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Away From Home

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The best reality TV show ever

The British television Channel 4 has come up with the greatest reality TV idea ever to actually exist -- Space Cadets:

For 10 days, the channel will televise the contestants as they undergo intensive training in Russia, before being flown 100km (62 miles)above the Earth into near space. Here they will spend five days orbiting the Earth and conducting experiments. Or so they think.

In reality, the nine - joined by three actors whom they believe to be fellow contestants - will be at a disused military base somewhere in the UK and will never leave the ground. The whole process will be filmed live in an unprecedented television event presented by Johnny Vaughan.

. . .

The show's producers have spared no expense or attention to detail in their efforts to pull off the huge practical joke - enlisting the talents of the cream of Hollywood's special effects departments to convince the contestants that what they are experiencing is real.

At the start of their journey, the contestants will take off in an aeroplane apparently bound for Russia.

In fact, they will fly in circles over the North Sea for around four hours before landing at the former British military establishment. The flight will take place at night to reduce the chances of them spotting identifiable landmarks.

They will be led to believe that the old military base, which was selected for its unusual and distinctive Soviet-style appearance, is Star City, the Russian centre for space tourism.

The site has been given a complete overhaul with plug sockets, manhole covers and light bulbs exchanged for their Russian counterparts. Food, toilet paper, matches and cigarettes have been imported from Russia and, when the contestants first arrive, they will be greeted by Russian military and taken in convoy through checkpoints.

The training they receive will consist of lectures delivered by actors accompanied by a genuine space expert, in which 80 per cent of the information will be true and 20 per cent fiction. Issues that will be explained to them include the fact they will not be weightless in near space and that, like Sir Richard Branson's space-tourist shuttles, their craft will take off horizontally rather than vertically. A Russian fitness trainer will also take them through their physical paces.

The shuttle itself has been built using a set from the film Space Cowboys, starring Clint Eastwood, which was made from a Nasa blueprint. It consists of three sections - a cockpit, a mid-deck where they will they eat and sleep, and a laboratory, where the team will carry out experiments - some of them authentic, others slightly more wacky.

The cockpit has four windows, which are in reality giant digital screens using graphics three times the resolution of high definition television and better than the visual effects used in The Matrix, capable of recreating hurricanes over Mexico.

To simulate take-off, part of the set has been built on a hydraulic platform and part on "air biscuits" that can bounce and wobble around. The Hollywood-based sound specialist, Dean Andre, has created an immensely powerful noise that will vibrate through the participants' bodies. A genuine astronaut has tested the experience and pronounced it authentic.

The shuttle has been fitted with panels, allowing the production team access. So, for example, if the contestants have been asked to carry out an experiment to see how fast tomatoes rot in space, they can go in overnight and replace the fresh fruit with a rotten one.

I'd watch it.


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