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Students are locked in a Beijing bunker for a space isolation experiment

Four Chinese university students have been locked in two bunkers in a Beijing suburb, where they’ll attempt to spend the next 200 days living self-sufficiently. The isolation experiment, called Lunar Palace 365, is designed to study the desolate living conditions in space and on another planet.

While in the Lunar Palace 1 bunkers the students will be restricted to self-sustainability, using just what they brought in while recycling everything from human waste to plant clippings.

This marks the second stage of a three-part, yearlong experiment. During the first stage, four different students spent 60 days within the Lunar Palace 1. These first four students will return for 105 days after the second stage is complete.

The students represent Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and told Reuters they’re enthusiastic to participate as aspiring astronauts.

“I’ll get so much out of this,” doctoral student Liu Guanghui said. “It’s truly a different life experience.”

China has been been ramping up its race to space, jostling to be a leader in exploration, with its near-term plans to send a probe to the far side of the moon in 2018 and launch the core module of its independent space station the following year. China also wants to send astronauts to the moon by 2036, leveraging what they’ve learned from Lunar Palace 365 to facilitate longer stays.

Though the students are expected to remain self-sufficient, scientists from the university say they’ve made precise measurements to ensure the participants had what they’d need before entering the bunker.

“We’ve designed it so the oxygen (produced by plants at the station) is exactly enough to satisfy the humans, the animals, and the organisms that break down the waste materials,” said Liu Hong, a professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

China is by no means the first nation to undertake such space-oriented isolation experiments. Russia holds the record for the longest with participants having lasted 520 days.

NASA’s ongoing HI-SEAS experiments puts participants into a 13,570-cubic-foot dome on top of a Hawaiian mountain to simulate what it might be like to live on Mars. The participants are only allowed to leave the dome wearing a “space suit.” One HI-SEAS team ended the longest NASA-sponsored mission of the sort last August when the team emerged from the dome after a year. Another team entered for an eight-month experiment in January.

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