The Mars500 experiment, which cost $15 million, aimed to test whether humans could stay physically and mentally healthy during the months of travel to Mars.
Six male volunteers from Europe, Russia and China took part in the experiment. On Friday, they emerged from their cells red eyed but smiling, and were allowed to greet friends and family briefly before being sent into a three-day quarantine.
“It’s really, really great to see you again, rather heartwarming,” said Diego Urbina, an Italian-Colombian participant. “On this mission we’ve achieved the longest isolation ever so that humankind can go to a distant but reachable planet.
Psychologists worry that the noise and activity of normal life will shock the would-be astronauts greatly.
“Time seems to have flown by since we closed the hatch last year. But how time really felt to the crew we’ll soon know. Probably we’ll have a very big difference of opinion,” said Igor Ushakov, head of the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems, which ran the experiment.
Having fed on real astronauts rations, rarely showered and taken daily urine and blood samples, the men felt truly distant from Mission Control.
“I felt a physical distance between out crew and the people in Mission Control. My reasoning knows that they’re just 20 m away from us but my mind can’t accept it.”