Russia just put a man on (simulated) Mars

After more than 250 long days in a wood-paneled approximation of a spaceship headed toward the Red Planet, the six-man crew of Mars500 has finally reached their goal: touching down on Mars. Even though this "Mars" is really just a sandbox in a suburb, one team member still saw the sight as inspiring.

"Today, looking at this red landscape, I can feel how inspiring it will be to look through the eyes of the first human to step foot on Mars," said Italian crewman Diego Urbina, who took those first sandy steps with Russian Alexandr Smoleevskiy. "I salute all the explorers of tomorrow and wish them godspeed."

It's not a field trip, though. The Mars500 crew will perform two more walks as they play out some pretend experiments, and then head back toward Earth on February 23rd. That, according to the European Space Agency, could be the hardest part of all:

The most difficult but the most interesting part of this psychological study of long flights is still ahead: the crew is now faced with another monotonous 'interplanetary cruise' without a highlight like the Mars landing to look forward to.

All in all, the trip will take a total of 520 days, with the crew expected to return to "Earth" (and finally be able to leave the simulator) in November. And after that? Well, no actual mission to Mars has been planned by any space agency all the world over, but the psychological rigors of being cut off, at least, will be better understood after the test. Building a ship that will actually get us there? Well, that's another challenge entirely.

ESA, via Pop Sci

For the latest tech stories, follow us on Twitter at @dvice