Libmonster ID: VN-1108
Author(s) of the publication: Anatoly GRIGORYEV

by Acad. Anatoly GRIGORYEV, RAS Vice-President, Research Supervisor, RAS Institute for Medico-Biological Problems (IMBP); Boris MORUKOV, Dr. Sc. (Med.), RF Pilot-Cosmonaut, IMBP Deputy Director for Research

The Institute for Medico-Biological Problems (Russian Academy of Sciences) is carrying out an experiment simulating a Mars mission. Taking part are six volunteers from Russia, France, Italy and China locked up within ground-based hermetic modules for as many as 520 days-about the same time needed for a voyage to the Red Planet and back. The door of the pressure modules shut to in June 2010 will be opened again only in November 2011.

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Exploration of outer space is a unique proving ground for advanced technologies under extreme conditions and a good school of space navigation. Great space projects are a model lesson for society in goal-oriented extraterrestrial (ET) activities.

The beginning of this third millennium is keynoted by the heightened interest in interplanetary missions. We can see that in the lively discussions of scientists and engineers, and in the increasing number of interplanetary probes, including those launched toward Mars*, a planet of the utmost interest to space researchers. Even though this big planet is not closest to Earth, it is quite within reach and has some common physical and climatic parameters. For all the headway made in studying the Martian surface by unmanned automatic craft, the earth men would hardly give up the idea of a piloted mission which would enable man to expand his knowledge of that planet and its further exploration possibilities, and perhaps make possible its colonization someday. Furthermore, new data obtained in the course of a piloted mission like that would contribute to solution of certain basic biological and ecological problems related to the biosphere of the earth.

Interplanetary journeys with man on board are possible after all, as shown by yearlong manned flights in terrestrial orbit. This is a unique experience indeed: the effective system of medical maintenance has kept crews fit and in good health, and made their habituation to terrestrial gravitation upon return to earth much easier. Yet these optimistic results do not apply in full in an interplanetary mission of the future, for new specific problems are bound to crop up.

Here the human factor comes to the fore. Man is the most precious and the most vulnerable element in an interplanetary mission, and its very possibility depends on this factor.

Now, a space crew will have to endure for months confined to a limited living space and in conditions of long social isolation. Weaned from the customary mode of life on earth, crewmen will take great risks, they will risk their very life, and this coupled with great responsibility. They would not be able to get urgent assistance from their mission control center then and there. They would not be able to come back in emergency either. Such things are a major psychological factor pregnant with unpredictable consequences. The communication lag, as long as 40 minutes, will hamper the information give-and-take with the mission control center and slash the amount of messages. Another problem: no food, water, drugs and equipment could be brought in.

Physical factors like the high radiation hazard, gravitational differentials, and the absence of the customary magnetic field** have also to be reckoned with.

Special space suits should be designed for work on the surface of the Red Planet adequate to the harsh conditions out there and supplied with proper life-support systems. The same is also true of Mars landers and rovers, and robotic facilities. All should be done to

See: I. Mitrofanov, "Unlocking Martian Enigmas", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2002; A. Portnov, "The Demise of Life on Mars", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2003; M. Litvak, I. Mitrofanov, "Martian Seasons", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2004; E. Galimov, "Prospects of Planetary Studies", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2004.–Ed.

** See: K. Trukhanov, N. Krivova, "Geomagnetic Field to Mars?", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2010.–Ed.

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IMBP ground-based research complex.

ensure medical and biological safety for Mars voyagers. These are new problems in their own right, calling for purposive research and technical solutions.

Thorough preparations will be needed for a Martian odyssey. One project, Mars-500, launched at the RF state scientific center–the RAS Institute for Medico-Biological Problems, and geared to that mission, involves many theoretical, technological and medico-biological studies prior to R&D work.


One way of modeling space flight effects on the human organism includes experiments when a selected group of volunteers is isolated for a long time within a pressure module. Back in the 1960s the Institute for Medico-Biological Problems of the USSR Health Ministry (today IMBP is affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences), on initiative of Acad. S. Ko-rolev designed and built a ground-based medico-biological complex for research experiments (psychophysiological ones, too) in a controlled human environment. Among other things, life-support technologies were developed and tested here, and some of them were then used with much success in real flights aboard piloted spaceships and orbital stations.

