Through this submarine-like hatch, volunteers for a 500-day simulated mission to Mars will transit from one train-car-size module to another in a mock-up of a Mars-faring spacecraft. The Institute of Biomedical Problems, in suburban Moscow, is now completing preparations to lock a group of people into the simulator in an effort to identify psychological problems that may arise during very long space missions. The main living module sports cozy wood paneling to seem Earthlike. But the decor is unlikely to make up for the isolation from all but your bunkmates. Phoning home won’t help. It takes up to 15 minutes for radio signals to reach Earth from a Mars-bound craft, so all the voice and data lines into the simulator will be tape-delayed.

The crew will practice various psychological support techniques while scientists from the Russian and European space agencies monitor them remotely. Researchers will also be testing the crew’s mental health in simulated emergencies. More than just a punishing stress test, the exercises will also assess the adequacy of remotely monitoring the physiological and psychological health of space travelers experiencing unprecedented isolation. In contrast to the International Space Station, which is frequently visited by Russian and American space vehicles carrying supplies and spare parts for emergencies, absolutely nothing will be added to the simulated spacecraft after it ”departs” from Earth early next year.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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