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C4's £4m Space Cadets prepare for TV hoax blast-off

LONDON - 'Space Cadets', which is costing £4m and claims to be the biggest TV spoof to date, launches on Channel 4 tonight starring nine unwitting, self-confessed practical jokers, who will be led to believe they are blasting off into space when they are really at an old UK airbase.

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The "space tourists", all aged between 19 and 28, believe they are in Russia training for a trip into space. 

In reality, they are being trained in a disused airbase in Suffolk and their shuttle is a Hollywood fake, made originally for the Clint Eastwood film 'Space Cowboys', complete with a giant screen to aid the illusion of take-off.

After take-off, the contestants are due to spend five days "in space" orbiting the Earth, believing they are conducting experiments. The show will get around the issue of the lack of weightlessness by telling contestants they are in "near-space" orbit.

The nine contestants are: 19-year old student Andrew Carter; Welsh call-centre worker Astrid Roberts; Kent student Sarah Jane Cass; 23-year-old housing association assistant Cheryl Dearie; PE teacher and tomboy Louise Nisbet; recruitment consultant and semi-professional footballer Billy Jackson; 25-year-old Brummie college administrator Keri Hassett; and 28-year-old Scottish electrician Ryan McBride.

They will be joined by three professional actors who will help pull the wool over their eyes.

The programme, hosted by Capital FM DJ Johnny Vaughan, will be screened every night at 9pm for 10 days with the live series finale on Friday December 16.

A daily E4 streaming show will run from Monday December 12, while 'Ground Control in Space Cadets: The Satellite Show', a behind-the-scenes show, presented by Alex Zane will air from 10pm on E4.

Channel 4 has launched an aggressive three0week promotional campaign for the series, with a similar budget to that of a big US import launch like 'Lost' or 'Desperate Housewives'.

The campaign, which launched on November 28, features pictures of Vaughan in a spacesuit on six-sheet and 96-sheet posters, heavyweight on-air trails, and a countdown press campaign.

In addition, from Monday, Channel 4 hired spacemen to go out on the streets in major cities across the UK.

While there is no show sponsor, Channel 4 will run an online RAF ad through its live 24-hour streaming.

The recruitment campaign for the RAF, which aims to position the air force as exciting and aspirational career choice, targets 16- to 24-year-olds. The ad will appear for two weeks on the Channel 4 microsite, which will provide news, gossip and speculation through the show.

An RAF spokesman said: "Advertising within 'Space Cadets' is an ideal vehicle to reach our target audience, and to engage with them while they are in the right mindset. We think the positioning is spot on, and will help to demonstrate the wealth of career opportunities available in the RAF."

All the space cadets replied to a Channel 4 ad asking for "thrill seekers" for an exciting new reality show. None of them are aware they are about to undergo the biggest prank in TV history.

The contestants' parents and loved ones are in the joke too, having given Channel 4 assurance that the cadets would find the wind-up hilarious, thus avoiding a 'There's Something about Miriam' backlash where contestants tried to sue Sky One for fooling them into believing the transsexual Miriam was actually a woman.

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