Microgravitation effects were likewise imitated, for one, in experiments involving antiorthostatic hypokinesia* and "dry" water immersion for 56 days.** The experimental results were incorporated in a set of measures providing for normal vital activity as well as physical and psychic fitness at all stages of the mission. There cannot be any doubt about the Russian priority in this field.***

* Antiorthostatic hypokinesia (hypokinesis)–limitation of locomotor activity imitating the performance of the organism in zero gravity. A test subject stays in the horizontal position, his head 4 to 6 degrees below leg level.–Ed.

** "Dry" water immersion-a method of zero-g condition simulation with a test subject being immersed in a water medium without contacting it since he lies on the surface of waterproof fabric.–Ed.

*** See: O. Gazenko, A. Grigoryev, A. Yegorov, "Space Medicine: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow", Science in Russia, Nos. 3 and 4, 2006.–Ed.

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IMBP has amassed great experience in longterm experiments simulating the action of spaceflight factors within pressure cabins, also with the participation of scientists of Europe, USA, Canada and Japan. For instance, in September 1994 to January 1995 we carried out the HUBES (Human Behavior in Extended Spaceflight) experiment for 135 days. It was followed by the 90-day ECOPSY (ecology and psychology) experiment between October 1995 and January 1996 as one tried to define the notion of habitation comfort in physiological and psychic terms. Among other things, man onboard human environment interaction was also studied, together with the dynamics of this process and its control. Next came the SFICSS (Simulation of Flight of International Crew on Space Station) experiment imitating flights at the orbital International Space Station (ISS).

It is not accidental that the idea of a make-believe flight to Mars has staged a comeback now. It has won support from the ROSKOSMOS Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the leading space research firms of Russia–Energiya Corporation named after S. Korolev, Central Research Institute of Machine Building, among other centers. This is the Mars-500 project. In 2006 the three available modules of the ground medicotechnical complex were overhauled and reequipped, and provided with new life support and water supply systems. Heat regulators were installed there as well. In 2007 another, fourth, hermetic module, 250 cubic meters large, was built (housing a storeroom, greenhouse and trainer), followed by a fifth in 2008 that imitated the Martian surface. All these facilities combined into a system of test stands making up the world's only complex of pressure chambers with a controlled human environment allowing to conduct research experiments in conditions close to those on board a real interplanetary spacecraft. Two preliminary experiments were made: one, when a crew of volunteers was cooped in for 14 days (completed in November 2007), and the other, 105 days long, ending in July 2009.

The main experiment of Mars-500 project was started in June 2010, with a crew of six volunteers being locked up for 520 days and nights under conditions simulating some of the characteristics of a piloted flight to the Red Planet. The aim of this experiment is to study man/environment interaction and obtain experimental data on

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people's health and fitness to work within a controlled human environment (with such parameters as gas composition, temperature, humidity, etc. regulated). As said above, a simulated extended flight includes a variety of factors, such as long time, endurance, limited resources, lack of urgent medical and psychological aid. Thus it is all-important to keep crews in touch with the ground control center for medical and preventive guidance. Various trainers, such as treadbahn, veloergometer, expanders and the like are meant to keep the testers fit. They have to make regular toxicological and micro-biological checks on the condition of the modules, and take account, on the individual basis, of food, water and materials consumption. The crew commander should be in charge of these activities and, if need be, defuse simmering personal conflicts. The greenhouse is quite to the purpose–it has shown to exert a beneficial effect on the psychological climate.

In-flight and Mars surface activities will be simulated, too. Telemedicine methods and systems of psychological support will be tried and evaluated, along with the latest technologies, life-support and protection systems.

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The experiment involves six men between 25 and 38 years of age. These are three Russians–engineer Alexei Sitev (crew commander), cardiosurgeon Sukhrob Komolov and army surgeon Alexander Smoleevsky; engineers Roman Charles (France) and Diego Urbina, both of the European Space Agency; and Wang Yu, representing China's Space Training Center. Each is assigned a definite role: apart from the crew commander, there are also a flight surgeon, a flight engineer and three investigators, with two of them to join the pilot of the lander for a Mars walk. If need be, each would be able to replace his pal as a double. As many as six thousand volunteered for the experiment, from Russia and other countries. Knowledge of English and Russian was a must to ensure adequate communication.

