On Tuesday, six volunteers will be taking the ride of their lives - albeit a simulated one to the planet Mars.
But it’s not going to be an easy one. Four Russians, a French airline pilot and German engineer will spend the next 105 days in total isolation, in what resemble steel cans in a Moscow hangar, simulating a space flight to the fiery planet itself.
Their mission will be to see if they can handle the claustrophobia, stress and isolation involved in the Mars 500 experiment, the biggest of its kind in recent years, devised by the European Space Agency and supervised by the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems in Russia.
A real return flight to Mars - 34 million miles away from the Earth - would take an average of two years and demand great human physical and mental strength, which is why scientists want to see how regular people would manage just a portion of that.
Inside the 550-cubic-metre space, the six Europeans will be working shifts of up to 10 hours, performing experiments as real astronauts do, with their every move monitored by camera surveillance and a team of scientists on the ground.
Experts are unanimous that the flight will be a great test of endurance, although volunteers can opt out of the experiment at any given moment. The psychological effects of such confinement are already well-known - even thanks to reality TV shows such as 'Big Brother' - not to mention the physical hardships that space imposes.
On the downside, volunteers will have very limited personal space and no windows but they are allowed a bag of personal possessions such as books and DVDs. Whittled down from a whopping 6,000 applications, the six men will also receive around 15,000 euros each for their galactic efforts.
Based on the success of this flight, a longer mission of at least 500 days is planned for 2010. The knowledge gained from both ventures will help bring scientists’ dream of sending man to Mars ever nearer.