The Accidental Russophile alerted me to these two interesting articles about the upcoming “Mars-500” long-duration simulation experiment:
“Russians Prepare to Go to Mars Without Leaving the Ground”, James Oberg, IEEE Spectrum, September 2007. He visited the simulation complex at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems. Staying in the simulator for that length of time will be challenging! Like being imprisoned. Once the novelty wears off after about 2 months or so things will start to get “interesting”. Still, I almost wish I could volunteer – I am doing nothing with my life and it wouldn’t be too much different to being in my bedroom – but I am lacking any qualifications whatsoever. (I’d volunteer for a solo Mars mission, though, even if it resulted in my death!) Such an experiment would be bearable if there were Internet access, but unfortunately there isn’t! The crew can only send and receive emails. I’d be having Internet-deprivation withdrawal symptoms after the first week!
The interior of the simulator is constructed with wood – very nice woodwork! – which “is supposed to induce a feeling of cozy hominess”. It does add a warm feeling to the rooms, unlike metal. Couldn’t have wooden décor on a real spaceship though; a fire hazard and too heavy to carry into orbit.
One unresolved problem:
As pieces fall into place, a few unsolved problems stand out in greater relief. Dyomin confesses that one entirely ordinary Earth side process was giving him fits: “We still don’t know what to do with the garbage,” he ruefully admits. Throwing it overboard (as the Russians did on their Salyut and Mir space stations) would cost too much in terms of the air lost with each jettison, and on a real Mars mission it would fill the skies with twinkling garbage bags that would drift for months, confusing stellar navigation sensors and potentially bumping into the ship and fouling exterior mechanisms. Keeping it inside will require strict sanitary isolation. But with decades of long-term human spaceflight experience under their belts, the team will think of something.
In Stephen Baxter’s novel Titan the crew on the journey to Saturn’s moon used this device to dispose of garbage:
She checked the SCWO reactor, the Supercritical Wet Oxidation system. The SCWO was a remarkable piece of gear. Inside, slurry was heated to 480°C and 240 atmospheres, conditions where water went supercritical. It was like liquid steam. If you jetted in oxygen, you could get an open flame, under water. The SCWO would burn anything, any waste they threw into it: crap, urine, food scraps, garbage, mixed up with organic wastes and water. Out came steam, carbon dioxide and a whole bunch of nitrates – compounds of nitrogen they could use in the farm.
It looked to Benacerraf as if the temperature control inside the reactor had been a little variable. That was a worry; not everything that happened inside that reactor was well understood. The SCWO was a relatively new technology – the reactor and its backup fitted in Discovery were actually upgrades of breadboard prototypes. There were safety concerns around the high temperatures and pressures in the reactor, and corrosion of the pressure chamber. That corrosion could leak metals into the liquid effluent, which could then end up in the food chain.
The cylindrical chambers at IMBP, used for 40 years:
Habitation module hallway; side doorways lead to small cabins:
Closet-sized personal cabin:
“Russia Prepares for Mars Mission with ‘Big Brother’ Experiment”, Spiegel Online, 14/9. Here is revealed that one of the participants is cosmonaut Sergei Ryazanskii!
Sergei Ryazanskii has already passed all the necessary medical and psychological tests. The athletic, blue-eyed, 32-year-old Russian is testing one of the wooden cots in the mock spacecraft’s sleeping module. His grandfather helped build one of the very first Soviet rockets and two years ago he managed to graduate from Russia’s cosmonaut training program. A romantic attraction to outer space simply runs in the family blood. “My wife was the only one who couldn’t understand that,” Sergei sighs. She divorced him.
From his training, Ryazanskii knows how extreme conditions can affect a person’s psychological well-being. “In total isolation with five people, you’re burdened by five times as many problems, and so are the others,” he says. It’s exactly that sort of group dynamic that the IBMP wants to examine.
Divorced! (They had one child.) That must have been recent. He is only 4 years younger than me. (He had a Livejournal, but seems to have deleted it. His website is still online. Hopefully he will keep an online journal for the experiment?)