The Nation



Forty years before man steps foot on Mars, conference told

It could be at least another four decades of research, tests, and technology development - including a self-sustainable software - before humans are ready to launch an expedition to Mars, the European Space Agency said yesterday at the 7th International Conference on Software, Knowledge, Information Management and Applications (SKIMA 2013) focusing on ICT and human risk management. The conference is being held in Chiang Mai.

Qualified personnel selected for such a trip would have to be physically fit and mentally strong, to ensure they could endure cramped conditions and living in limited space for long periods. In addition, they would have to be highly qualified with the relevant technological qualifications, said Michel Tognini, a flight commander and astronaut working for European Space Agency.

The European Space Agency launched its initiative to prepare for an expedition to Mars two years ago, with plans to be ready for the trip in the next four decades. A personnel-qualification project, involving a number of tests using three Russians, two Europeans and one Chinese astronaut, is underway to better understand the stresses likely to arise from living in close contact with other members of the expedition, including the difficult working conditions crew members will have to withstand, Tognini said.

The six astronauts are currently undergoing tests, which will include living in solitary for up to 18 months. "This test is very tough, but it has achieved partial success," he added.

At a distance of 23 million kilometres from Earth, it still takes communication signals moving at the speed of light, 40 minutes, to make the trip to Mars and back. Much of what they will need on board, including treatment for illness and their selection of food, will be arranged by computers.

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