Three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Columbian, and a Chinese walk into a fake spaceship, and don't walk out again for 520 days. Stop me if you've heard this one.
Starting today, a crew of six pseudo spacemen will be spending a year-and-a-half inside the Mars 500, a mock spacecraft, in order to help the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems and the European Space Agency simulate a manned trip to Mars.
See, getting men to Mars isn't the main problem. Getting men to Mars without them killing each other, as scientifically documented in movies like Danny Boyle's Sunshine - that's the problem.
People aren't meant to spend so much time together in enclosed spaces. Within hours tensions start to rise, tempers flare, and soon enough dad is threatening to turn this car around and go back home.
A manned trip to Mars would be much more inconvenient. There'd be no stopping to stretch your legs, no pit stops at Denny's, and no relaxing evenings at the Motel 6, watching the scrambled porn channel after making sure the kids were asleep in the next room.
No, a manned trip to Mars sounds like my idea of hell, so I'm glad that it's a team of multinational volunteers that will be sealing themselves inside a 20,000 cubic foot windowless capsule to simulate the 520 day trip to and from Mars.
"When everybody interacts with the same people in the same space, habits and behavior become apparent very quickly. These habits may irritate and cause indignation - and even fits of aggression," said Mikhail Baryshev, a psychotherapist who is connected to the program.
The six men will spend their 520 days performing various experiments, eating canned food, and desperately trying to stave off space madness. To make things worse, they'll only be able to shower once every 10 days, which is half of what I believe the normal number of showers should be.
Still, they'll have video games!
The ESA (European Space Agency)said the crew will also regularly play video games as part of the agency's project to develop personalized software to interact with crews on future space missions.
The ESA (Entertainment Software Association) would approve.
Still, will games be enough to keep these six men from each other's throats?
In 1999 an experiment much like this one failed, after a Canadian woman complained a Russian team captain had kissed her, and two crewmembers splattered blood all over the walls during a fistfight.
Russian officials blamed the incident on cultural gaps and stress.
Three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Columbian, and a Chinese walk into a fake spaceship...oh wait, I already said that.
On behalf of everyone here at Kotaku, I wish these brave non-explorers well, and hope their time not in space teaches us a great deal about how to endure a long space flight until Sam Neill shows up.
Russia launching 520-day Mars mission simulation [Yahoo! News]