Hurtling through the vast expanse of outers space on a mission to Mars seems exciting, until you try the real-time simulator.
Ask the six would-be cosmonauts who spent a full 17 months cooped up in Mars500, a low-tech simulation built on an industrial parking lot in Moscow.
The experience, to paraphrase a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, totally sucked.
The participants — among the best and brightest around — spent 520 days in isolation, without even a glimmer of natural light. Their phone contact with the outside world had a 20 minutes delay, just as it would between Earth and Mars.
Despite playing Guitar Hero and watching DVDs to cope with the soul-crushing boredom, the six men experienced wonky sleep patterns, lethargy, diminished mental capacities and general feeling of utter crapulence.
One member of the mission suffered chronic sleep deprivation, and “was falling apart in terms of his attention system,” said University of Pennsylvania researcher Mathias Basner.
Although mission control screwed with the team by staging a power failure once, the mission was otherwise an exercise in monotony. There were no mock battles with aliens. There was no weightlessness. Not even any actual space travel. A painfully long mission to nowhere.
In other words: until scientists figure out a way to instantly beam us up to Mars, it’s probably not worth the trip.