Monday, June 13, 2011

We're moving

And by we I of course mean I. Moving to a more permanent home at - just registered, just wordpressed and sitting, waiting for the right header. Ideally the few people who have enjoyed things thus far (and I thank you!) will be redirected to my new site, but until that potentially nightmarish task is complete, please know that I am still writing about obscure things, I'm just somewhere else. No more blogspot VPN madness (thanks, Politburo), just an easy url with a nice template to play around with. The same old space science, and the same old stolen pictures from Air & Space Magazine. See you there.

Take care friends,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reality TV on Mars

Men at Work (from left) Alexey Sitev, Romain Charles, Alexander
Smoleevsky, Sukhrob Kamolov, Wang Yue, and Diego Urbano
Somewhere between here and Mars, a hypothetical spaceship is returning to earth. It docked with the International Space Station before floating to the red planet, where it sent a lander and three men to the Martian surface for a month and hosted the first Chinese New Year celebration in space. Its six-member crew grow their own vegetables and enjoy telling each other stories from back home. They rarely get to talk with friends and family, and it's been a year since they saw anyone other than themselves. They say they're are beginning to look forward to reentering our atmosphere. Trouble is, they never left Moscow.
But don’t let that bother you. Mars-500, a very odd psychological experiment run by the Russian Academy of Sciences, is just as legitimate as any other space mission. The volunteers live together in a completely isolated (albeit futuristic) multi-room “spaceship” equipped with personal bedrooms, a medical quarantine, a gym, kitchen, and Mars lander. There are no windows, and they have very limited contact with anyone outside the craft. All of their transmissions to and from mission control are subject to simulated 20-minute delays. The only difference between it and true space flight is that they’ve never left earth—there’s just an empty hanger out in the suburbs.
The Spaceship.
Official reports are positive at the one-year mark. There have been no major surprises over the course of the experiment, the chief purpose of which is to test the physical and psychological effects of deep space travel and extreme isolation.
Each member has been asked a series of questions. What do they miss most? Naturally, each of them misses their families, fresh air and sunshine. But there’s also the food. Team commander Alexei Sitev wishes he could eat fried meat, and China’s Wang Yue misses his national food with every meal. Wang told earth that he must make a “complicated choice” everyday when dealing with his unhappy stomach. He eats the same rations day in and day out, he says, dreaming of his mother’s cooking.
China's Wang Yue and France's
Romain Charles practice their Hanzi.
They lead busy lives in space. The men get eight and a half hours of sleep each night, an hour of physical exercise toward the end of each day, and they generally log six hours of hard work on something, be it simulated dockings with the International Space Station or handling the occasional emergency. They also take turns flying the space ship.
Each member likes to relax in his own way, though with the lack of resources their personal time revolves around books, video games, Chinese calligraphy and movies. Italy’s Diego Urbina enjoys flight simulators. 
“I kind of have this little thing for going and flying a small plane when I get out,” he reports from the ground. As to what the rest want to do when the last hatch finally opens, there is lots of talk of fresh air and travel.
Urbina, along with researcher Aleksandr Smoleevsky and Wang, recently landed on Mars, which has been recreated in a dark room with lights shining from small holes poked through its black walls. They donned space suits and walked across the simple dirt covered floor, planting flags and collecting Martian dirt. Their “lander” had only bunk beds, bare research tools and a small bathroom. 
         The other three—Commander Sitev, France’s Romaine Charles and team physician Sukhrob Kamolov—remained in imaginary Mars orbit, circling the red planet for the whole month of February, where they had a strange and lonely Valentines day.
Real Mission Control, phony Mars walk.
Urbano and Smoleevsky watched by the media.
But they have become good friends. They all said it was inevitable. They plan surprise parties for one another, celebrate each other’s national holidays, and dressed up for Halloween.
When asked if they believed their work would be beneficial to mankind, they seemed optimistic. Urbina said peer reviews after the fact will lead to more experiments, and move things toward an actual trip in the future. Sitev gave a curt answer—“I should not participate in fool’s errand.”
Reportedly, the isolation isn’t as lonely as one would expect. And with the bulk of the trip behind them, the crew has confidence in what they are doing. Though, undoubtedly, imaginary space travel is unlike anything they have ever experienced. “When we get to Earth,” Urbina said, “We will feel initially like it is another planet.”
The crew on Halloween.

That's all. For more photos and information, visit the official site. See you all soon!