The Mars-500 crew and its make-believe spaceship -- a set of three culvert-like steel cylinders housed in Russia's Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) - is due to enter orbit around the Red Planet on Feb. 1. After the crew carefully simulates the activation of their mock lander, two of the volunteers - Alexander Smoleevsky and Diego Urbina -- will go inside and explore a simulated Martian surface that already has been used to test a small rover mockup.
The 500-day test is designed to gauge how a crew would handle the isolation and cramped quarters on a comparable mission to Mars. Researchers at IBMP have run other tests of this nature, going back to Soviet days, but Mars-500 is the most elaborate yet.
Unlike the Spartan early simulations, IBMP designers have taken pains to make the interior as comfortable as possible, starting with wood paneling in place of bare steel, and private rooms.
The crew has a gym, and a greenhouse for growing fresh food.
The IBMP/Mars-500 website includes a detailed virtual tour of the facility,
If all goes as planned, and none of the volunteers exercises his right to leave whenever he likes, the six Mars-500 crewmen will "return to Earth" in November.