BY STEVEN SPARKMAN
ANCHOR MEGAN MURPHY
Six men have emerged from a cramped room where communication with loved ones was limited and they only showered once a week. And they weren't playing World of Warcraft.
The Mars500 mission, conducted in Moscow, has come to an end. Six participants spent 520 days in a small living space to test the psychological toll of a real Mars mission. They emerged from their tube Friday to the cheers and questions of a crowd of reporters. (Video source: Telegraph)
Their stint in the capsule simulated all the interpersonal strains, isolation, and boredom of the long trip to Mars and back. In February, they left their living quarters for a brief spacewalk on a simulated Martian surface, but other than that, it was the same cramped living space day after day.
A reporter for RT says the astronauts looked a little overwhelmed by the sudden excitement.
Tim Barton: "When they came out of that door, they look sort of a little bit like moles emerging into the sunlight after being underground. ... It's thought that they may experience a bit of problems with all the variety of a world that is indeed very interested with them at the moment. Of course, they have got $100,000 to look forward to, the pay for essentially giving up a year and a half of their lives."
One psychologist with the mission said the psychological low point came in August, when the men's families and friends were on vacation and sent fewer messages. But overall, the crew held up remarkably well and officials are calling it a complete success.
Two CNN anchors discuss what it must have been like in the capsule.
Kristie Lu Stout: "But these crew members, Carol, they were the lucky ones because in this fake mission they had books, dvds and Guitar Hero on board. Back to you."
Carol Costello: "So at least they had something to do. I just can't imagine being stuck in a windowless room for that amount of time. And they weren't driven crazy!"
Stout: "That's right, windowless isolation, 520 days, I bet they're pretty good at Guitar Hero by now."
Of course, no simulation is ever quite like the real thing. A writer for Wired points out, there were a few key obstacles no mission could address while planted firmly on Earth.
"A real mission would have several more dangers. The Mars500 crew could leave at any time (though, to their enormous credit, they never did), while real astronauts would be completely trapped. Space debris, [weightlessness] and radiation add to the challenges, and being far from Earth can create a sense of uneasy detachment."
Future missions are set to address those very challenges. For instance, Russia's space agency is making tentative plans to repeat the Mars500 mission -- on the International Space Station.
MSNBC's Alan Boyle explains.
"If the plan goes forward, at least two astronauts would spend at least 18 months in orbit. That timetable is much longer than the typical four- to five-month tour of duty â€” and would set a new record for time spent in space. The current endurance record is 437 days and 18 hours, set in 1995 by Soviet cosmonaut Valery Polyakov aboard the Mir space station."
The Mars500 crew will have to be quarantined and debriefed for a few days before being allowed to go home to their families, just like in a real mission. One astronaut has already said he's spending his money on a sports car.