Science & Technology

You Can Go on a Simulated Mission to Mars in Spain

With all this talk about plans from NASA and SpaceX for Mars missions, it's enough to make anyone want to jet off to the Red Planet right away. Fortunately, some lucky people will get the chance to do a Mars-like mission in European caves. While this isn't a real Martian adventure, it is something that astronauts do to get ready for space — so hey, maybe you can use it to bolster your own resume in the coming years.

Life on Mars

It's called the "Life on Mars Experience," and it's truly a location that is almost as remote as possible without leaving Earth. TripAdvisor Experiences, for a fee of roughly $6,800 USD, will host Martian aspirants in Ares Station, located at a remote point in Spain. Here's where you can apply.

Participants will get to live in a cave that's a mile (1.2 kilometers) long with 200-foot (60-meter) ceilings in the Spanish region of Cantabria. Not only will you be living underground, but you'll also be isolated from other human contact — just like a real space crew. And there you will stay, for a full 30 days.

"The idea is to learn more about not just the physical, but the societal impact living in such a colony would have," TripAdvisor Experiences said in a statement. "Candidates have to apply for their position on the expedition and pass physical and psychological tests before they are accepted. Special equipment has to be worn, and no contact is allowed with the outside world."

To make sure you're fully okay before and during the mission, each team member will be supported by a medical team and the entire crew will undergo three days of training, including emergency plans in case something bad happens on site. This is true astronaut stuff, since the European Space Agency puts its astronauts through similar isolation experiences as part of the CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills) program, on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Why Isolation?

Working in isolated circumstances ahead of a spaceflight is crucial for new astronauts. That's because the ride into space is expensive, and it's very difficult to come home even if you're in Earth orbit. So everyone wants to make sure that crew members can work together during the long six months or so that a typical person spends on the International Space Station.

At first blush, spaceflight sounds like the most amazing experience ever. You ride on a rocket! There's a lovely view out the window! But stretch out the experience over a long time, and things can start to feel monotonous. For one thing, spacewalks are only an occasional thing due to safety concerns, so astronauts stay cooped up in the space station for most of their time there. Everyone works long days, sometimes scheduled down to five-minute increments.

Then there's the isolation aspect — working in a lab that's so distant from family and friends. All of this must be considered and practiced ahead of the mission.

There are projects around the world devoted to researching how people behave in isolated conditions, and in many of them, astronauts themselves participate. A short list of the better known ones include the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, where a crew once simulated a 500-day Martian trip; the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, where crews, typically from universities, spend about two weeks at a time; the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) at NASA in Houston, where astronauts live in a small facility for days or weeks on end; and the underwater NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation (NEEMO) in the Aquarius habitat in Florida, which commonly hosts astronaut crews. With so many simulated missions, here's hoping we put them to the ultimate test on Mars soon!

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: Sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Learn more about what it'll take to travel to the Red Planet in Mary Roach's hilarious and informative book, "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Elizabeth Howell August 28, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.