A Kiwi believes she has what it takes to spend a year on "Mars" - although any close encounters won't be with cute aliens but curious polar bears.
Brisbane-based engineer and travel writer Izabela Shopova has been shortlisted for Mars Arctic 365, a year-long simulation at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, on bleak and isolated Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic Circle.
Just over 1600km from the North Pole and resembling a fibreglass water tank, the $1.3 million station was set up by the Mars Society in 2000 to help prepare for the human exploration of Mars.
Its living arrangements are far from luxury: the so-called "hab" is only 7.7m tall and not much wider, with the upper storey split into quarters for six people, and a shared living space and laboratory below.
Ms Shopova is among 62 people selected from a pool of applicants from 17 countries, with further tests to be held in the next few months. The 18 finalists would spend two weeks at the base in three groups of six, and the team that most impressed the organisers would go on to spend a year together at the site.
"Since childhood, I've always dreamed about space exploration and going to other planets," said Ms Shopova. But people no longer have the thirst for space exploration they did when she was a girl in the 1970s. By taking part in the simulation, Ms Shopova hoped she would help get that spark back.
"It appeals to my sense of adventure, and it's an opportunity to be part of something big."
In addition to the confined accommodation, the would-be astronauts must wear space suits and only eat food available in an actual Mars outpost. Unlike a Martian environment, they won't face reduced air pressure and gravity, fatal levels of carbon dioxide, dust storms, ultraviolet radiation and zero water. But they would have to cope with the sub-zero Arctic winter, isolation and polar bears.
Kiwis and Mars
A handful of Kiwis have been shortlisted to be among the first human settlers on Mars under the privately backed, crowd-funded Mars One reality TV project. Under the multi-billion dollar expedition, the first of a series of crews would touch down in 2025.
*In 2012, six Kiwis lived in a simulated spacecraft at the tiny Mars Desert Research Station in the United States - the blistering-hot Utah equivalent of the freezing Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station.
*Between 2000 and 2003, University of Canterbury engineering lecturer Dr Allan McInnes worked on the Opportunity and Spirit Mars Rovers.