The European Space Agency (ESA) on Tuesday called for applications for one of the most demanding human experiments in space history- a simulated trip to Mars in which six "astronauts" will spend 17 months in an isolation tank on Earth.
Their spaceship will comprise a series of interlocked modules in a research institute in Moscow, and once the doors are closed tight, the volunteers will be cut off from all contact with the outside world except by a delayed radio link.
They will face simulated emergencies, daily work routines and experiments, as well as boredom and, no doubt, personal friction from confinement in just 550 cubic metres, the equivalent of nine truck containers.
Communications with the simulated mission control and loved-ones will take up to 40 minutes, the time that a radio signal takes to cross the void between Earth and a spaceship on Mars. Food will comprise mainly the packaged stuff of the kind eaten aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The goal is to gain experience about the psychological challenges that a crew will face on a trip to Mars.
Four of the crew will be Russian, and two will come from countries that are members of ESA, agency and Russian officials said at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget.
In all, 12 European volunteers are needed.
A precursor 105-day study is scheduled to start by mid-2008, possibly followed by another 105-day study, before the full 520-day study begins in late 2008 or early 2009.