After 257 days in a locked, windowless steel capsule, researchers on a mock trip to Mars ventured from their cramped quarters in heavy space suits Monday, trudging into a sand-covered room to plant flags on a simulated Red Planet. The all-male crew of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese entered a network of modules at a Moscow space research center last June to imitate the 520-day flight and see how they cope with the constricted, isolating conditions of space travel — minus the weightlessness.
Several participants donned 30-kilogram (66-pound) suits to perform Monday's mock landing in an adjacent capsule. They planted the flags of Russia, China and the European Space Agency, took "samples" from the ground and conducted faux scientific experiments. Psychologists said long confinement would put the team members under stress as they grow increasingly tired of each other's company. Psychological conditions can even be more challenging on a mock mission than a real flight because the crew won't experience any of the euphoria or dangers of actual space travel.