Report: Russia's Mock Mars Mission to Cost $15 Million

An experiment to simulate the stresses of a manned mission to Mars on humans could cost more than $15 million, according to Russian wire reports.

The estimate comes after a two-week test run using a mock-Mars habitat built at the Moscow Institute of Biomedical Problems for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the country's Interfax News Agency reported Sunday. The habitat serves as the core of Russia's "Mars500" long-duration spaceflight experiment to begin in late 2008 or early 2009.

"This includes the modernization of the existing equipment, remuneration to participants in the experiment and other expenditures," Interfax quoted Viktor Baranov, Mars500 supervisor and first deputy director at the institute, as saying. "If there are additional expenditures, the total cost of the project will grow."

Russia's Mars500 project is expected to seal six people in a series of furnished metal tubes for up to 520 days, the length of time required for a crewed expedition to Mars and back. The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with Russia on the project and launched its own search for Mars-minded volunteers last year.

"We have an agreement with the ESA that remuneration paid to Russian and European participants should be the same," Baranov told Interfax, adding that qualified volunteers would be eligible for 50,000 Euros (1.8 million Rubles or US$73,467) for their time sequestered.

The four-module mock Mars habitat contains about 1,250 square feet (116 square meters) of living space, or about the equivalent of a two-story house.

It is split into separate medical and living modules, a descent module for landing on Mars and a storage room, ESA officials have said. The long-duration experiment is expected to simulate the 40-minute delay in communications between Earth and Mars, feature mock explorations of the martian surface and recreate the view of Earth dwindling away into space as the "spacecraft" heads toward the red planet, they added.  

Russian researchers ran a 14-day test run in November to seek out any pitfalls with their current design, which allowed project managers to set the new cost estimate, Baranov told Interfax.

Last June, the ESA announced a call for 12 volunteers to join its portion of the Mars500 project, though eligible applicants must pass psychological and stress tests to be considered. The applicants would be split into three teams, each with four people, to serve on two, 105-day test runs in the Mars habitat and the final 520-day expedition, ESA officials have said.

Russia's Interfax News Agency contributed to this report.

Tariq Malik Editor-in-chief

Tariq is the editor-in-chief of Live Science's sister site He joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, focusing on human spaceflight, exploration and space science. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times, covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University.