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Cosmonauts Participate in Out of This World Experiment Without Leaving Earth

They are boldly going where no man has gone before, even if they never leave the ground.

An experiment to prepare human beings for a mission to Mars began Tuesday when six volunteers climbed inside an isolation chamber for a simulated space journey lasting 105 days.

Four Russians, one German and a Frenchman will be cooped up in a complex of three windowless steel capsules at the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow, measuring only about 719 cubic yards — less than a quarter of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool.

They will be cut off from the outside world and monitored by officials at a mission control center. All communication will be subject to a 20-minute time delay to simulate contact between Earth and a spacecraft hurtling towards Mars.

The crew will live on the same food rations as astronauts on the International Space Station, wash with damp tissues and use recycled water.

Members of the group will be allowed to leave only if they want to abandon the experiment. A statement on the Web site of the institute declares: "Evacuation of crew members due to illness or their own free will will equal ‘the death’ of a cosmonaut."

Each volunteer has a cabin containing a bed, desk and chair. They will be able to contact friends and families only through the control center.

They will conduct 72 scientific experiments, maintain the operational systems of the "craft" and wear a headcap fitted with 128 electrodes to monitor their brain activity while they sleep.

The crew of a real Mars expedition would suffer extreme isolation. Martin Zell, of the ESA’s directorate of human spaceflight, said: “It is of paramount importance to understand the psychological and physiological effects of long-duration confinement.”

Click here to read the full Times report.