Simulated flight to Mars ends for crew in Moscow

By Mansur Mirovalev
Associated Press / July 15, 2009
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MOSCOW - Russian engineers broke a red wax seal and six men emerged from a metal hatch beaming yesterday after 105 days of isolation in a Soviet-era mock spacecraft testing the stresses space travelers may one day face on the journey to Mars.

Sergei Ryazansky, the captain of the six-man crew, told reporters at a Moscow research institute near the Kremlin that the most difficult thing was knowing that instead of making the 172-million mile 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 about $21,000 each to be sealed up in the mock space capsule since March 31. 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.

Each crew member had his personal cabin. The interiors were paneled in faux wood according to Soviet style of the 1970s, when the structure was built for space-related experiments. The module’s entrance was locked with a padlock and wax and twine - the kind that Soviet 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.

“What we’re doing is important for future missions exploring the solar system,’’ said Simonetta Di Pipo, of the European Space Agency.

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

Russian TV showed images of the men - four Russians, a German, and a Frenchman - during their stay, conducting experiments and lifting weights.