If you were to put on weighted boots and scuba gear and shuffle off into the water of Largo Sound at Key Largo, Florida, and were you lucky enough, you may wander smack dab into a camper-sized structure in the shape of a Dumpster®. This would be the famed Jules Undersea Lodge, the only true undersea lodging open to the public. Any type of underwater quarters are few and far between as a Hotel Club.com blogger found when he tried to come up with a Top Five Underwater Hotels post (one of which is partially above water and three of which are under construction). It is the Jules alone that stands as the only true current underwater lodge that is fully complete, as it was established in 1986.
Don't come up quite yet. If you continue on along, you may bump into a group of people who are strapped to a large boulder underwater. These would be NASA aquanauts, a select group of astronauts who are very versatile in that they can swing both ways, meaning underwater and in outer space. Aquanauts are part of the NASA Extreme Environment Missions Operations (NEEMO) project, which has just entered its 15th expedition. Since 2001, aquanauts have been using the weightless conditions beneath the lovely waters of the Florida Keys to replicate the conditions in the cold, treacherous climes of outer space. This most recent expedition aims to find out how to best land and stay on an asteroid, ostensibly to learn techniques that will eventually be used in asteroid mining operations, which should cue the Russians that NASA is in the midst of a transformation from government slush fund money pit to spearhead of a federal rare earth mineral space mining concern that will generate enough income to buy Central Asia by 2060, for use as a penal colony for the criminals that will by that time make up a full 11 percent of the U.S. population.
The Russians, for their part, have seen the writing on the wall and are putting their money on Mars. So now you should turn East and start walking toward Europe. When you hit England, just walk on up topside, but don't take off your scuba gear yet. You'll need it for the English Channel. Once you hit France, you can take it off. Now walk to Russia. When you get to Moscow, ask someone where the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems is located. You'll want to say this: "?????? ?? ?? ????????? ???? ? ?????? ???????? ??????-????????????? ????????".
It's at the RIBP that you'll find the Mars 500 simulator, which is being used to solve the problem of the mental and physical fatigue associated with the kind of lengthy deep space travel that is required for expeditions to Mars. Anything over six months and people can start to crack a bit. For any substantial type of mission to Mars, at least a year and a half will be needed, around 500 days, hence the name of the simulation experiment. Mars 500 is seeking to find out what happens when you put astronauts together for such a length of time and nearing the end this November, the volunteers are beginning to show signs of getting really, really sick of being on the Mars 500 simulator.
It's difficult to blame these six hearty souls; they've been on the simulator without any break in the simulation for more than 450 days, and in August they passed the record set in 1994 and 95 by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who spent 438 consecutive days aboard the Mir space station. The Mars 500 guys are reportedly excited to be rounding the bend toward their November 4 release to freedom, but as the "ship" is now "returning to Earth" the "mission is largely completed" and there is little "work to be done," which means the volunteers are "bored."
No word yet on how the Russians plan to make money off of Mars or what they will spend that money on.