In a secluded area on the ground floor, six brave young men (three Russians, an Italian, a Frenchman, and a Chinese national) are simulating a mission to Mars. For 520 straight days—that’s more than 17 months—the volunteers will be sequestered in a tubular steel stand-in for a spacecraft whose 775-square-foot living area is so cramped and spare it might have been designed by Dostoyevsky himself. Mars500, as their mission is called, is jointly sponsored by the Institute for Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency. It seeks to answer a question that looms as the EU, the US, Russia, and India all look to put a man on Mars by the 2030s: Can the human animal endure the long isolation and boredom implicit in traveling to a planet that is, at its closest, 35 million miles—and roughly six months of rocket travel—away? Will one of the volunteers crack before the faux mission’s scheduled conclusion on November 5, 2011?

“6 Guys in a Capsule: 520 Days on a Simulated Mars Mission.” — Bill Donahue, Wired

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