The Concordia station, where researchers will conduct biomedical experiments.
Astronauts who go on long space missions prepare for months in advance. And a region on Earth which offers a perfect training ground in Antarctica. Spending time on icy cold planet trains these astronauts for several months of isolation, confinement and prepares them to face extreme environment.
The training is held during the winter months in Antarctica, since the continent is without sunlight for four months of the year. The period began with the Sunset on May 13.
The European Space Agency (ESA), which runs Concordia, the remotest base on Earth, said this marks the beginning of a very exciting time for the 12-member crew.
What the researchers will be studying
The ESA said that the team will live and work in isolation for six months in the name of spaceflight research. They will conduct biomedical experiments on themselves to understand how humans cope with living in extreme isolation.
“From sleep studies to gut health measurements to mindful practices, the crew are poked and prodded to help researchers understand and overcome the challenges extreme environments, like space, pose to present and future explorers,” the ESA said on its website.
No sunset for four months
The image of the penultimate sunset (on May 13) were posted on ESA's website and social media platforms, which show the Sun appearing only as a thin sliver in the sky.
The last airplane with supplies visited the Concordia station in February ahead of the research that will last nine months. Four of these will be in the total darkness of Antarctic winter.
About the harsh conditions in Antarctica
The Concordia station is located just a few kilometres from the South Pole of the Earth. The ESA said that temperatures can drop to minus 80 degrees Celsius in the complete frozen darkness outside.
No supplies or people can be flown in during the winter months and the high altitude causes the crew to experience chronic hypobaric hypoxia or lack of oxygen in the brain.
These conditions are as close to living on another planet as humans can get on Earth.
The Concordia base
Concordia is a collaboration between the French Polar Institute and the Italian Antarctic programme and is one of only three bases that is inhabited all year long. This year's crew members are a mix of Italian and French researchers and technicians plus Swedish supervisor Dr Hannes Hagson, who will manage the base and conduct science in the uniquely pristine landscape of Antarctica.