Thu, Jul 16, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Crew emerge from module after mock mission to Mars


Russian engineers have broken a red wax seal and six men emerged from a metal hatch beaming and waving after 105 days of isolation in a Soviet-era mock spacecraft testing the stresses space travelers may one day face on a journey to Mars.

Sergei Ryazansky, the captain of the six-man crew, told reporters at a Moscow research institute near the Kremlin on Tuesday that the most difficult thing was knowing that instead of making the 276 million kilometer journey, they were locked in a four-piece windowless module made of metal canisters the size of railway cars.

The men, chosen from 6,000 applicants, were paid US$20,987 each to be sealed up in the mock space capsule since March 31 — cut off almost entirely from the outside world.

They had no television or Internet and their only link to the outside world were communications with the experiment’s controllers — who also monitored them via TV cameras — and an internal e-mail system. Communications with the outside world had 20-minute delays to imitate a real space flight.

Each crew member had his personal cabin. The interiors had hatches similar to a submarine’s and were paneled in faux wood according to Soviet style of the 1970s, when the structure was originally built for space-related experiments.

The module’s entrance was locked with a padlock and red sealing wax and twine — the kind that Soviet government bureaucrats have used for years to close up their offices at the end of the work day.

Some veteran space explorers belittled the value of the experiment, but its backers at the Russian and European space agencies insist it will only move humans closer to a real mission.

“The most difficult part was that the flight was not for real,” Ryazansky said.

Crew member Alexey Baranov said the worst thing was not being with his relatives.

The team included four Russians as well as one German and one Frenchman.

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