A photo taken in May 2017 shows a volunteer inside the lab. Photo: Xinhua
A photo taken in May 2017 shows a volunteer inside the lab. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese volunteers have completed a year-long program living in a lab that simulated space travel, similar to a psychosocial isolation experiment conducted in Moscow that simulated a trip to Mars, known as Mars-500.

Eight volunteers spent a total of 370 days in a mock-up of a spacecraft at Beijing’s Beihang University, China’s bastion of aerospace and space technology research and development. As the experiment drew to a close, a crew of four students, two males and two females, emerged from the Lunar Palace-1 lab on Tuesday, to the applause of academics, researchers and fellow students, Xinhua reported.

The experiment started on May 10, 2017, with eight Beihang University students taking turns living in the totally sealed-off experimental isolation facility.

Participants were greeted when they stepped out of the lab on Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua

The chief designer of the program, Liu Hong, told reporters the test marked the longest stay in a 150-square -meter bio-regenerative life-support system in which humans, animals, plants and micro-organisms co-existed in a closed environment, simulating a future base on the moon. Oxygen, water and food were recycled within the lab.

“The system is 98% self-sufficient. It has been stable and effective in providing life support for the crew,” she said.

Volunteers grew wheat, strawberries and other plants and there were also small amount of pre-stored pork and chicken. The main nutritional sources for the volunteers were yellow meal worms raised in the cabin, which were roasted, ground and mixed with flour to make buns and pancakes, according to the participants.

Liu noted that keeping the students busy with gardening could be good therapy to cope with isolation.

Growing vegetables inside the lab provided food but also was a means to tackle isolation. Photo: Xinhua

Researchers evaluated the physical and mental conditions of the volunteers and studied test results for the design of a more compact life-support capsule to be mounted on space labs or on moon and Mars probes in the future.

Such capsules could also be built in areas on Earth where water is scarce and oxygen levels are low.

In 2007, China sent Yue Wang, an instructor at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, to participate in the Mars-500 program. Yue spent 520 days with other crew members on a simulated manned mission to the Red Planet.

Back then it was reported that four of the members suffered from sleep and psychological issues.