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SpaceX might fly you to Mars, but NASA's new astronaut simulator will get you ready for the trip

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NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, recently opened a Mars-centric astronaut simulation. Its two wings – the new Astronaut Training Experience and Mars Base 1 – are full of thrilling and even edible exhibits that are meant to inspire and educate the Mars Generation.

"Basically, people anywhere between the ages of six and 20, they’re going to be the ones that end up being the first men and women to work on Mars," Dee Maynard, a learning specialist at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, told Circa. "Your goal [in the simulations] is to keep the base functioning while you're learning what it would be like to live and work on Mars."

A $325 ticket will put guests through a Mars rover simulator ride, a virtual reality walk on Mars, a microgravity space-walk trainer and, inside of the Mars Base 1 section, an operations center mission, a botany class at the life sciences lab and an engineering course at the robotics lab.

Maynard says the interactive exhibits at the Astronaut Training Experience and Mars Base 1 are "edutainment," so clearly you won't be given a legit flight-ready certificate after completing the two-days worth of crash courses. You will, however, get to legitimately eat some lab-grown fruits and veggies, put your Earth-based equilibrium to the test and gain some valuable base knowledge of how space travel and even planet colonization might work.

And the time for all that couldn't be any better: The latest buzz in space news is that crewed missions to Mars are right around the corner. And if you've been following closely enough, you know that it’s more likely private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, not NASA, will be the ones actually flying humans there first. So, with things like its new Kennedy Space Center astronaut experience, the publicly funded NASA is taking on the role of teaching the public about soon-to-come human deep space travel – and Mars in particular.

"Our hope is to catch them young and inspire them to keep on working towards that goal," Maynard said.

Of course, lucky for this near-middle-aged reporter, tickets are available for the young-at-heart, too.

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