Two Emiratis set for eight-month isolation mission to replicate journey to Mars

The project will replicate the harsh conditions of lengthy space travel

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Two Emiratis will be part of a space research programme that involves living in near-isolation for eight months to replicate the challenges of flights to the Moon and Mars.

The names of the two citizens — one of whom will take part in the arduous mission and the other a backup — will be announced soon, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre said.

The pair have been selected from a shortlist of ten candidates announced last year.

The mission will involve an international crew of six people living inside the NEK experimental complex in Moscow for eight months.

Sirius 20/21, the official name of the project, will measure the psychological and physiological impact on humans living in the extreme environments that astronauts would face during space travel.

As space nations work towards landing humans on Mars, research into how lengthy space flights affect the human body and mind remains critical. Astronauts will have to overcome challenges such as exposure to radiation, long periods of time spent in microgravity and long periods away from family and friends.

“The mission is part of the Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station (Siruis) and will study the effects of long duration isolation and confinement,” the space centre said.

“The members of crew one will be revealed soon. The crew will join the UAE Analog Mission 1 — the first Emirati analog mission.”

After a delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the experiment is expected to begin in November.

The National explains what the project will involve.

Simulation of a space-like environment

The experiment is part of a five-year-long research programme by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems and Nasa’s Human Research Programme.

It involves three Sirius missions, with the first one completed in 2019 when six crew members lived in isolation for four months.

The final one is expected to be 12 months long and to be the most challenging.

Participants will be sealed inside tubular modules, with multiple cameras watching them around the clock.

The structure has its own atmosphere and air pressure to create a space-like environment.

Dedicated rooms for each participant will help with privacy, while a small living room will allow them to socialise and watch television.

Each bedroom has a tiny bed, desk and a cupboard.

They will be cut off from the world outside for the entire duration of the experiment.

What is the scientific purpose?

The crew members will be assigned simulated space missions during their stay in the facility.

“Participants will experience environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars,” Nasa said on its website.

“A small international crew will live together in isolation for eight months conducting scientific research, using virtual reality and performing robotic operations among a number of other tasks during the lunar mission.

“Results from ground-based missions like this help Nasa prepare for the real-life challenges of space exploration and provide important scientific data to solve some of these problems and to develop countermeasures.”

Scientists will be measuring the participants’ psychological and physiological conditions during the experiment.

Why is the UAE participating?

The UAE has long-term plans to send Emiratis to the lunar surface and to build a human settlement on Mars by 2117.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is building a Dh500 million Mars simulation city in Dubai, with construction expected to begin next year.

The design includes analog facilities that can be used by Emiratis and other international participants in the future.

“The Mars Science City will be a platform where we’re going to have our future space robotics lab, future analog facilities, a habitat and a space sustainability lab,” Adnan Al Rais, Mars 2117 programme manager, said.

“We’re currently working on the design. Then we’ll do the construction for the next two years. Hopefully, the city will be ready and operational towards the end of 2024.

“We are also working with our partners on identifying the requirements for unique analogue facilities as part of the Mars Science City.”

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Updated: August 10, 2021, 4:42 AM