NASA announced this week that it will consider a 500-day test trip to Mars aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
At approximately 16-months-long, this simulation will mark the longest manned mission in space — a marathon in the world of manned space missions. Space Station missions typically last about six months, so this Mars test would push the bounds of what a human body can withstand. Physiological and psychological tests will have to take place before one can be attempted.
Space mission duration is a major barrier to manned space exploration. As Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini explained in a press conference, the ability to explore beyond low-Earth orbit will depend on astronaut capacity to stay in orbit longer than a mere six months.
The longest manned space mission to date – 14 months — was set by a Russian cosmonaut, Valeri Polyakov, on the Mir Space Station in 1994, while only two other cosmonauts have spent an entire year in space.
This is not the first mock trip to Mars, but it will be the first in space. NASA’s Mars test will mimic Russia’s test mission to Mars, which took place over 520 days at a research centre in Moscow, Russia. Ending just recently in 2011, this Russian mission involved cosmonauts locked within a steel capsule.
It will still be two to three years before the mission is underway. Cost is not the only thing detracting from future manned missions to Mars; moon colonies, moon mining, mars probes, space junk and asteroid threats, are just some of the issues weighing on the minds of space agency heads.
That being said, a 16-month simulation would be a significant step towards a manned mission to the red planet.