Hmmm, 'The Amazing Race' looking better all the time

Mar 3 2013 - 8:42am

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Talk about your amazing races.

My better half loves the CBS TV reality game show "The Amazing Race." She watches it religiously, and has long pined to be a contestant on the popular series, in which two-person teams race to spots around the globe with the ultimate goal of winning the $1 million prize.

Most weeks, after watching yet another thrilling episode, she'll turn off the TV, come find me wherever I am in the house, and announce, "We are soooo doing that one of these days."

Fortunately, my wife has never followed through and submitted an application for the show, and for one simple truth: As the love of my life puts it, "I don't want the whole world watching us fight." Excellent point, dear.

OK, so "The Amazing Race" is definitely out. But how about a little something called "Inspiration Mars"?

An Associated Press story last week told of a tycoon who has announced plans to send a middle-aged couple on a privately built spaceship to Mars. Dubbed Inspiration Mars, the mission is scheduled to begin in less than five years. The lucky couple is expected to be selected sometime this year.

The spaceship won't actually touch down on the planet, but rather slingshot around it -- passing within 100 miles of the Martian surface -- before returning to Earth. And never mind that 35 million miles seems like an awfully long way to go to NOT visit a planet. Sorta like a family from Kansas deciding that for this year's summer vacation they're going to pile the kids in the car and drive by Disneyland.

In a nutshell, the couple selected for the Inspiration Mars trip will be just that. In a nutshell. Perhaps not literally, but certainly figuratively. They'll spend a whopping 501 days in a cramped space capsule "half the size of an RV," which explains why organizers are looking for a highly compatible middle-aged married couple. (Sending a pair of Mormon missionaries was briefly considered -- what with them already used to being together 24/7 and all -- but organizers worried what might happen if a disagreement suddenly broke out over the interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23. Plus which, if it turns out there really is life on Mars, there's no WAY they're going to answer the door for a couple of guys in white shirts and ties.)

The exact dates for the Mars trip are already set, seeing as how there is a precise window of opportunity coming up in about five years, created by the relative proximity of the two planets. So, basically, if my wife and I were selected, our high-tech "RV" would launch on Jan. 5, 2018, do a flyby of Mars on Aug. 20, 2018, and return to Earth on May 21, 2019. Meaning the divorce should be finalized by the following September, tops.

The organizers of this ambitious mission aren't sugarcoating anything. Among the drawbacks of living with another person in an enclosed space for 16 months:

* Virtually no privacy

* No showers

* Limited toilet paper and changes of clothing

* Drinking water made from the couple's recycled urine and sweat

So really, a lot like a four-night Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Triumph.

And the upside to all of this? An impressive view of Mars and, as the article puts it, "ample time for zero-gravity sex in space."

From the AP story: "For the 30 years NASA has been flying men and women, it has avoided the question of sex in space. (Chief technical officer Taber) MacCallum said it will happen: 'It's a man and wife. Private time. Let your imagination run wild.' "

Yeah. Well, maybe not all that wild, folks.

Because, as I pointed out in a column a year ago, sex in space is not exactly the proverbial slam dunk. In a "microgravity" -- the fancy word scientists like to use for the weightlessness of space -- a man's testes shrink, sperm counts crash and a woman's ovary cells waste away. Not to mention that whole no-showers/rationed-toilet-paper/urine-and-sweat-drinking thing. Not quite as romantic as champagne and roses at the Waldorf Astoria, is it?

Seriously, these kinds of living conditions don't lend themselves to "docking" in space.

Besides, in the end, I just think my wife and I would have a better shot at the $1 million on "The Amazing Race" -- particularly since Inspiration Mars will be a stripped-down mission requiring more manual steering of the space vehicle.

And frankly, I'm just not sure I could listen to 16 months of: "You took that last orbit a little fast, don't you think?" "We're lost. Can't we please just stop for directions?" "What, is your turn signal going to stay on the whole 35 million miles?"

Nag Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net.

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