Calling all space cadets: Earthwatch needs volunteers to help search for life on Mars, in what has to be one the most entertaining April Fools' Day joke you'll see this year.
The far Martian call comes from the real-life nonprofit Earthwatch Institute, which offers actual trips to far-flung Earth locales for volunteers in return for a contribution that helps fund scientific research. The Boston-based institute put out an announcement for its Red Planet "expedition" on Thursday (March 27).
According to the announcement, Earthwatch's Martian expedition would take up to 600 days and send adventurers to search for life on Mars in the planet's Utopia Planitia region. And only serious applicants need apply: The trip requires a contribution of $1.25 million, according to the announcement. [April Fools' Day in Space: Our Favorite Cosmic Jokes of 2014]
"Volunteers will spend their days hiking through meteor craters and Earth-gazing, all while looking for signs of water and life," the announcement states. "The environment is harsh — an average temperature of about minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45 degrees Celsius), winds occasionally getting up to 500 mph and the whole lack of oxygen thing — but it's also one of the most exciting spots for science ever."
How would you get there? By some sort of space shuttle, it seems.
How would you live? In a "cabin constructed of vintage space junk" with a diet of "freeze-dried space delicacies like astronaut ice cream." Yum.
The lead scientist for the expedition? "Dr. Marvin Martin, of the Intergalactic Science Coalition." (Or is that Marvin the Martian?)
"He'll lead citizen scientists on this adventure of a lifetime to measure environmental conditions and collect any evidence of native microorganisms," Earthwatch's announcement states.
Earthwatch's announcement is clearly tongue-in-cheek for April Fools' Day.
There are no space shuttles capable of sending people to Mars (NASA's shuttles are all in museums). And the last private trip to orbit (by millionaire Guy Laliberte on a flight brokered by Space Adventures) cost upwards of $35 million, so Earthwatch's contribution price would be a steal.
Also, last time we checked, there was no such thing as the Intergalactic Science Coalition.
Still, Earthwatch has a few true facts in its announcement. Mars is truly a harsh place to explore, with extremely cold temperatures and harsh dust storms. Of all the planets, Mars is actually one of the most exciting spots in the solar system. That's why NASA has two rovers exploring the planet now, while other spacecraft either orbit the planet or are headed there.
Earthwatch was founded in 1971 with the goal of performing Earth-based research on the effects of climate change and encouraging sustainable development, while reaching out to the public at the same time. Earthwatch expeditions send volunteers and scientists to some of Earth's extreme environments, like the Arctic, jungles and ocean.
Brett Rudy, Earthwatch's director of marketing, conceded that while the manned Mars mission is definitely an April Fools' prank, the spirit of science is there.
"We thought for April 1, it would be nice to push the envelope a little bit and give people a taste of what could be," Rudy told Space.com.
Earthwatch's real-life research expeditions, however, are grounded in science and aim to give volunteers a taste of how researchers and explorers perform science in the field.
"We're not selling vacation packages here," Rudy said. "This is something that you can do in your free time that is unlike anything you've done before."
You can see the actual Earthwatch Mars mission announcement, and sign up for a "wait list" here: http://earthwatch.org/expeditions/searching-for-life-on-mars.