We thought the Hundred Year Starship initiative to strand aged astronauts on Mars by 2030 was depressing, and in comparison the European Space Agency's Mars-500 project is little more than a walk in the park (a very small, confined, and extremely monotonous park). Essentially Bio-Dome re-written to simulate travel to Mars and back (without that lovable scamp Pauly Shore), the project bills itself as "the first full duration simulation of a manned flight to Mars," with astronauts conducting a 640-day voyage to the red planet and back -- all without leaving the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP). Members of the crew "landed" on Mars on February 12th of this year, returning to the craft on February 24th. As we speak, they should be entering into a spiral orbit away from Mars, and with any luck they'll be back just in time for their ticker-tape parade on November 5th (hopefully that part isn't a simulation). A joint experiment by the European Space Agency, Russia, and China, the $15 million project studies the complex psychological and technical challenges encountered on long spaceflights.

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Simulated Mars mission simulating return to Earth as we speak, astronauts genuinely overjoyed