Welcome to Mock Mars, Utah

Paul Raven @ 29-09-2010

Reminiscent of the gang-in-a-can experiment in Russia (I wonder how that worked out in the end?), Wired UK reports briefly on six aspiring Mars missioneers (missionaries?) living in a cylindrical habitat out in the Utah desert to simulate the trials of daily human existence on the surface of the Red Planet, should we ever make it there. There’s another “Mars Analag Research Station” (see what they did there?) in the Canadian Arctic, and the Mars Society – unwilling to wait for beleaguered nation-state space budgets to recover sufficiently (if ever) to send out a manned mission – has plans for another in Iceland.

It strikes me that the obvious flaw with the MARS set-ups and the Russian mission sim linked above is that the participants know that it’s a sim; clomping around in spacesuits and eating spacesnax is all well and good, but if you know that you can remove the helmet or open the hatch in an emergency, you’re not really stress-testing the psychological issues properly. Ballard thought it through (of course), in a short story whose name I am presently unable to recall (or locate in a book, as my Collected Short Stories appears to be on vacation somewhere other than my bookshelves at present); anyone remember the one I’m thinking of? It featured a small (fake) generation ship rather than a Mars station, but the whole cabin-fever psychology thing felt spot-on during a recent re-read (no Suck Fairy damage in that one, though not all of Ballard’s early short stuff fares quite so well)…

Bonus content! Talking of Ballard and space, how’d you fancy seeing some Cold War dreams of space dominion decaying in a post-Soviet junkyard [via SlashDot]? How the mighty have fallen… but before you get too hubristic, that’s not far from the fate the Space Shuttles will suffer as museum pieces. Yesterday’s technological marvels and dream-vehicles are today’s salvage-hunt relics; this is something we’d all do well to remember, but will probably all forget.