Wednesday, 2 February 2011
Phony space missions
The six-man crew of the MARS-500 mission entered orbit around the red planet yesterday, after eight months in space. Presumably they do actually know they haven't moved an inch from the test facility at Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems, but the situation is reminiscent of at least two science fiction stories in which the crews of simulated space missions weren't so fortunate. The characters in Isaac Asimov's "Ideas Die Hard" (1957: reprinted in The Winds of Change) think they're on a flight to the moon, but actually they're guinea pigs in an experiment on the psychological effects of space travel. But that's nothing compared to J.G. Ballard's "Thirteen to Centaurus" (1962: reprinted in The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard), where the non-existent voyage is going all the way to Alpha Centauri, and the experiment has already been underway for fifty years (and the crew are into their second generation) when the story takes place!