Skip to main content

A Mars simulation crew spent 520 days in confinement. Here are their tips

If you’re struggling in quarantine right now, you might look for advice from someone how has survived a truly extreme confinement situation, such as an astronaut who was part of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Mars500 simulation study.

Simulation missions are psychological experiments to learn about how humans fare in the space environment, without actually sending anyone to space. Especially for missions to Mars, which will require long travel times, a crew will have to work together in difficult circumstances for over a year, with little chance to get away from each other or from their tasks.

The Mars500 simulation mission, which began in 2007, was one of the best-known and longest-running simulation studies, including three different crews of volunteers. It culminated with a 520-day mission featuring a crew of six men from Russia, France, Italy, and China. They spent their time in a simulated spacecraft and had to get by without sunlight, fresh food, or fresh air. So they learned a thing or two about working in isolation, as did the scientists studying them.

The crew of the Mars500 simulation mission
The crew of the Mars500 simulation mission ESA

It is one of these crew members, French engineer Romain Charles, who appears in ESA’s video with tips on surviving confinement. He gave nine tips for staying sane in difficult environments:

  1. Remember that the situation is temporary. Things that you want to do right now but can’t, you may well be able to do later.
  2. Stay busy. It’s easy to get bored and lethargic in confinement, so keep yourself busy with reading, music, and other hobbies. Charles did things like improving his Russian with his Russian crewmates, and getting his Chinese crewmate to teach him calligraphy.
  3. Live in the present. Taking one day at a time feels more manageable than thinking about the long term confinement.
  4. Keep a regular cycle of day and night. Humans respond very well to regular sleep cycles, and very poorly to interrupted cycles. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
  5. Be creative. Break the monotony by trying new things and having fun. Charles has delightful photos of the many different and increasingly ridiculous styles of beard he tried during his confinement.
  6. Stay in touch. You’ll feel much better if you have regular contact with family and friends.
  7. Spend energy. You need to burn off all that excess energy through exercise and activity.
  8. Communicate. When you’re in an enclosed space with others, it’s easy to let tensions boil over. Communicate about your needs.
  9. Look for unexpected rewards. Charles describes the absolute joy he experienced when he ate fresh food for the first time after confinement. Things that he had taken for granted became incredibly precious to him.

Charles isn’t the only astronaut to have shared advice on this topic. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also shared his tips recently.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Chocolate mousse in space is more important than you think
Astronaut Andreas Mogensen with his chocolate mousse aboard the space station.

Astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) keep a busy schedule during their six-month stints in orbit. Most of their time is taken up with carrying out scientific research in the unique microgravity conditions that the facility provides, while the occasional spacewalk takes care of upgrades and general maintenance.

The research programs include learning about the best way to grow crops off-Earth and aboard the relatively cramped conditions of the orbital facility, an especially important task if we’re ever to send astronauts on long-duration missions to a lunar base or even to Mars.

Read more
No more GPUs? Here’s what Nvidia’s DLSS 10 could look like
RTX 4070 logo on a graphics card.

The latest version of Nvidia's Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) is already a major selling point for some of its best graphics cards, but Nvidia has much bigger plans. According to Bryan Catanzaro, Nvidia's vice president of Applied Deep Learning Research, Nvidia imagines that DLSS 10 would have full neural rendering, bypassing the need for graphics cards to actually render a frame.

During a roundtable discussion hosted by Digital Foundry, Catanzaro delved deeper into what DLSS could evolve into in the future, and what kinds of problems machine learning might be able to tackle in games. We already have DLSS 3, which is capable of generating entire frames -- a huge step up from DLSS 2, which could only generate pixels. Now, Catanzaro said with confidence that the future of gaming lies in neural rendering.

Read more
Spotify using AI to clone and translate podcasters’ voices
spotify app available in windows 10 store

Spotify has unveiled a remarkable new feature powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that translates a podcast into multiple languages using the same voices of those in the show.

It’s been made possible partly by OpenAI’s just-released voice generation technology that needs only a few seconds of listening to replicate a voice.

Read more