Greetings from Old People Camp

Who’s washing the sheets?

Special to The TribuneJanuary 20, 2013 

Did you see the recent Tribune article about the Russian/European mock trip to Mars? With a $100,000 teaser, they got seven men to volunteer to spend 520 days isolated in what looked to me like a giant, sparsely furnished Pringles can.

The purpose of the study was to track the effects of long-term confinement on the human body, while simulating the time to get to Mars and back (plus 30 days for a little “exploring” on the imaginary red planet).

My curiosity piqued, I did a bit of Googling and found a number of obviously staged photos from the men’s 17 months in scientific captivity. They looked smiley and content, lounging against pillows propped against the sides of their container. Seemingly relaxed and congenial, some sat in what appeared to be cheap 1960s office chairs and watched TV. Comfy was obviously not a priority, and I can only imagine what life was really like beyond the news releases.

No windows, canned air, limited contact with the outside world and seven men. I beg your pardon, but can you imagine the noises — snoring and otherwise — circulating in that building? I’d like to know how often they did their laundry and how many dishes were piled up in the sink.

Then there was the innocent looking electronic drum kit shown in one of the pics. Holy cow, I can’t believe that drummer is still alive after a year and a half! And surprise, surprise, the article reported that the “astronauts” became lethargic, disinclined to exercise, and fell into a “prolonged funk” after a few weeks. Well, duh! I could have predicted that was gonna happen for a lot less than $700,000!

Perhaps the space agencies should rethink their call for volunteers. They could go with mature women — about my age. My friends and I could all use an extra hundred large, and we love spending time together — especially if easy money is involved.

We could describe ourselves to the Russians as one friend did, when she filled out our application for a rental house at the beach: “Neat, clean, older ladies.”

(I was mortified because it sounded like Queen Elizabeth and her buds. Not that I have anything in particular against Her Majesty, but the description was a tad staid for our group. Then again, we did want to be accepted as renters …).

All in all, I felt confident that we’d be excellent space cadets. It’s the perfect gig for women in grandma jeans. We’d do our laundry, keep the can clean (Pringles and otherwise) and smile pleasantly for the news photos.

To confirm my feelings, I looked at the “space capsule” photos once again. Hmm … upon reflection, maybe my friends and I are too set in our ways.

I can hear our conversations after 72 hours:

“Dammit, I can’t stand another episode of Oprah!”

“If we have chili beans one more night I’m going to blow the lid off this hamster cage!”

“Where the #*&# is the wine opener?”

“Get out of my chair, Shirley! I just got up to get some Cheetos. Remember there is a30-second rule, and I was only up for 22.”

I do want to have some friends left to be my cabinmates at Old People Camp, so maybe we’d better pass on the astronaut opportunity.

But that raises the question: From which demographic would the quintessential Mars candidates emerge?

After considerable consideration, it seems obvious: mothers of young children! They are accustomed to waiting on everyone in the universe, they’d send informative letters home, and Lord knows, they would probably pay the Russians for some isolation time.

Load that space cylinder with a few cases of wine, a deck of cards, some decent reads and they’d be clamoring to volunteer. I bet they’d even exercise.

Suzanne Davis is happily retired and living in the South County with her husband and their three dogs. Email her at suzdavis489@

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