Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Help Wanted: Human Sardines

Imagine yourself surrounded by five of your coworkers in a small house in the mountains. Go on, pick out five of your coworkers, I’ll wait. For the sake of ease, pick the five you like the most. If you aren’t the sort of person who works at a job with lots of people, you can pick out five good acquaintances.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: You meet these people for a dinner party at a mountain chalet. You are socializing, but all of you have also brought your work with you to do later.

Now imagine that an avalanche buries you all in the house such that there is no way out. You are in no mortal danger, and you have all the food, drink, recreation material, and facilities that you need to live for years. Your boss calls and says you all have to keep working normal hours, but it would be more than a year before they can dig you out. Good luck.

Do you think you could do it? Could you get along with all of them in such close, cramped quarters, and get your work done – for more than a year?? Do you really feel so close to your fellow workers that you’d all get along peachy? Or do you think cabin fever would start creeping in?

I don’t know if I could do it. Maybe I wouldn’t mind being around a couple of my coworkers that long, but I’d be more worried about them tolerating me! There’s a very good reason why I’m not writing this blog from a Navy submarine right now.

Now imagine that you aren’t in a closed-in mountain chalet, but in a spaceship headed for Mars, or on Mars itself. Are you shrugging it off right now, or are you thinking like I am that by the fifth month you’d be prying open the airlock and seeing for yourself how many milliseconds it would take for your eyeballs to freeze in the vacuum of space?

The European Space Agency (ESA) is about to test this scenario (no, not the eyeball-freezing part – the long-term habitation part):

http://www.physorg.com/news101457611.html

They put out a call for paid European volunteers in excellent mental and physical health to serve as guinea pigs. These intrepid volunteers will be paid 120 euros a day (= $158US) to live for up to 17 months in a closed habitat the size of about “nine truck containers.” Others will live 105 days in preliminary trials under similar situations. They’ll be doing work-like activities and testing, and will have to face simulated emergency situations, but mainly they’ll have to face long periods of inactivity and potential boredom. There will be six people in each habitat. Their only contact with the outside world will be by radio, with a simulated 40-minute delay, and whatever they are allowed to bring in with them. What will happen, researchers wonder?

According to the article:
“Assuming that Mars and Earth are favourably aligned, with their closest distance of 56 million kilometres (35 million miles), it would take 250 days to get there, 30 days spent on site to conduct experiments and 240 days for the return”

Yay! Astronauts have done this on space stations. You can too, right? You get used to the locker room smell pretty quickly, and packaged rations can seem pretty yummy if you brainwash yourself enough, I imagine. Why, it would be a blast. Just bring along your Pictionary set and you’ve got it made!

If this sounds appealing to you, here’s the link to the application webpage:
http://spaceflight.esa.int/users/index.cfm?act=default.page&level=16&page=2203

Personally, I think I’d rather swallow live leeches. But that’s just me. You go ahead.


Image taken from HERE.

1 comment:

Lila said...

First thing that came to mind: extreme version of Big Brother. Second thing that came to mind: Lord of the Flies.