Welcome to Mars, my friend.

We may be saying that sooner than you think. The European Space Agency just announced its intention to start looking for people willing to go to Mars, at least on a hypothetical trip, since they won’t ever be blasting off from their “spaceship” in Russia. Instead they will spend 520 days on board ship, pretending its real.

It might all be a publicity stunt, a ploy to draw people’s attention and energy back to space and the romance we have with the stars. It might just be one of those experiments that Universities conduct every so often on strange topics that will later popup during the evening news. Twenty-five percent of Americans eat bagels for breakfast. Or in this case, fifty percent of all people studied can’t emotionally make the year long trip to Mars. The European Space Agency claims that it is a case study, an important one that will go a long way to evaluating man’s ability to traverse the infinite reaches of the universe.

A case study? The wide-eyed boy in me hopes that it means Star Wars is on our horizon. Not particularly a war between father and son, rebels and empires, but rather exploration of distant planets and solar systems and contact with strange creatures.

Yes, I know. That future is quite a long way off. Yet, the experiment in Russia is exciting none the less.

The European Space Agency called for applications for a simulated trip to Mars, a short stay on the planet and then a long trip home. The astronauts won’t really be astronauts. They will be confined to an isolation tank anchored to the hard ground of Russia, a tank no larger than nine tractor trailers. That might seem like a large space, but when you are going to be in it for 520 days with no breaks to see the sun shining or to grab a fresh donut, it will begin to shrink. Probably every day, it will seem smaller and smaller.

Communication with the outside world will be mimicked in this case, taking up to forty minutes of delay, the same amount as if they were really making the trip. Imagine trying to check your email with that delay. Makes dial-up seem like light speed. Hopefully no one will be leaving a girlfriend behind.

The point of the experiment is to judge the impact of 520 days of confinement and isolation. Can the six astronauts get along and stay sane, and most importantly complete the mission?

I read the article in the AP and wondered if I could do this experiment. A ship the size of nine tractor trailer containers? That is small! I would get tired and mad and just want to see the blue skies. I would want to go running and swimming and shopping. It would be even worse, I think, knowing that the outside world was thru just a few feet of concrete and metal. That a warm hotdog and barbecue chicken and fresh fish cooked in butter was just out of reach.

The colonists on their small ships, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean must have felt some of that confinement, but they could still go up on deck and feel the soft ocean breeze in their hair and look up at the sky at night.

And I certainly wouldn’t do it for the money. The astronauts will be paid 120 euros a day, the equivalent of 159 dollars a day. If you do your math, then that’s not enough to buy a Ferrari , let alone retire.

But again, that’s probably not why people would send in their application. They’ve got their eyes on the heavens, even if they might never get any closer than they are right now.

© Seth Crossman