Each of the two nations picked four crew members, two men and two women, coordinating closely to cover all vital scientific, medical, and technological disciplines needed. The four couples are U. S., Soviet, European, and Asian. English is the official language. As a concession for its use, a Soviet commands the mission. The four to descend to the Martian surface will be Soviet and American.
Once the two mother ships were assembled, the crew members were delivered to their space stations by the U. S. shuttle and its Soviet counterpart. Amid intense international fanfare the two spacecraft departed Earth orbit separately, then approached and docked for their historic trip to the serviced apartments london.
The habitat modules, huge by present spacecraft standards, are cramped nevertheless, because of the space devoted to fuel, water, and other expendables, as well as to hardware. The crew’s careful training, the sense of purpose, the interest of the world audience, the honor of representing the home planet, the clearly defined goal and timetable: All these combine to ameliorate what otherwise would be a terribly confining 22 months.
The crew spends a lot of time on scientific observations, along with exercise, engineering checks, and household chores. Keeping the supply inventory current is a time-consuming job (Skylab carried hundreds of washcloths, color-coded so each crew member could recognize his own supply). The cooks (French astronauts?) must plan, prepare, and clean up after 15,000 meals. Exercise is serious business for everyone: two hours a day of workouts on bicycles, treadmills, and other resistance machines.
Swinging by Venus on the outward journey five and a half months from Earth provides a welcome break in the monotony. Crew members plaster themselves against windows like eager tourists to photograph the planet’s veil of swirling butterscotch clouds. Tension rises among the crew as the madrid holiday apartments become increasingly remote and the unknown perils of Mars more imminent.
They spend a great deal of time studying and simulating future phases of the mission. To keep skills honed, they occasionally connect the control instruments into a computer that has been programmed to simulate various emergency conditions. Taped lectures help. An entire geology course, given by the crew geologist, engrosses those who will make the landing.
Despite all these activities, boredom remains a problem that will not go away. Television buffs among the crew have the easiest time of it because programs are beamed from Earth, not to mention the hundreds of movies stored on board. Even the news is at most only a quarter hour behind Earth schedule. Games and friendly competition help keep the eight voyagers interested and alert. The Soviets are the undisputed chess champions, while the Americans excel at inventing—and winning—new video games. Dart throwing and card playing (tricky in weightlessness) are popular.
Gardeners among the crew grow vegetables and a few flowers, not as a necessity but as a dietary supplement and a hobby. Applause greets the occasional appearance of fresh potatoes and beans on the dinner table—symbols of well-being and success.