The car-park cosmonauts come back to Earth (without a bump)

Hours to go for crew who have spent 17 months simulating mission to Mars

Moscow

About lunchtime tomorrow, six men will emerge, bleary-eyed, from a "spaceship" in northern Moscow, to see daylight and the real world for the first time since they were locked away in the mock-up craft on a roasting hot day in June last year.

The multinational crew of "terranauts" has spent the past 17 months simulating a manned space mission to Mars, in a stationary experiment designed to test the physical and psychological effects of a journey to the Red Planet.

In the experiment, run by a Russian research centre in co-operation with the European Space Agency, six carefully selected volunteers were locked in a model spacecraft for 520 days.

The all-male crew of six come from a variety of backgrounds, with three Russians joined by one Earth-bound astronaut each from Italy, France and China. "I would say the guys have a very positive mood," Mark Belanovsky, the project's deputy director, told AFP yesterday. "They know that they have done something really big."

During the final stretch of the experiment, the crew are experiencing a "spiral trajectory towards the Earth's field of gravity". But the experiment has not been able to simulate the weightlessness that would accompany a real mission to Mars.

There has been plenty of scoffing at the project, given its Earth-bound nature, but the organisers insist that the experiments will really help in the planning of a future manned visit to Mars, which realistically is still at least 20 years away. For 17 months, the participants have had their brains and bodies monitored, performed tests, and had no contact with anyone else.

They emerged from the spaceship only briefly, in the middle of the mission, to take an incredibly modest step for mankind, and walk around a small sandy area meant to represent the surface of Mars. They have only been able to eat special astronaut food, and computer-based communication with the mission's "control room" has been subject to a delay.

There were fears when the experiment started that, faced with such a long time together in such a confined space, tension or even physical fights could break out. A previous, shorter experiment had to be halted after a female Canadian participant said she was forcibly kissed by one of the Russian male participants and a fist fight broke out among the crew.

Organisers said that this experiment had been made male-only to reduce tension. As the mission entered the home straight in August, there was a brief period of flared tempers, but this was swiftly overcome, say the participants. A recent video from inside the capsule shows the crew, all apparently in good spirits, discussing which experiments they have enjoyed the most and which the least during their long stint inside.

Tomorrow will not quite be the end of the ordeal for the six. Now they will be put in quarantine for four days, when they will undergo intensive medical tests and psychological evaluation. They can speak to the media and be reunited with their families on Tuesday, but remain in Moscow for a further month for tests.

Voyage to Mars: The risks

Bones Real space travellers experience a loss of calcium and phosphorus as the Earth's gravitational pull is removed. It is believed that as much as 3.2 per cent of the body's bone calcium and phosphorus are excreted in urine and faeces during space flight.

Radiation exposure Unlike, the "car-park cosmonauts", real space travellers are exposed to space radiation, which is normally shielded from Earth. Exposure to high levels of radiation increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.

Immune system The immune system is also adversely affected by prolonged periods in space. Gravity is thought to change the shape of red blood cells, and eventually to lead to a loss of plasma and red blood mass.

Muscle wastage Even experimental astronauts share the complaint about muscle wastage through lack of exercise.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there