Four Chinese volunteers spent 200 days in a simulated space lab in Beijing, breaking the record for the longest stay in a self-sustaining cabin. They had no input from the outside world, grew their own food, and handled their own waste.

Four volunteers lived in the sealed lab to simulate a long-term space mission with no input from the outside world. Image credits: China National Space Administration.

China’s lunar base plans are becoming more and more serious, but before they actually send astronauts there, they want to know how they can handle the rough conditions on the moon — so they set up a “virtual” base, here on Earth. They called it the Lunar Palace.

The Lunar Palace has two plant modules where pretend astronauts can grow and harvest their own food, as well as a living cabin with living facilities. The cabin is basically a 42 square meter area (450 square feet) containing four sleeping cubicles, a common room, a bathroom, a waste treatment, and even a room for growing animals.

The main focus of the experiment was to see how the Bioregenerative Life Support System (BLSS) functions over a longer period of time in a lunar-like environment. Within the BLSS, humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms are expected to co-exist together safely. Astronauts grow their own food in the form of experimental crops, and they also manage their own waste.

Of course, a secondary objective of the study was to see how the volunteers would withstand the psychological stress of being isolated in such a small cabin.

The four volunteers were biomedicine students from Beihang University, and they handled the situation quite well, the module’s chief designer Liu Hong told Xinhua. As if the entire experience wasn’t challenging enough, the lab hosting the experiment experienced unexpected blackouts. This “challenged the system as well as the psychological status of the volunteers, but they withstood the test,” Liu said.

Not much else has currently been disclosed about the experiments and the mental state of the participants.

It’s not the first time such an experiment was carried out at the Lunar Palace. A successful 105-day trial was carried out in 2014. However, this type of experiment has been going on for a long time, since the Soviets had three people spend 180 days in a similarly closed ecosystem in the early 1970s.

In recent years, China has spent tremendous sums to advance its space program, and the results are showing.

Ultimately, China wants to build its own moon base within a decade, potentially in a partnership with the European Union. The Chinese Space Program is one of the world’s most active, advanced, and successful. Aside from the moon base, they want to establish a crewed space station (much like the International Space Station), send an unmanned rover to Mars, and exploit the Earth-Moon space for industrial development — namely, developing space-based solar powered satellites that would beam energy back to Earth.

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