Has your time in Concordia led you to any conclusions about the ideal crew for a manned Mars mission?
Although it is difficult to say how many crew members would be ideal - balancing skills, ability for self-sufficiency and finite resources available, against increased medical risk, I believe it would need a psychologically and physically screened diverse, multinational crew – ideally with past space experience or having spent time at a place like Concordia. They would need to be mentally resilient and have a full complement of skills to ensure that they can all contribute to the mission, remain active and in a way distracted from dwelling on their isolation. All those interested must be driven by the innate curiosity and enthusiasm to answer life’s greatest question in the same way those had who replied to a fabled advertisement once offered by Sir Ernest Shackleton, "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness.”
That said, providing an interactive, safe, stimulating and supportive spacecraft environment would prove as important as selecting a crew made of the ‘right stuff’.
You say a mixed-sex crew would be ideal – why?
At Concordia, we have one female crewmember among a crew of 12 men. There is the potential for it to cause problems - previous Antarctic missions have been plagued by jealousy.
An exclusively male crew was used during the recent Mars 500 mission without major conflicts, much to the surprise of psychologists. Importantly it showed that such a mission could be possible.
But we have come a long way from the early male dominated polar expeditions. Women play an equally important role in space. Charles [from the Mars 500 mission] believes that any crew should made up of both males and females - both sexes bringing balance to a mission.
Finally, you are the only doctor on the base, so what happens if you get sick?
I can't talk about medical issues on the base here, but from my time living and working here, I have learnt to hope and pray that I am never put in the same position as the Russian doctor Leonid Rogozov who in 1961, had to remove his own appendix with local anaesthetic. In terms of Mars missions, it may be a good idea to send two doctors... just in case.
Dr Alexander Kumar FRGS is the Concordia Station doctor (French Polar Institute/ Italian Antarctic Programme) and European Space Agency-sponsored Research MD
To follow his experiences living at Concordia, read his blog www.AlexanderKumar.com.