On Aug 17 2011 the head of the European Space Agency (ESA), Jean-Jacques Dordain, announced that they would partner with the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) to "carry out the first flight to Mars together." The head of the RKA, Vladimir Popovkin welcomed the pledge.
This commitment comes as the Euro-Russian Mars500 experiment comes to completion in November. Dordain does not set a time frame, but says that the Mars500 experiment has been a factor in the decision for the ESA and RKA's pledge to send a manned mission to Mars.
The Mars500 program was initiated on June 03 2010 by the Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems in order to simulate a mission to Mars. The experiment simulates a 250 day journey to Mars, a 30 day stay on The Red Planet, and a 240 day return flight. Mars500 simulates emergency situations that a manned mission to Mars might encounter and attempts to accurately determine how well humans can cope with a trip to and from Mars.
The spacecraft's crew is led by 38 year old engineer Alexei Sitev, and also includes Russian surgeon Sukhrob Kamolov, 32, and Russian general practitioner Alexander Smolevsky, 33. Non-Russian crew members include Italian Diego Urbina, 27, China's Wang Yue, 27, and the Roman Charles from France, 31.
|The Crew of Mars500 in their mock spacecraft Source: ESA|
Dordain's commitment to Mars travel is something to be expected, as the United States' NASA has set a goal of setting a man on Mars by the mid 2030s. The competition that this new announcement might bring could help increase the priority of a manned mission to Mars and push up the date. It would bring great prestige to the nation that could land the first man on Mars, much like the moon landing helped to solidify NASA's leadership in space.
A time frame for a joint Euro-Russian mission to Mars has yet to be set by the ESA or RKA, but as Mars500 culminates there will likely be an announcement on the matter. Igor Lisov, an analyst for the Moscow-based journal Novosti Kosmonavtike (Cosmonautic News) gave his own estimation of the time frame to the Voice of Russia saying "If they decide to implement an emergency program, the mission may be carried out in 10 years. If it is an ordinary one, then it will take 20 years. This is a long period of time." While this is not an official statement from either agency, it provides hope for those hoping to see a man on Mars in their lifetime.
Cooperation between the two space agencies when it comes to Mars is not unprecedented. Both agencies, as well as NASA, have worked together since 2006 to develop EkzoMars (ExoMars), a Mars rover that will be launched from a Russian Proton Rocket in 2013 and supplied with both Russian and European equipment.
It is firmly believed in Russian and Europe that future success with Mars travel and exploration will be made by working together. There are sure to be some exciting developments and/or announcements in the coming months as the Mars500 simulation comes to an end!