Russian space test nears end, astronauts "to return" from Mars
The longest isolation experiment in the history of space travel was counting down to an end on Friday, with six virtual astronauts more than ready to exit a chamber they have been locked in for 520 days.
The seal on an exit hatch on the mock spaceship in a Moscow research institute was scheduled to be broken at 2 pm local (1000 GMT) to allow six men from Russia, China, France and Italy to end a simulated flight to Mars begun on June 3 2010, DPA reported.
The crew had finished the last experiments and packed its things, mission controllers at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems said, according to the Interfax news agency.
The subjects' closest relatives had been invited to Moscow to be present at the experiment's end so that each astronaut could end his 17-month journey in a loved one's arms, mission controllers said.
Also on hand would be a multi-national press corps and representatives of the participating German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the European Space Agency ESA, the report said.
Because of the possible risk of infection, the "Martians" will be protected from exposure to the general public until November 8, when a press conference is scheduled in the Russian capital.
During 520 days in their tubular module, the men had hardly any contact with the outside world, but were constantly monitored by doctors and psychologists via data link.