Antarctica team endures extremes in hope of showing the way to Mars

Fourteen researchers are undergoing four months of freezing darkness, all in aid of space travel

Alexander Kumar watched the sun set last night over Antarctica's dazzling white horizon. The next time he will see it will be in August.

The accident and emergency doctor will spend the next four months without as much as a glimmer of natural light in the most inhospitable environment on Earth, braving temperatures of minus 80C.

Dr Kumar is part of a 14-strong European Space Agency mission, which is conducting scientific investigations in preparation for the first manned mission to Mars.

He and his mainly French and Italian colleagues have committed to pushing themselves to the limit of human endurance by remaining on the Concordia Research Station, high on a plateau of Antarctica, for eight months.

Shortly before their blackout, Dr Kumar spoke to Jon Spooner, from Unlimited Space Agency. "We're away from friends, family, McDonald's Happy Meals and life as you know it," a heavily bearded Dr Kumar explained via satellite phone. "It really is like living life on Planet Concordia. We suffer from low oxygen levels as well as isolation.

"We're about to enter into the harshest winter the world has to offer. It's an Antarctic winter and temperatures will drop below minus 80C – not that it makes that much difference below minus 20C for me.

"On top of that, we have four months of complete darkness."

The extreme conditions being experienced in the name of science by the medic and his crew are said to be the closest human beings have come to living on another planet.

As the southernmost point on the globe, Antarctica has no indigenous population and there are few natural resources aside from ice.

Dr Kumar admitted that the impact of the harsh environment on the Concordia researchers' minds and bodies has already been considerable. "Your life cycle that you would have back in England changes," he said.

"The second thing is your immune system drops. You're more susceptible to infections."

On a personal level, the 28-year-old said he misses the most simple things such as cut grass and more poignant events like family birthdays.

But he is still certain that the hardships are more than worth it if their research paves the way to sending people to Mars.

"More important is that we've shown that humans can live in such extreme environments," he said. "I hope this shows we can make it to Mars one day."

Dr Kumar, who works in the A&E department at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital and specialises in anaesthetics, left for Antarctica in January this year.

A seasoned explorer, he cites Captain Scott and Edward Wilson as figures of inspiration. Such is his appetite for adventure, he says, there have been times when his commitment to medicine has been questioned. "Working at the John Radcliffe emergency department, before I came away, people questioned whether I'm a doctor with the amount of time I spend exploring and adventuring across the world and abroad.

"Certainly, I have a curiosity and interest in the natural world – but not just the natural world, also the different cultures that exist around the world. I've never had a better time than a day spent with the Inuit in the Arctic," he said.

Asked if he had any advice for adventurers such as himself, Dr Kumar replied: "Never stop dreaming, and never stop believing in your dreams, because dreams have pushed mankind as far as we've gone – whether they've been through the interior of Africa, like Livingstone, or into space, like Neil Armstrong, and on to the surface of the Moon."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone