The AP is reporting that a Russian experiment precluding Mars exploration is finished. Six men were sealed inside a simulated craft and spent 105 days inside without television or the Internet and with a 20 minute delay in communication with the outside world. The astronauts were paid about 24 grand each. They killed time by working out and running medical experiments. They said the hardest part about dealing with the isolation was knowing that they wouldn’t actually be arriving on Mars after the end of the time period. No kidding.
A flight to Mars would take about eight months one way. The Institute for Medical and Biological Problems in Moscow is planning a 500 day experiment later this year. Mars exploration is still a ways away, if the day comes at all, but we’re finding out if people can actually take being shut up in seclusion for a long period of time first. There was a previous experiment held in 1999 where a Canadian woman named Judith Lapierre was kissed forcibly by another crew member and witnessed a fist fight between two members that ended in bloodshed. Doesn’t sound like the kind of people who have the endurance or intelligence to pilot a craft that far.
I don’t know how useful such tests are right now anyhow, at least with that purpose in mind. America seems pretty determined to stay away from the idea of a manned mission for the conceivable future. In late June, NASA and ESA entered a joint initiative to define and implement their goals regarding the exploration of Mars. There will be a few launches in the next decade with more advanced landers and methods for sample testing and return.
Mars Quest Online has a fun little simulation of a Mars launch. I made it in 10 months and 22 days.