This week, the European Space Agency announced that it is looking for 12 candidates to participate in a series of simulated trips to Mars. Surely astronauts the world over are wetting themselves at the prospect of being able to become one of the first humans to set foot on Mars, so there will likely be no shortage of applicants. The simulations are designed to study the psychological effects of space travel to Mars, and will be conducted in Moscow at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems. The participants will be made to live in a completely sealed space measuring 19,250 cubic feet for simulations lasting 105 or 520 days, dining on astronaut food and having only 40-minute-delayed radio contact with the outside world. The simulation is as close to a real Mars mission as possible with launches, emergencies and even exploration of the Martian surface. Sadly, the one fun thing about space travel--weightlessness--will be missing.
The screening process for the participants will be thorough, and the ESA is seeking healthy individuals 25-50 years of age and no more than 6 feet tall. The journey to Mars would be trying for anyone, and the average person would likely go crazy from that sort of isolation. If only space travel was like the movies and astronauts could be put in a medically induced coma for the long journey.
With a salary of about $160 per day and no expenses, being a fake astronaut seems like a pretty good job. The actual mission to Mars is still a ways off, and these simulations will help tremendously with the planning. Hopefully no crazies like Lisa Nowak slip through the cracks and get on that spaceship.