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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
A little piece of Mars in Moscow
By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Moscow

Mars   Image: Nasa/STSCI
One section of the experimental module will simulate Mars' surface
Six Russian volunteers are to get a taste of travelling to Mars, without ever leaving Moscow.

They will be locked up for 500 days in an airtight capsule resembling a spaceship, where they will eat sterile food and breath processed air.

The experiment is designed to help scientists better understand the demands of a long-haul space flight, in preparation for future Mars missions.

Researchers will start accepting the first applications this week.

If supplies run out, there'll be absolutely no asking for a re-fill; the doors of the "space ship" will be sealed for the whole 18 months of the experiment.

The mock-up "Mars cruiser" will actually look more like a cross between a standard three-bedroom flat and a stage set for a reality TV show.

There will be CCTV cameras and microphones in every corner - yet if the volunteers decide to contact the outside world, their main means of getting in touch will be e-mail.

And there will be a long delay before they get an answer - just like there would be during a real flight to Mars.

Banged up

The main question for scientists setting up the Mars-500 experiment is whether the six volunteers can survive 500 days without any outside help?

How will they cope with the routine of a long space flight - and also, with surprise emergencies? Researchers say that our experience of managing space stations doesn't really help much in setting up an interplanetary mission.

Institute of Biomedical Problems  Photo courtesy of the institute
Moscow's Institute of Medical and Biological Problems will host the experiment
When astronauts stay on Earth's orbit, it's always possible to send them extra supplies.

But the Mars crew will have to look after themselves in every way. This experiment won't start until late 2007 - but budding volunteers can already e-mail their CVs to the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

Initial requirements don't seem too harsh - being of fairly young age, in good health, fluent in English and having a University diploma.

But those selected will have to face extensive medical and psychological tests. After all, the task is not just to survive but also to remain calm enough to properly document everything that will happen during the 18-month mission.

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