In 2005, a group of young British folk involved in a reality TV show braced themselves in a Russian space shuttle base before being blasted into space. Or so they thought.
Space Cadets, broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, saw 12 people sign up to go into low-Earth orbit for five days. They had been carefully selected. Not like in a NASA kind of way, where astronauts are selected for their suitability for the mission, but they were picked specifically due to their gullibility. The reason was that the group was not going to space. They weren't even going to Russia. They were heading to an old RAF base just outside of Ipswich, which had been filled with Russian products and cigarettes to make it seem more realistic.
Rather than heading to Russia, the plane merely flew over the UK for four hours before touching down.
At the base, the crew – including several actors acting as moles – were put through training before four of them were selected to go through the final stage of the hoax.
“We talked to a lot of psychologists about the right sort of person to undertake this experience. A lot of people thought, well, the only people who would fall for that would be idiots," producer Ben Caudell told the Guardian. "And actually, that’s not true. For this to work, you need what are known as susceptible people; people who are intelligent, have a creative mind, like practical jokes, and want to go along with people."
Throughout the "mission", the passengers all had their suspicions that something wasn't right. After the simulated trip to space, they discussed how it didn't feel like they had been fired into space by a rocket as they hadn't got the "tummy" feeling they would usually get from rollercoasters.
"This is a spaceship," one contestant said, incorrectly. "It's not a caravan. Everything feels a bit caravan."
But – bar one who suspected it was all fake – they never quite put their finger on what was happening, perhaps rationally believing that while it's unlikely that you'd get to go to space without astronaut training or piles of cash, it's somehow even less likely that people will try to trick you into believing you went to space. The crew were even shown video footage of Earth from space on displays, believing it to be a window.
The prank was revealed to the crew while they were still on their space shuttle (really just a simulator) in space/Ipswich.
The crew, now revealed to just be the subject of a prank, took it fairly well at the time, despite a bit of disappointment and embarrassment. Though they hadn't been to space, the cadets were offered a ride on the vomit comet to experience weightlessness. They were also given £5,000, meaning they only need about £245,000 more if they'd like to go for real.