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THE PRESIDENT: Your hard work is now paying dividends, because our expectation is that “Curiosity” is going to be telling us things that we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that’s a human mission to the Red Planet.
I understand there’s a special Mohawk Guy that’s working on the mission. He’s been one of the many stars of the show last Sunday night. And I, in the past, thought about getting a mohawk myself—but my team keeps on discouraging me. And now that he’s received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I think that I’m going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense.
DR. ELACHI: That’s going to be the new fashion at JPL.
THE PRESIDENT: It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors. You guys are a little cooler than you used to be.
Well, sort of.
It’s Day 233 of the Mars500 experiment, where six volunteers have been sealed inside a windowless habitat simulating what it might be like for humans to live on Mars. Their only communication with the outside world has been via email and video messages, complete with an authentic Mars-to-Earth time delay.
The habitat looks, oddly enough, like your uncle’s basement rec room from the 1970s. There’s a whole lot of wood paneling, which gives the environment a veneer of domestic warmth, but the woodwork also points to the white elephant in the tube: a complete absence of windows, and consequently, natural light.
Despite the subterranean-like conditions, the simulation of what the Martian surface might feel like is beautifully eery:
The crew keep themselves occupied by conducting experiments, reading, and sometimes wandering through vast, virtual forests, albeit limited to their computer monitors. In their latest video update, crewmen Diego and Romain demo the “virtual earth” program they’ve been running to help them cope with a lack of sunlight and fresh air:
It’s all far too fascinating! There’s so much more to explore on virtual Mars, and I encourage you to check out all of their video diaries, photos, and updates here (or if you speak/read Russian, here).
And in case you were wondering, this is what Halloween on Mars might look like:
The Phoenix lander discovered that during the Martian winter, it snows! Not enough to make snow-martians or take a really expensive ski trip, but still, according to the lead researcher Peter Smith: “There’s plenty of room for disagreement, but it seems to me that Mars periodically provides a habitable environment.”
Periodically…like long enough for a new life form to develop?