Traveling in a space ship for the best part of a year to reach a desolate planet that rarely gets above freezing is not everybody's idea of fun.
Still, the idea of sending someone to Mars probably won't lose its grip on the collective consciousness until somebody gets up there, and reports that it's really cold, there are no signs of life, and will somebody please get me off this god forsaken place. That somebody will not only have to be willing to forfeit billions of taxpayer dollars, but will also need to tolerate a lot of psychological and physical extremes.
Forget atrophied muscles and lost bone mass: can you imagine spending nine months locked in a windowless cabin with a bunch of Buzz Lightyears?
There are six guys who can. Frenchman Romain Charles, Italian Diego Urbina, Chinese national Yue Wang, and Russians Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev and Alexandr Smoleevskiy, have been cooped up in a cabin together for the past eight months as part of the Mars500 mission: a 520-day study undertaken by the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems that does its very best to simulate a manned mission to Mars.
So, have any of them started writing 'Redrum' on the walls, shouting, "Here's Johnny!"? The good news is, they haven't. But three of them have left the 'isolation chamber'. Earlier this week, Smoleevskiy, Urbina and Yue entered the 'lander', and after four days, 'landed' on Mars in Russian Orlan spacesuits. They'll return to the mother ship soon, prior to two more touchdowns on 'Mars', and a flight 'home' that should see them landing 'back' on Earth in November.
Capricorn One, anyone? Here's the latest footage from 'Mars':