January 8

For an explanation of this project, read here.

It’s a journalistic axiom that when your phone rings early on a Monday, from a blocked number, it’s generally not because somebody loves your work. Killer whales are on their way! If humans ever journey to Mars, they will face an array of challenges: assault by cosmic rays, the erosion of bone mass and more subtle problems that could disrupt a mission’s success. What do you get when you put three Russians, two Western Europeans, and a man from China into cramped, windowless quarters for nearly a year and a half? Astronauts have a down-to-Earth problem that could be even worse on a long trip to Mars: They can’t get enough sleep. Mars travelers may want to pack some extra jammies, a study suggests, finding sleepiness and insomnia dogging astronauts in a space travel simulation of a 520-day trip to the Red Planet. Future astronauts going to Mars could have trouble sleeping, become lethargic, and have problems with mental tasks over the course of a long mission. Getting sleep will be one of the biggest challenges facing astronauts in any future manned mission to Mars, according to a study of six men who spent 520 days and nights in a confined “spacecraft” during a simulated trip to the planet. They survived a “mission to Mars” that helped us understand the challenges of long-term isolation. Imagine life on a spaceship headed to Mars. A veteran science journalist will be the next editor of Science’s news section. A mock Mars mission that locked six volunteers inside a simulated spaceship for more than 500 days seriously disrupted the crew’s sleep patterns and waking behavior. For a while there, life in a bunker designed to simulate a 520-day mission to Mars looked kind of fun.