They’ve had six astronauts cooped up in a can since June of last year, and they’re not planning to let them out until November, after 520 days. That’s the amount of time it would take to get to Mars and back. It’s a test for future manned space flight, and it’s pretty clever, really. Most of us would have thought the sticking point would be the actual getting them to Mars, not to mention back again, but all of that rocket science would be for nothing if the astronauts started punching holes in each other’s suits or peeing in each other’s Tang twelve months in. You’ve got the potential for serious acrimony among the crew after a certain amount of forced occupation, and you’ve also got the possibility that any given individual would not be able to bear up. For all we know, even astronauts selected for their emotional sturdiness might do themselves in on a cellular level, their tiny cells slitting their tiny wrists out of sheer boredom, and the astronauts themselves being reduced to a gummy mass of spilled mitochondria and despair. No one has actually performed such a longevity experiment before, outside of Guantanamo. You simply can’t know what will happen until you try, so they jammed the guys in and started counting down the days.
That’s just one thing they need to test for. There’s also the difficulty that is presented when humans are deprived of gravity for prolonged periods. With nothing to push against, muscles dwindle out of pure apathy until the entire astronaut is no longer al dente, and becomes more of a custard when reintroduced to Earth. It would be a pity to spend all that time sending a guy to Mars and then just have to pour him out when he gets there and hope he jells up.
This experiment did not address that issue or attempt to remove gravity in any way. The men were simply cooped up and allowed to age in what is essentially a shipping container, described as similar to four Winnebagos with connecting tunnels. A year in, all seemed to be well enough, although the turn signal has been on since March.
The astronauts in the experiment were distributed as follows: three Russian, one French, one Italian, and one Chinese. The “marsonauts,” as they are called, did very well at first. Early conflicts were resolved when they were able to agree on a standard cuisine of goose liver and dog cacciatore with a cricket crust, the Russians reluctantly going along as long as the vodka didn’t run out.
I get it about the jamming people into a can for fifteen months to see how they do. Some people are probably better suited than others. Dave spends an astounding amount of time in the can and it doesn’t seem to bother him a bit.
But it’s not easy for any group of people to get along when they’re in forced company for any length of time. Humor is essential. Take the post office, a social experiment I was inserted into back in 1977. There I was in a room with dozens of other people (well, men), sorting mail day after day. The process of sorting your mail is called “getting your route up.” Pronounce it “root,” and ask your neighbor as often as possible if his root is up yet, and you have the makings of some serious comedy. But even this level of sustained hilarity isn’t going to tide a person over forever. In fact, there’s only so long you can take it. In my case, thirty-one years.
Sometime in September the emotional limit appeared to have been reached with the astronauts, two months shy of the time it would take to get them back to Earth from Mars. I’m not sure how they communicated their distress. I don’t know if they banged on the can or just came out shootin’. “Screw the pension,” they might have said. “I’m going out, and I’m taking some management ass with me.”
This reminds me of the joke about how society would fare if the Germans were the police, the English the cooks, and the Italians the engineers. At least this is one situation we Americans had the good sense to stay out of.
I have decided to ask you to ghost-write my memoirs. I already know how they'd read if I wrote them, but I'm dying to know what really happened all these years. And you've got to find a way to work this line in somewhere, maybe when you get to October 2011 in the narrative: "…although the turn signal has been on since March."
I'm wondering what sort of people they found who were willing to take 520 days out of their lives and what sort of money they had to pay them.
Although, on some days with the kids, I might have jumped at the chance myself…
If I could have my own room to hibernate in I would volunteer for "the can". Six other "canners" sounds like too big of a crowd for me.
Great post. I love your sense fo humor, Murr. I think as long as I had enough books, I'd do all right locked in a can for a couple years.
This puts a whole new spin on the term "going postal."
"Got your route up?" Funny for about the first 70 times. The next four thousand times – ehhh.
My husband has worked with the same guys for 20 years. It's a similar experiment.
Fantastic post. And where in the world did you come up with that picture??? This post absolutely has to be included in a compilation! Love it.
Thanks. One of these days I'll have to write a post about how much fun it is to NOT KNOW how to photo-shop, and what screwy things Dave and I rig up to illustrate this thing. Oh, I'm an analog baby in a digital world…
No longer al dente would be the sticking point for me. That's how you know it's done.
Given the current economic conditions, there are probably a lot of people who would volunteer for such a containment if it meant a roof over their head and three meals a day.
I would need massive amounts of anti-anxiety drugs to live like that. Maybe they have some in the Oxygen tanks. "Be Nice" spray that mists though the cabin every 15 minutes?
The can sounds similar to what is done when people are forced to spend half their days working in little cubes with no windows and fluorescent lights. Only the cube experiment lasts most of your adult life. What an interesting world we live in. 🙂
"…the astronauts themselves being reduced to a gummy mass of spilled mitochondria and despair."
I love these mental images you devise!
I just want to know what the ratio is of men to women in the can? Because women can last longer in the can than men, I'm thinking, and everything comes out smelling like roses until one of 'em starts to get all bossy, at which time the proverbial shit hits the can. Plus, the women don't have to worry about their route (root) being stuck in the UP position when they least expect it.
Here in Oz, route is routinely pronouced root. As is rootinely. It still wouldn't be funny for more than a nanosecond.
Thanks for my early morning snicker.
And I wouldn't have lasted a week. On my own – fine. Crammed in with others – aaaargh.
"until the entire astronaut is no longer al dente, and becomes more of a custard "
I can relate to that, brilliant ! I'm 'rooted'! as we say in Oz.
"It would be a pity to spend all that time sending a guy to Mars and then just have to pour him out when he gets there and hope he jells up."
There are so many amazing quotable quotes in this wonderful piece I can hardly believe it. You have outdone yourself today. Brilliant.
"Oh, I'm an analog baby in a digital world…"
Could be a new Johnny Mercer hit.Oh wait…he's dead.Bugger. He was a shoo-in.
Nope. No way. No siree Bub. Staying right here. Holy claustrophobia, Batman! Someone else can be space pasta or Martian jello. This sturdy earthling is not going to get up-routed and flung into the ether, no matter how funny the other people in the can might be.
I do not think I could do that. Being confined for that long must be difficult. Especially with several others.
Okay, I give up. Where's Oz?
Blimey, fifteen months!
I can't do fifteen minutes in any group of people larger than 1 and a bit, jellified or solid.
I'm amazed (and somewhat saddened) that your use of words wasn't a part of your day job, because your imagery, phrasing, etc. are a delight. Was a shame that we were deprived for all those years. Thanks for playing catch-up!
It occurs to me that "Oz" may be Australia or Lake Oswego, but that would be Lake Oz, wouldn't it?
Oz is what many natives in this wide brown land call Australia.Not the Emerald City over the rainbow. And just to confuse you further, there is a town here called Emerald.
Australians like to abbreviate names.God knows what they'd do with "Murr."
You're hilarious Murr! "their tiny cells slitting their tiny wrists out of sheer boredom," I really enjoy coming here!
"Murr" is self-abbreviating. Thank you. Oz. Where the moggies live! I'm learning so much.
Thanks Lori! Come back soon. I'm on vacation but through the miracle of time travel I've got Murrmurrs all loaded up.
Thanks to you too, jack-of (is that short for anything?). You're very kind.
They should have given them iPhones equipped with Angry Birds. I know that could entertain my husband for fifteen months.