The closest thing on Earth to a mission to Mars

Story highlights

  • Scientists are using Antarctica to research effects of long space missions
  • "You're so far removed it feels like you're standing on another planet," says Alex Kumar, who has worked there
  • Living there brings challenges of isolation, lack of daylight and stress

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(CNN)The buildings lie at the southern-most tip of the Earth, on a plateau 3,200 meters above sea level. Other than their occupants, the nearest human beings are 600 kilometers away, making it more remote than the International Space Station.

Four months of the year there is complete darkness -- all day, every day.
    This is the Concordia research station in Antarctica, a French-Italian facility, where up to 16 people live for one year in complete isolation -- all in the name of science.
      Concordia is Earth's closest analogue to long-term space missions, making it home for various scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA). Their eventual goal? A manned mission to Mars.
      "By watching how the human body and mind adapts in Antarctica, we can plan and predict what would happen in space," says Alex Kumar, a doctor with the National Institute for Health Research, in the UK.
      Kumar has visited Concordia twice to date, for both the ESA and the White Mars project, and spoke of his experienc