Since June 2010, six would be astronauts have been locked in a sealed capsule in research facility outside Moscow, pretending to fly to Mars.
In probably the longest ever role-playing session ever attempted (and certainly beating the time some friends and I tried to play Dungeons and Dragons for a continuous 24 hour stretch), the six volunteers have been going through all the motions of a spaceflight to Mars (except the zero gravity), in a project called Mars500. The experiment is designed to test the stresses and strains that come with being locked in a box for 500 days, conducted at the Institute of Biomedical Problems.
Now, on Valentine's Day, Feb 14 2011, the Mars500 team will attempt a fake landing on Mars, and step out on the surface of the mock Red Planet - a Martian Potemkin village. They will explore the alien planet for 2 days, before climbing back inside the capsule for the 8-month flight 'home'. Once again the simulation has superseded the real.
All this sounds identical to 1978 sci-fi movie Capricorn One, the basic premise of which was a faked manned mission to Mars. In this film, James Brolin, Sam Waterston and OJ Simpson manage to break out of the their film-set captivity into the desert, to try and reveal the deception that is being foisted upon the American people.
The theme of a fake Soviet space mission was the subject of Victor Pelevin novel Omon Ra, published in 1992. Here, the protagonist believes he has flown to the moon only to discover himself in part of the Moscow Metro.
The Soviet Union has long been obsessed with the effects of long-term space travel, the Soyuz missions of the 80's and 90's to the Mir space station placing their cosmonauts on ever increasing mission durations and tests of human endurance. In 1992, Sergei Krikalev was aboard Mir when below him the Soviet Union collapsed, but that didn't stop him flying future missions to the International Space Station, and he holds the record for the most days spent in space, at 803 days.
Having lost the race to land on the Moon, the Soviet Union turned their attentions to Mars. It seems that while NASA were sending spacecraft further and further to explore the outer reaches of the solar system, the Soviets became ever more preoccupied with conquest and colonisation, rather than discovery. Pelevin used Omon Ra to illustrate the fixation of the Soviet establishment on "heroic achievements" which could be broadcast to the outside world. Mars500 is perhaps the latest continuation of this.
This post sponsored by Portakabin: