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Mars travelers return! Well, kinda

Unbeknownst to many, the European Space Agency has been conducting a 17-month mission to Mars, which ended today with the astronauts' safe return. Yes, it was slightly simulated.

It was touch and go for some time.

Would the hatch open? Would little green beings with strange tartan skirts emerge? Would they demand to see William Shatner?

No, I have not received a supply of newly harvested experimental tobacco. I am merely celebrating the safe return of the Mars500 probe from, well, Moscow.

That sentence does make sense. Well, shortly it will.

You see, many might have missed that on June 3 last year, six very hardy souls committed themselves fully to being sent to Mars, without leaving Russian soil.


Mars500 was an experiment in endurance, isolation, and insanity-prevention.

Now I am grateful to my fairly non-existent reading of the European Space Agency's news site for telling me that everything seems to have turned out just fine.

Today, six intact human beings emerged from the simulator at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow and stood to attention. I confess that they all seemed a little pale.

Three Russians, a Chinese gent, a Frenchman, and an Italian walked into a bar-- no, wait-- walked into the Mars simulator and lived to tell the tale. I have embedded the visual proof. (Occasionally, the sound cuts out, but I think this merely reflects the excitement felt by all concerned.)

It does seem a very odd ceremony. It's as if a group of workmen had been locked up in a hut on a construction site for 17 months in order to work out how the Eiffel Tower was built.

Diego Urbina, the Italian Mars-onaut, told ESA News: "On the Mars500 mission we have accomplished on Earth the longest space voyage ever so that humankind can one day greet a new dawn on a distant but reachable planet."

The stellar six will now have their mental and physical characteristics examined, while the scientists begin to analyze all the data that has been amassed during this ambitious time.

It seems that, while they were inside this faux space station the crew performed over 100 experiments, gave blood and urine every day for sampling and, well, didn't wash very much. Which must have made for an aromatic living environment.

I am grateful to Reuters for recording the most important statement from a crew member. Romain Charles, a Frenchman, explained how important it was to perform this work.

"If any catastrophic threat is targeting the Earth, we should be able to seek a safe haven in another celestial body," he said.

As I suspected all along, the little green people are already here and they're not necessarily the members of Greenpeace. We must be prepared. Soon, I hope and fear, we will be more than grateful for the endurance and self-sacrifice offered by these six pioneers.