The Problems of Simulating Mars on Earth

The psychological stress of spaceflight has always been a concern. One of the reasons there was so much banter during Apollo missions was because NASA was worried that if the astronauts stopped moving and had an opportunity to really think “I’m standing on the moon!” they would panic. But no one can generate banter for a mission lasting more than 500 days, especially when there is an increasing delay in communications. A crew going to Mars will need to have the mental stability – both as individuals and as a group – to maintain their own sanity and mentally survive going to Mars.  (Left, the Mars 500 Crew in May, 2011.)

This was the goal of the recent Mars 500 study, a joint project of the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Six men were isolated and confined to a mock spacecraft for five hundred and twenty days. The purpose was to  simulate a Martian mission and gauge the participants’ psychological reactions to the mission – simulations are another fascination of mine. Mars 500 “landed” back on Earth on November 4, so it’s still too early to know the long-term effects of the mission. But it’s not too early to question wether or not it was an effective measure of human factors on a long-duration planetary mission, or if there even is an effective way to test man’s psychological reaction to a trip to Mars.  Continue reading “The Problems of Simulating Mars on Earth”