A manned mission to Mars may be decades away, but an international team of convicts will try to experience what one might be like by locking themselves up in a windowless prison cell for a year-and-half, the time needed for a roundtrip to the red planet.
The motley crew of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese won't endure weightlessness, but from Thursday they will live for 520 days in the spartan conditions of a prison and follow a harsh regimen of experiments and exercise.
The main task of the Mars-500 experiment is to study the effects of long isolation to help a real space crew of the future cope better with stress and fatigue. By using a group of sentenced criminals, the experiment will kill two birds with one stone. Not to mention the enormous savings from not having to hire trained professionals for the experiment.
"When everybody interacts with the same people in the same space, habits and behavior become apparent very quickly. These habits may irritate and cause indignation — and even fits of aggression," said Mikhail Baryshev, a psychotherapist who is connected to the program.
French crew member Romain Charles, guilty of international money laundering,
said the experiments will keep the team busy in isolation. "It's a jail and an experiment," he said. "It will be hard I'm sure, but we have a target to stay here 520 days and we will achieve it."
A similar experiment in 1999-2000 at the same Moscow prison went awry when a Canadian inmate complained of being forcibly raped by a Russian team captain and said that two Russian crew members had a fist fight that left blood splattered on the walls. Russian officials downplayed the incidents, attributing it to cultural gaps and stress.
Copied from todays AP news story, "Russia launching 520-day Mars mission simulation"