You may have missed this one - largely because our wonderfully informative media in this country probably didn't even mention the story on television or radio (or if they did, they probably did late at night, running it only once, popping it into the usual nonsense of infotainment and hysteria mongering that the American media does so well):
What interests me here is both the time of this mock mission, the no-expenses-barred attitude towards it, and the space-politics realignment heralded by this European-Russian-Chinese effort. Clearly, the amount of time involved in the mission - almost a year and a half - means that this was planned in detail for quite some time. That $15 million would be spent on it indicates the earnestness and seriousness with which these representative space powers take the idea of a manned mission to Mars. THe amount of time devoted and the amount of money invested in this project mean that these three entities are deadly serious about the possibility of a joint mission to Mars.
But notice also the political implications: these are the three power blocs that dominate the Eurasian land mass. We may expect, eventually, that India and Japan will play a role in this effort, and possibly even Brazil. Recently China and Russia decided to drop the dollar as a basis for their bilateral trade.
From my point of view, it looks to me as if the USA is being abandoned, not only as an economic power, but that it is being deliberately excluded from the long-range planning of future manned space missions. But whether being excluded or not, the USA and the current "leadership" in Washington needs, and needs now, a similar long-range vision for manned space missions, for if we do not go back to the Moon and Mars, rest assured, others are.
NASA is lost in the doldrums. Twenty years of a lack of vision by previous administrations - Dummycrooks and Republithugs alike - has led to America's declining role in space, and that bodes ill for the future. We need to be back in space, and in a big way, if we are to secure our future and the technological benefits that space programs have brought in the past. Europe, Russia, and China are not going to wait for us.