The European Space Agency is looking for people that would like to take part in a 18-month long study that would pit half-a-dozen people in close quarters and in almost complete isolation from the rest of the planet, all for the sake of simulating a round-trip to the Red Planet.
The plan is to use this 520-day experiment as a program that will be "as close to a real Mars mission as possible." The simulation will involve a 250 day trip to our celestial neighbour, followed by 30 days of "field work", and 240 days back to the Earth.
Weightlessness and radiation will not be a part of this test, but isolation, confinement, crowding, lack of privacy, high workload, boredom with available food, and limited communication with friends, family and mission control will be the key factors involved. I see this almost as a "Big Brother", only you don't get voted out of the house. What will be interesting is how long it takes for even the best and brightest of us to wear down from this kind of environment.
From what I've been able to find on the ESA's website, an applicant must be:
- Between ages 25 and 50
- In good health
- Highly motivated
- Fluent in either English or Russian, preferably both
- No taller than six-foot-one (185 cm)
- Experienced in medicine, biology, engineering and the like
- A non-smoker with no addictions
- Willing to be a medical and psychological test subject
- A national and resident of a select list of countries — including Canada
Sounds good, right?
I didn't find any hard dollar figures for renumeration, considering how applicants would be offering a significant fraction of their lifespan to this test (1% is significant, I think), but the agency says anyone successfully completing the entire study will "receive fixed compensation that is in line with international standards for participation in clinical studies."
I think this would be a prime opportunity to test some of our species "more enclosed" people. There are many all over the globe that have shut themselves into their homes (or parents' basements) and spend their days communicating with people online. While the move to put them in an enclosed area for a year and a half would break their anti-social ways, it wouldn't be much different from the small groups that are made all over IRC and other social networking forums.
Of course, they would have to have a background in engineering, or medicine, or some other such high education dicipline, as the ESA does have a full workload for the people that will be taking part in these experiments.
If I was a few years younger and had some time to kill, I might just apply for this project. While they do plan on delaying communications 40 minutes when the team "reaches" Mars (to account for the radio delay between the Earth and Mars), I'm sure that people could still make blog entries. I would be interesting to see how a person's world-view changes over time ... at first we would see them excited with the challenge, but as the months wore on, the communications would take on a different tone completely.
It makes me wonder if we would want our first contact with extra-terrestrial people to happen in space ....
If you're interested in this project, hop over to the ESA's site and apply. Seats are limited, but it'll be one heck of an item to put on your resume :)