Andrei Kislyakov

We have to resolve the problem of preserving the life and health of a man who will be the most vulnerable link in a Martian or any other mission.

The title of this article could be continued: Will we be able to come back? It may take years to find an answer, but the search has already been launched.

During the next month, the Institute of Bio-Medical Problems will conduct a medical experiment to develop non-surgical methods of treatment for diseases that cosmonauts may develop during a long journey to Mars.

Hardly anything can prevent mankind from launching piloted flights to other planets. But alongside technicalities, it will have to resolve the problem of preserving the life and health of a man who will be the most precious and vulnerable link in a Martian or any other mission.

Previous studies of the bio-medical problems of manned space flights have focused on the rigours of long orbital flights. If a cosmonaut on, for example, the International Space Station (ISS) requires surgery, or the crew develops a psychological problem, or some vital part of the station’s life-support system (LSS) fails, it is possible to stop the flight and return the crew very quickly. But this is not possible on longer-range space missions. This is why it is essential to work out a comprehensive package of measures that will allow cosmonauts to be in space for a long time, and safely return home.

Regrettably, there are more questions than answers when it comes to long flights. Because a mission to Mars would last years, it is necessary to develop a special, expensive LSS, a kind of an autonomous regenerative model with closed hydrogen and water cycles. Systems for regenerating air condensate, urine, and sanitary water were tested on the Soviet space station Mir and the International Space Station, but they still require periodic replenishment of some elements.

But technical problems are easier to solve than psychological ones. Cosmonauts will face huge psychological pressures, from the remoteness of the Earth; living for a long period in a confined space; micro-gravitation; crew cooperation problems; numerous assignments both on board and in open space; unpredictable situations; high risks; and a sense of responsibility for the mission.

Command centres on Earth have traditionally helped space crews to resolve these problems. But a signal from Earth would take 40 minutes to reach Mars, when decisions may have to be taken in seconds. It will also be difficult to organise video sessions with families or send letters, greetings, newspapers and presents. There may be no elementary radio communication for quite a time.

The question of engineering psychology — the interaction of man and machine in control and communication systems — is another unknown. The crew will have to continuously service computers, and deal with a host of other systems.

It is necessary to develop machines that will enable their operators to monitor indicators minute by minute, day after day, and month after month. They will have to make vital decisions based on their analysis of this information.

During long-distance space flights, cosmonauts should have a good sense of time, and an ability to control the pace of their activities. They should develop resistance to inconvenience and monotony, and be ready for adequate respond to danger in an emergency.

It follows that the crew should be selected and established into a compatible team long before the start of a Martian mission. The crew should be selected according to character, professional skills, and working capacity.

Last November, the institute launched the first two-week stage of a comprehensive experiment called “Mars-500.” Next year, a considerable part of it will simulate a flight to Mars lasting at least 520 days.

This may help answer many questions, but new ones will always crop up. — RIA Novosti