MOSCOW — It seemed more like a bizarre reality TV show than high-tech international space travel experiment: Six men lived in cramped, windowless compartments for more than 17 months to simulate a mission to Mars.
When they emerged from their claustrophobic capsules Friday in western Moscow, the researchers in blue jumpsuits looked haggard but were all smiles — dreaming of lying in the sun at the beach, taking long strolls and driving fast cars.
Organizers said the 520-day experiment was the longest mock space mission ever, measuring human responses to the confinement, stress and fatigue of a round trip to Mars — minus the weightlessness, of course. They describe it as a vital part of preparations for a future mission to the Red Planet, even though it may be decades away because of huge costs and daunting technological challenges.
The facility at Moscow's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems, Russia's premier space medicine center, included living compartments the size of a bus, connected with several other similarly sized modules for experiments and exercise.
Scientists who organized the mock Mars mission said it differed from the other experiments by relying on the latest achievements in space medicine and human biology.
Emerging from their isolation, the crew of three Russians, one Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese carefully descended a metal ladder to a greeting from crowd of officials and journalists Friday.
"The international crew has completed the 520-day experiment," team leader Alexey Sitev told Russian space officials. "The mission is accomplished. The crew is in good health and is ready for new missions."
Organizers said each crew member will be paid about $100,000, except for the Chinese researcher, whose compensation hasn't been revealed by officials from his country.