A group of Chinese students has just entered a mock space station on Earth as they prepare to simulate living on another world.
The four students are from the Beihang University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (formerly Beijing University). They entered Lunar Palace-1 on Sunday in north Beijing, where they will remain for 200 days. The goal is to try living self-sufficiently for the entirety of the mission.
This is the second group of volunteers to enter the chamber, which is a large bunker that has been repurposed for this project. The first stayed inside for 60 days and finished yesterday (Sunday) when the new group entered.
Specifically called Lunar Palace 365, the goals of this mission are to see how people cope with living in isolation for such a long period of time. During their time inside, the students will grow plants and food, recycle everything, and see how they psychologically cope with the experience.
It is 160 square meters (1,720 square feet) in size. There are four bed cubicles, a common room, a bathroom, a place to raise animals, and a waste treatment room.
"I'll get so much out of this," said Liu Guanghui, a PhD student, who entered the bunker on Sunday, reported Reuters. "It's truly a different life experience."
This project is not too dissimilar to others that have been done in the past elsewhere around the world. Perhaps the most notable was Europe, Russia, and China’s joint Mars-500 mission between 2007 and 2011, which simulated what a mission to Mars might be like.
China is making rapid progress with its space endeavors. It has launched humans to space multiple times since the turn of the century and is also currently building an experimental space station in orbit.
Later this year, it is hoping to launch an unmanned sample return mission to the Moon, the first since 1976. That mission looks somewhat in jeopardy as the class of rocket that will launch the mission, the Long March 5, failed last week.
Further into the future, China has said they want to send their own astronauts (called taikonaurs) to the Moon, perhaps by 2036. Eventually, they also want to get people to the surface of Mars.
Lessons learned from this experiment could therefore be hugely beneficial. With China banned from working with NASA, they are having to conduct all of their own research, and they’re not doing too bad at it either.