The Mars500 crew, pictured when 12 months into their mission. Top row: Kamolov, Urbina, Smoleevskiy. Bottom row: Charles, Sitev, Wang


Hopes that mankind may one day walk on the surface of Mars came a step closer to fruition at 10am today.

That was when the six-man crew of the European Space Agency’s Mars500 mission emerged safe and well after 520 days spent in a 72-square-metre capsule in Moscow.

Mars500 saw the six men undertake a simulated return journey to the Red Planet, and was designed to monitor how well they could cope, both physically and psychologically, with spending 17 months isolated from their loved ones and confined together in a space roughly the size of a bus.

During the ‘voyage’, the crew – comprising three engineers, two doctors and an astronaut trainer, hailing from France, Russia, Italy and China – had to carry out a large number of science experiments, and grow their own fresh vegetables in the onboard greenhouse.

They were also subject to a number of different monitoring regimes.

These required them to provide regular saliva, breathed-air and urine samples, answer a series of psychological questionnaires, and hook each other up to brain monitors – mission commander Alexey Sitev can be seen undertaking one such test here.

Mars500's ‘journey’ also included a simulated EVA excursion onto a mock Martian landscape, as well as – for added realism – several ‘emergency’ situations, which included a fire, a power outage and a communications blackout.

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When not fully occupied with all of that, the men had access to email and internet (subject to an artificial delay, to mimic the effect of being at such a huge distance from Earth), as well as a games console, gym equipment and a large library of DVD movies and e-books.

Kamolov was the first crew member to exit the capsule, in a 'landing' ceremony that was streamed live via the ESA website.

He was followed by Charles, Wang, Urbina, Smoleevskiy and finally Sitev, who formally declared to waiting officials,

"The programme has been fully completed and all the crew members are in good health."

The astronauts then addressed the assembled throng – and the world's media. Romain Charles spoke first, saying:

"After 520 days of a motionless trip, we are pleased today to prove that a human can go to Mars.

We have all gained a lot of valuable experience, and hope we can help in the design and planning of the first mission
to Mars."


Diego Urbina added: "It's an honour to have been part of this remarkable achievement."

For more details see the ESA Mars500 page