Travel to Mars… without ever leaving the parking lot

Paul Raven @ 31-03-2009

MarsSo, do you think you could cope with the cramped conditions and prison psychology that would be an inevitable part of a manned mission to Mars and back?

Well, here’s the test – we’ll lock you in a fake space capsule that’s sitting in a parking lot somewhere outside of Moscow for about a hundred days with five other people and watch you through cameras to see how you get on.

The idea is for the 550 cubic-metre “ground exploration complex” (GEC) to recreate as closely as possible the atmosphere of a spacecraft racing through the solar system, bombarded by cosmic radiation. Any return flight to Mars – at least 34 million miles from our planet – would take between 18 months and three years, including landing and exploration.

The volunteers – four Russians, a French airline pilot and a German army engineer – will be kept under constant camera surveillance to record the physical and psychological impact of their time in the isolation chamber.

Isn’t this lifted wholesale from a J G Ballard story? You’re surely going to get some industrial-grade cabin fever going on…

Mark Belokovksy of the IMBP admitted the psychological pressure of living in close quarters with five other human beings could crack even the toughest guinea pigs.

“Tension is inevitable,” he said candidly. The fact the 105-day “flight” will be a single-sex trip on this occasion may be a blessing. During a similar experiment in 1999 the participants were given vodka to celebrate New Year’s Eve: two members then got in a fist fight after one tried to kiss a female volunteer from Canada.

Yeesh; the green-eyed monster in outer space, no less. I wonder where I can find details about that Canadian experiment – I’m curious to know whether the women fared any better at the isolation than the men did. Would an all-female crew be more stable, or less? How about a crew of eunuchs?

But if you’ll permit me a brief flight of fancy, mashing up this story with that half-remembered Ballard piece and the Moon hoax conspiracy theories: I wonder if it would be possible for a government with sufficient space capability to run an entirely faked CGI Mars mission that fooled everyone, even the cosmonauts themselves? [image by jasonb42882]

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One Response to “Travel to Mars… without ever leaving the parking lot”

  1. Jesse says:

    Check out Victor Pelevin’s _Omon Ra_. It’s all about a Soviet mission to the moon that’s a lot like what you describe…