The hatches are down on the Mars500 mission. The six-member crew have blasted off on a virtual launch for a simulated 520 day mission to the Red Planet (in actual fact, it is 520 days in an isolation chamber in the Institute for BioMedical Problems on the outskirts of Moscow). Day 1 in the chamber and Diego Urbina and Romain Charles are already in the Diary Room (replete with the kind of laminate decor that all space missions are furnished in). Quick photo of the hatch that was slammed shut is below:
Also approved for launch is the Falcon 9 rocket of private rocket company SpaceX. Following delays caused by a heavy schedule at the launch pad as well as problems getting the flight abort system approved, the rocket should launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida tomorrow, sometime between 16:00 and 20:00 BST. A live stream of the launch will be here.
Not to be outdone, the latest crewmembers for the International Space Station, known collectively with their three colleagues already up there as Expedition 24, have posed for a preflight picture on a farewell ceremony before setting off on the long road to a Soyuz launch on June 16th:
But what is next for space exploration after the hatch is sealed forever on the shuttle missions. Will the Falcon 9 be followed by the Dragon series of rockets, which SpaceX wants to eventually send humans into space on? Will NASA be sending out a fleet of robots to examine the conditions of spaceflight and whether or not they’re suitable for later human use, as they wish? Will the entire space age come to a close, despite the renewed efforts of China, India, Russia and others to get space going again as this article in the Daily Mail suggests? NASA won’t know what it can invest until the last shuttle mission has flown and the US Administration has spoken on the matter, but industry has until tomorrow to provide its say on where the money could go.