MOSCOW, June 3 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency says the first full-duration, 520-day simulated mission to Mars started Thursday at Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems.
The project, called Mars500, began at 1:49 p.m. local time (5:49 a.m. EDT) when a six-man crew entered a simulated spacecraft and the hatch was closed. The experiment will run until November next year.
The crew -- Diego Urbina and Romain Charles from Europe; Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Mikhail Sinelnikov from Russia; and Wang Yue from China -- face a mission that is as close as possible to a real space voyage without leaving the ground, the ESA said. They will live and work like astronauts, eat special food and exercise in the same way as do crews aboard the International Space Station.
The hatch will remain closed until November 2011 and the crew must manage using the food and equipment stored in the facility. Only electricity, water and air will be made available.
Remaining in close quarters for nearly 18 months will likely produce psychological problems, and those are a key part of the experiment in human endurance, officials said.
During the experiment, Urbina and Charles will send diary updates and videos to ESA's Mars500 site at http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars500/SEMUXB5XT9G_0.html.
The first diary entry was published Thursday. It read, in part, "Goodbye sun, goodbye Earth, we are leaving for Mars!"