(Houston, TX - 04.01.09) The hatch of a former Apollo space capsule slammed shut this morning behind a pair of French ultra endurance cyclists who will spend three months of isolated training to simulate conditions for an upcoming attempt to circumnavigate Antarctica on a tandem mountain bike, funded by Fulzaprilidev, a private Russian space travel company. The two must now live in the cramped refrigerated facility until the experiment ends 104 days later, allowing coaches and scientists to assess the effects of isolation and cold on their minds and bodies. If successful the duo will proceed with their plans for Antarctica and may one day ride on the moon.
"How do I feel? I am very motivated. There is a kind of relief. We have been working for a long time and finally we are getting to the start point," French Captain Avril Tompe Le Jour told reporters just hours ahead of the experiment. "The challenge is to live and ride with the same person for a long period but it is a positive challenge. I think we are going to learn a lot about each other," added his Stoker teammate Très Drôle. "The aim is to test the physiological and psychological effects of cold and isolation. And, like the moon and Antarctica, this capsule is without a bicycle shop," he added.
(pictured left: Avril Trompe Le Jour on an training ride in the French Alpes) The two climbed into the facility at Houston’s Space Institute of Biomedical Problems (SIBMP) at 12:01 am CST and the hatch was firmly closed behind them. They will not emerge again for the next three months unless they decide to pull out of the experiment for health or personal reasons. “Unfortunately, we will miss half of the Tour De France,” Le Jour joked. The cyclists will be allowed to take small personal effects like books, laptops and DVDs into the facility but, aside what would fit in the packs affixed to their specialized tandem bicycle will otherwise be sealed away from the world. They will be travelling nowhere, but the aim of the experiment is to imitate the need for full autonomy that the three month circumnavigation of Antarctica will entail.
As with a real trip, the supplies for the expedition have been painstakingly worked out in advance and no additional goods will be allowed to enter the capsule once the experiment starts. In a bid to precisely simulate possible scenarios of a tandem circumnavigation around Antarctica, communications with the outside world will be limited to the battery life of a satellite phone. They will be limited to two sets of cycling clothes each. The workouts have been personally designed for the athletes to allow them to almost exactly simulate the rigors of riding on the ice for hours at a time. The former craft has been transformed and is made of three modules: one tent-size for sleeping, one refrigerated room that houses the knobby treaded tandem on rollers with a computer to track mileage and measure vital athlete biomedical information, and a third, just big enough to store the tools, food and supplies that would normally fit into panniers and highly modified carbon fiber trailer.
The experiment is a joint project between a Fulzaprilidev, the SIBMP and the Ultra Endurance Cycling League (UECL) and will eventually lay the path for an as yet unplanned privately funded lunar attempt. The three organizations are planning at the end of the year to send two more cyclists into the isolation facility for 205 days -- the estimated duration of a tandem bicycle trip around the southern pole of the moon.
The two were chosen from a pool of over 4109 elite cyclists including American Triathlete April Foolsday.