The $15 million joint experiment by ESA, Russia and China is aimed at studying the complex psychological and technical challenges that need to be solved if long duration spaceflights are to become a reality. The project has now been running at the Institute of Biomedical Problems, Moscow, for more than eight months, using a series of sealed modules to imitate a mock spacecraft.
The crew of six (3 Russians, 2 Europeans, 1 Chinese) have been living and working together, sealed off from the outside world, as if on a real expedition to Mars. Their life onboard is comparable to that of the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), with similar routines and work schedules filled with experiments, daily exercise, and maintenance jobs to do.
Tuesday 1st Feb 2011, in accordance with the mission scenario, saw the craft ‘enter a circular orbit around Mars’, with three crewmembers destined to ‘land’ on the Red Planet on 12th February, to take part over the next few days in three maneuvers onto a simulated Martian terrain.
Return journey back to planet Earth will begin on 1st March but crew cannot expect to arrive home until early November 2011