One of the ‘White Mars’ experiments which the Ice Team are conducting, in conjunction with the Center for Space Medicine in Berlin, is to investigate how isolation and other environmental factors affect brain function, sleep quality, and the autonomic nervous system. Today the Ice Team had a conference call with a symposium of European researchers who are interested in human physical and psychological responses to space flight. Present were leading researchers from Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, the people behind the ‘Mars-500’ study (see, as well as some current and former astronauts. All were very keen to hear how the team are getting on in their splendid isolation.

The symposium delegates pointed out that historically it has been extremely difficult to conduct meaningful research into space conditions here on Earth, as until now all such studies have had a degree of artificiality about them – for example, is simulated isolation really ‘real’ if you can knock on the door of the container and get out when you’ve had enough? Even near-space may not be as isolated as you think: it has been said that it is easier to get somebody back from the International Space Station than from Antarctica’s interior in winter. Over a thousand people over-winter in Antarctica at various governmental research stations, and many of these also contribute to ongoing space-analogue research, so the Ice Team is but a small extra cog in a much wider research programme. However, the symposium commented that the Ice Team’s situation – as a particularly small group of people who are truly and irreversibly isolated and confined for almost a year – is unique, and so will provide a unique and valuable dataset.

The team may not be able to simulate zero gravity (however much they’d like to – those crevasses would be a breeze!), but they do know a thing or two about being on their own..