If you consider a meticulously curated sandpit in a Moscow suburb a destination, then the Mars500 team has finally arrived. After more than 250 days confined to a wood-paneled simulated space capsule, the international crew put down its landing craft on the “Martian” surface over the weekend and, donning Russian Orlan spacesuits, executed its first walk on the red planet today.
“Today, looking at this red landscape, I can feel how inspiring it will be to look through the eyes of the first human to step foot on Mars,” Italian Diego Urbina said as he began his spacewalk along with Russian Alexandr Smoleevskiy. “I salute all the explorers of tomorrow and wish them godspeed.”
A third crew member, China’s Wang Yue, remained in the landing craft that he, Urbina, and Smoleevskiy began piloting to the Martian surface on February 8. Three more of their shipmates remain aboard the orbiting mothership, which is actually just downstairs from the lander. Two more surface walks are planned before the landing crew returns to the Mars500 craft on February 23 and begins the long journey back to Earth with their comrades.
The point of the Mars500 mission, if you’ve been missing out on all the monotonous fun, is to test the psychological and physical toll that long-distance space travel would take on a crew that would have to endure more than a year in the confines of a spacecraft during a round-trip manned mission to Mars. Mission handlers keep the crew busy with various tasks throughout the many long days, more or less trying to assess whether the humans can make such a trip without losing their heads.
Says the ESA via press release: The most difficult but the most interesting part of this psychological study of long flights is still ahead: the crew is now faced with another monotonous ‘interplanetary cruise’ without a highlight like the Mars landing to look forward to.
Right–nothing to look forward to except actually getting out of the sealed box they will have been living in for 520 days. Faux Mars sounds great and all, but it seems the thought of rejoining the world on the other side of that wood paneling might be enough to carry them through.
After loading the “lander” with their trash and “ejecting” it, the crew will de-orbit Mars and begin that journey home on March 1, with an “arrival” on Earth slated for November 5.