Since June 2010, six would be astronauts have been locked in a sealed capsule in research facility outside Moscow, pretending to fly to Mars.
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 Once again the simulation has superseded the real.
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: