France's Romain Charles, of the Mars500 crew, emerges from the Mars500 isolation facility in Moscow. (-/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Photos | Mars500: The 520-day simulated mission to Mars ends

Six volunteer astronauts have just stepped onto solid ground after spending 520 days locked in a capsule, hurtling through space on a mission to Mars and back. The crew, all men, stopped briefly on the red planet before their return home.

Except none of it was real, besides the confinement.

The space capsule was locked away in a storage shed in Moscow. That means no radiation worries, no space debris — oh, and they could leave anytime they wanted. But none of them did.

The astronauts were released from the mock capsule on Friday at about 6 a.m. Eastern time.

The mission, according to reporting by, involved an all-male crew of three Russians, one member each from China and France and an Italian-Colombian. All six lived together in quarters roughly the size of a bus and had only two days outside of the quarters to explore a fake Mars. Then it was back into the capsule for an eight-month return trip to Earth. The mission was coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA).

In an Oct. 28 press release, the project’s human life science specialist, Patrik Sundblad, said the mission was a success. “Yes, the crew can survive the inevitable isolation that is for a mission to Mars and back,” he explained. “Psychologically, we can do it.”

“They have had their ups and downs,” said Sundblad, “but these were to be expected. In fact, we anticipated many more problems, but the crew has been doing surprisingly well.”

August was the low point, he said. E-mail messages from the crew’s friends and family were delayed depending on how far they were from Earth, and in that month, those messages moved at their slowest rate. Spirits picked up substantially starting Sept. 15, as the capsule came, virtually, closer to Earth and messages started to flow in real time.

Upon their return, ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain told the crew, “Thank you very much for your outstanding effort.”

“It is great to see you all again,” said Diego Urbina, ESA’s Italian crew member, when he emerged. “I welcome the courage, determination and generosity of these young people who have devoted almost two years of their lives to this project, for the progress of human space exploration.”

“On the Mars500 mission we have accomplished on Earth the longest space voyage ever so that humankind can one day greet a new dawn on a distant but reachable planet.

“And, as a European Space Agency crew member, I am honored to have been part of this remarkable challenge together with five of the most professional, friendly and resilient individuals I have ever worked with.”

“I’ll be forever thankful to those who, even from a distance, always stood close to me during this space odyssey.”

French crew member Romain Charles expressed his interest in repeating the experience, but on an actual mission, “One year and a half ago, I was selected by the European Space Agency to be part of the Mars500 crew. Today, after a motionless trip of 520 days, I'm proud to prove, with my international crewmates, that a human journey to the Red Planet is feasible.

“We have all acquired a lot of valuable experience that will help in designing and planning future missions to Mars.

“We're ready to embark on the next spaceship going there!”

They will spend an additional four days in confinement undergoing medical checks and psychological evaluation. They will be released to speak with the press on November 8.

(, ESA)

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

NASA’s Orion capsule begins to take shape

Alabama space camp shifts focus to Mars

One-way ticket to Mars