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Registration open for reality TV style Mars mission trial

ESA offers £29k pay for 17-month Big Brother simulator ordeal

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally opened registration for wannabe Mars-mission astronaut guinea pigs, willing to spend up to a year and a half in a "hermetically sealed" spaceship simulator with strictly limited communications.

The plan was flagged up two months ago, but the ESA is now taking applications. There will be a couple of 100-day pilot studies before the full 500-day marathon with an international crew of six. The simulator will be located in Moscow, at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (suggested motto: you may not have a problem when you get here...) The sealed spaceship complex is composed of four interlinked modules: medical, living quarters, storage, and Mars lander.

"Except for weightlessness and radiation, the simulations will be as close to a real Mars mission as possible," the ESA says.

That means a planned and rationed diet, limited water, compulsory daily PT, no shower, no smoking, and no booze. There is a sauna and a gym, however. Each crewmember gets their own little three-square-metre cabin.

The organisers don't make the business sound too cushy, that's for sure. "Experiments may involve invasive medical procedures...for which the crew members will be test subjects," according to the ESA. It's a tough life as an astronaut, it seems - you get anally probed even if no aliens show up.

The crew will be expected to deal with their own medical problems, too, although the Russians will presumably not allow anyone to die unnecessarily. Even so, test spacemen might have grounds to worry about the introduction to the space sickbay of the terrifying NASA robo-surgeon technology currently being developed.

Comms latency of 20 minutes one-way between crew and the ground-based control centre will be gradually built up as the mission gets further from Earth, and "private communication to family and friends will be limited".

Candidates must be 25-50 years old, no taller than 185cm, healthy, able to speak English and Russian, and from Western Europe. The ESA also wants to see competence in medicine, biology, or one of several engineering disciplines. They don't want any fatties, skinnies, loonies or - curiously - any "imprisoned persons". Bunny-boiling nappy-clad former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, for instance, would be disqualified under several of these criteria.

The pay is €120 per day, equating to an annual salary of about £29k, which might not have the healthy multilingual doctors and engineers of Europe beating down the ESA's door.

Of course, the space agency could presumably make some extra cash in a PFI-style reality TV arrangement of some sort. The TV figures for real moon landings dropped off badly in the seventies, but since then the broadcast schedules have filled with fist-eatingly boring footage of random losers picking their noses in houses, being lightly tortured in jungles etc. A long-running show featuring pretend astronauts in the sauna, undergoing "invasive medical procedures", arguing about whose turn it is to empty the portaloo etc - it ought to be a ratings bonanza.

The deadline for applications is 30 September. Full details from the ESA here (pdf). ®

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