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Mars Crew Brace for Space by Playing Poker

After a month of simulating their lonely, isolated mission to Mars, the six-man crew seems to be more concerned with how their poker game is holding up rather than being completely cut off from civilization.

The four Russian cosmonauts, French pilot and German engineer are living in close quarters in the Mars-500 simulator in Moscow.

Apart from making the small space more homey, the deck of cards has gotten a lot of attention. German Oliver Knickel recounts his first experiences of bad beats.

“While I had no experience of this game before, I was quite surprised by the gambling skills of my crew comrades,” he wrote in his journal. “After not too long I didn't have any chips left, while in front of them the chips piled up.”

Considering the severe psychological effects—including the only means of outside communication being a panel with a built-in 20-minute delay—it behooves Knickel to bring some poker strategy reading on that eventual long haul to the red planet. Although poker can be stressful in its own right, it will serve as a welcome distraction from the isolation, stress, mood swings, fractured sleeping patterns and, last but not least, having to eat dehydrated food with the occasional pickings from the onboard greenhouse.

“We all greatly enjoy every day one radish, some onion leaves and 'Chinese cabbage' leaves, as the Russians call them,” noted French pilot Cyrille Fournier. “And the best is still to come as we are checking every single day how mature our tomatoes and—above all—our strawberries are getting.”

The 105-day litmus test, accurately replicating the conditions the cosmonauts will endure, lays the groundwork for the eventual 500-day mission to Mars.
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