ESA PROGRAM UPDATE
After more than eight months â€˜flyingâ€™ to the Red Planet, the isolated Mars500 crew will finally take their first steps onto a mock-Mars surface on 14 February.
Mars500 is the most realistic spaceflight simulation possible without leaving the ground: its six volunteers are locked inside a sealed nest of modules at Moscowâ€™s Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) for a total of 520 days, the time it would take to fly to Mars and back.
The programmeâ€™s emphasis on realism extends to the missionâ€™s first Marswalk â€“ stepping from a mock lander into a simulated martian environment, overseen from Russiaâ€™s real-life Mission Control Centre (TsUP) in the Moscow suburbs, just as a real spacewalk would be.
Further adding to the realism, spacesuited crewmen and controllers alike will be working around a 20-minute communications delay â€“ the time it takes radio signals to travel between Mars and Earth.
The first footsteps are scheduled to take place around 13:00 Moscow time (11:00 CET).
Preparations for this event will begin on 1 February, when the Mars500 â€˜spacecraftâ€™ docks with a Mars lander already in orbit. Half the crew will then transfer to the lander â€“ Russian commander Alexey Sitev, Europeâ€™s Diego Urbina and Chinaâ€™s Wang Yue â€“ to prepare for Mars landing on 12 February. The 14 February Marswalk is the first of three to take place during the ten-day stay.