Four will be chosen to board their shuttle and blast off for a five-day orbit of Earth, where they will perform scientific experiments and return as heroes. Except they will not. Their shuttle was last operated by Clint Eastwood in the film Space Cowboys and despite being built from a Nasa blueprint, it will remain earthbound. The launch sound has been created by a Hollywood specialist and the shuttle will tip and rock in simulation of space flight. A giant custom-built screen outside the shuttle will provide the illusion of a view of Earth from space, including a hurricane over Mexico and a glimpse of Britain.
They will not experience weightlessness because they are only orbiting “near space”. But their every move will be monitored by 34 cameras and relayed at prime time each night. That, at least, is what the programme makers are claiming about their new production, although in the ever weirder world of reality TV, where former BBC royal correspondents willingly climb into coffins full of rats, anything is possible.
Space Cadets 'lift off'
By This is London
13 December 2005
The first four of Channel 4's Space Cadets have boldly left Planet Earth to board shuttle Earth Orbiter One and experience lift-off.
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The spoof space mission show used elaborate Hollywood-style special effects to dupe the would-be space tourists into believing they had enjoyed a short tour in the final frontier.
Bristol plasterer Paul even remarked how quick it was when, just 24 minutes after lift-off, the quartet officially became "astronauts".
The shuttle was purpose-built by Hollywood set designers from a Nasa blueprint, and last night saw the first four cadets - Paul, Billy, Keri and Charlie - greeted by Canadian pilot Drew Dawson and Russian co-pilot Yevgeni Evanovich, who made the essential final checks before lift-off.
Countdown began, but no sooner had they reached "one" than captain Drew announced they were experiencing power loss and that they would be "towed out" - which caused Kent recruitment consultant Billy to pipe up: "They are probably pushing it."
As they eventually began their ascent, Paul was beside himself, exclaiming: "This is f****** amazing... we are going so fast! This is a dream come true... thanks for choosing me."
His running commentary continued: "This is like Wish You Were Here - but on a spacecraft!"
And the excitable plasterer soon told the crew: "Five minutes and we're astronauts!"
Actor Charlie - the only one in on the elaborate hoax - assured them: "We are in good hands... the best of the best."
And even he seemed quite impressed with the launch, muttering under his breath: "I can't see how they'd think this isn't happening. We've been living in a virtual reality and there's no chink in the armour."
As the captain announced they were waiting for the Anti-Gravity Generators to "warm up", Paul seemed to suss the real problem, saying: "It feels like we're still on the ground!"
But the captain was quick to tell them: "There's no friction in space, that's why it's so smooth."
Nine people will be told they are set to visit the final frontier as space tourists and that in preparation they will undergo intensive training in Russia courtesy of the Space Tourism Agency of Russia, but in reality the groups will be "trained" for space in a disused airbase in a secret location in the UK.
Unbeknown to them, their shuttle will be a Hollywood creation, made originally for the film Space Cowboys.
I have forgiven Japan for WWII but I shall never forgive them for Yoko Ono.