilities, followed by regular tasks and bookkeeping – all typical of a long spaceflight. There will be re wards too: two astronauts of the six will eventually perform an imitation landing on Mars and step into a fifth module simulating the planet’s surface – a moment of excitement, no doubt, after many days “on board”. Will Mars-500 prove useful? Researchers like Czech sociologist and member of the International Academy of Astronomics Jaroslav Sýkora have no doubts. In his view, one day humans will have to attempt a Mars manned-flight.

“I think that it is very important because on day we will run of resources here on Earth and we need to search for new possibility for other types of energy.”

By estimates - barring unexpected technological advances - a manned-flight to Mars could be feasible by 2030 – after the moon, potentially the next giant leap for mankind.