Six enter Mars-500 ‘Big Brother house’

A six-man crew embarked on an 18-month mission to Mars yesterday – but one where they will never actually leave Earth. The hatch was closed on their Mars-500 “spacecraft” in Moscow and will remain shut until November next year.

Crew enter Mars-500 experiment
Crew set to enter Mars-500 experiment

The 520-day endurance challenge, which resembles a cosmic version of Big Brother, matches the length of time astronauts would need to spend on a real voyage to the Red Planet and back.

The volunteers, two from Europe, three from Russia and one Chinese, have been trained to repair any problem in their space habitat and will only get outside help in an emergency.

Europe’s Diego Urbina and Romain Charles sent their first diary entry to the outside world: “Goodbye Sun, goodbye Earth, we are leaving for Mars!”.

But yesterday leading bookies Paddy Power were taking bets that the “housemates” would not all cope with the claustrophobic experience. They were giving odd on who would be first to quit.

Chinese crew member Yue Wang is the bookies 2/1 favourite to quit the simulated mission first. However the nationality tipped to quit first is European at 11/8.

Reasonably short odds of 5/2 are available for any crew member to quit on grounds of mental instability and its 8/1 for any crew member to be deemed clinically insane after leaving the experiment.

Paddy Power said “This is like Big Brother in space and we reckon its set to capture the public imagination over the coming 17 months. Nobody knows what will happen and as the experiment unfolds but we’ll definitely be expanding our betting along the way.”

The Irish bookies are also giving odds on the first nationality that really will walk on Mars – 6/4 American, 9/4 Chinese, 3/1 Russian, 4/1 EU and 500/1 Irish.

The Moscow mission is designed to be as close as possible to a real space voyage. The volunteers will live and work like astronauts, eat special food and exercise in the same way as crews aboard the International Space Station.

The crew will have to manage using food, equipment and all other material stored in the facility. Only electricity, water and some air will be fed into the compartments from outside.

Picture: ESA

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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