Following up on one of our earliest daily Kotaku science posts, the Mars500 Project is now in orbit, with three crew members preparing to become the first humans to set foot on fake Mars.
In an experiment that began in June of last year, six men - three Russians, a Frenchman, a Columbian and a Chinese - stepped into a virtual spacecraft, prepared to spend the following 520 days confined to that 566 cubic metres windowless capsule in order to simulate the long journey to and from the planet Mars.
The men would spend the majority of the travel time living together in cramped quarters, eating canned food, playing video games, and showering only once every 10 days. The smell inside that box must be incredible at this point.
Things have gotten a little crazy as the crew members do battle with boredom.
On Halloween, for example, they made a great show of decorating the craft and dressing up. "Some of us kept the costumes on all day, even while we worked on our usual science and housekeeping tasks," writes crew member Diego Urbina. "Wang Yue, unfamiliar with this western celebration, asks if we are always this excited about Halloween, we tell him not usually: but in here, it is just a great excuse to change the routine - even for just one day."
The six men could have left the simulation at any time, but they've all remained inside, preparing for the second leg of the journey, which began yesterday with the arrival of the fake craft in fake Mars orbit.
On February 12 a crew of three will rocket down to the surface of fake Mars, where they'll spend the next ten days wandering around a hangar filled with red sand wearing space suits.
They'll then rocket back to their craft and begin the long, boring trip home.
It's not a perfect simulation, of course. There are no deadly alien robots, cosmic radiation won't transform them into superheroes, and Peter Schilling's 1983 hit "Major Tom (Coming Home)" doesn't carry the same impact when you're within driving distance of a McDonald's. Still, the simulation is an important part of the process of getting a real mission to Mars underway.
So says the European Space Agency's Mars500 project manager Jennifer Ngo-Anh.
"We can prepare and improve the technology, but at the end it will be the human factor - the crew - who decide whether the mission will be a success."
And heck, isn't it nice to have a major milestone in space exploration that everyone can agree is fake?
First humans set to land on Mars, sort of [New Scientist]