Each tester was to be of sound health and have top skills. A highly motivated individual, he should be endowed with creative abilities and know that his taking part in the experiment is a warranty of common success. Screening the presumptive testers, the examiners took note of certain psychological traits like a sense of criticism in assessing one's own behavior, communicativeness, an ability to subordinate one's own interests to those of the crew, an ability to act on decisions adopted... Add to all that tolerance, natural and easy-going ways, a democratic frame of mind and, last but not least, a sense of humor.

The prior experience–in particular, one when a group of volunteers had been isolated for 105 days–showed that further thoroughgoing effort was needed in training prospective interplanetary flyers. For this reason training sessions were carried out, including those of survival in extreme conditions and in wintertime, with the aim of skill-learning and achieving better teamwork. Special stands were used so as to check on the compatibility and team spirit of would-be testers. Finally, a crew of six was picked out a month before the 520-day experiment.


The basic stages of a future Martian expedition are simulated. First, the docking of the orbital assembly

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and interplanetary complexes (1st-11th day). Next follows the simulated flight to the Red Planet: first, along a spiral orbital path around the earth (12th-50th day), then at the escape velocity along a heliocentric path towards the environs of Mars (51st-200th day) and further along a spiral path to its gravitational field (201st-246th day) and last, in orbit around Mars followed by the landing of a descent module, its takeoff from the Martian surface and return to the orbital complex (247th to 252nd day).

Landing on Mars will be also imitated. Two testers are to take a walk on its surface, while the third will stay in on board the lander. The Martian surface will be surveyed with the aid of robotic facilities and simulated models. Another three crewmen staying within the Mars orbiter will be in touch with the landing party around the clock, monitoring its activities. Next follows the make-believe takeoff and docking, and home journey. At its initial stage the interplanetary craft will follow a spiral trajectory in the Martian gravitational field (279th to 319th day). The explorers who had been walking on Mars would be quarantined for five days (279th-283rd day). The next two stages of the homeward journey include the travel along a heliocentric trajectory (320th-470th day) and then along a spiral trajectory into the gravitational field of the earth (471st-520th day).

To simulate extravehicular activities the Moscow-based R&D enterprise ZVEZDA (star) designed an ORLAN-E space suit, which is an upgraded model of ORLAN-DMA used for extravehicular activities at the orbital station MIR in 1988-1997 (ORLAN means a sea, or bald eagle). The new space suit was made much easier and customized–it is equipped with pressure regulators and wiring for speech contact. The crew will be using instruments designed for the Soviet lunar program.

The presumptive Mars explorers will imitate their work with the help of virtual aids (though artificial, but close to real conditions on the Martian surface). What with the absence of tangible facilities handy for ET activities on other planets, such simulation aids could enable them to model both the known parameters of the hostile environment (gravitation, illumination intensity, dust loading and the like) and the psychological side of ET work. Performing under simulated conditions like that, an operator will be exposed to real psychophysiological stresses, also in case of emergencies like a dust storm, with one of the crew mates lost in it, for example.

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The Mars-500 research schedule is rather tight, comprising 105 projects that include all-round experiments in psychophysiology, biochemistry and other fields. Involved in the experiment are also other research centers besides IMBP: Emanuel Institute of Biochemical Physics (RAS), Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics (RAS), Ilychev Pacific Oceanological Institute (RAS Far Eastern Branch) as well as Lomonosov Moscow State University, Sechenov Moscow Medical University and many other institutions like the Russian Research and Design Institute of Chemical Engineering in Moscow, Russian State Technological University named after Tsiolkovsky, Moscow State University of Information Science and Instrument Making, Moscow State Teaching University named after Lenin, CRYTON R&D Amalgamation at Troitsk, Moscow... Collaborating with us are also the German Aerospace Agency, the Chinese Space Training Center, the National Institute for Space Medico-Biological Studies (USA), the Malaysian Space Agency, together with the universities of Pisa and Bologna in Italy, and the Inter-College Institute of Research   in   Bioengineering   and   Anthropocentric Technology in Spain. Our chief foreign partner is the European Space Agency.

Details of information exchanges and cooperation were agreed upon beforehand and incorporated in the Mars-500 research schedule. It is making good headway, the crew displaying good skills in handling the technical facilities. Problems, if any, are resolved via exchanges of e- and video-files between the panel of researchers and the crew...

The experimental results thus obtained will serve as a source material in devising a medicotechnical support of interplanetary mission. New medical and technical problems revealed during the ongoing experiment will be further scrutinized.


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