By Anjali Nambissan:
Dusty red mountains for landscape, an almost negligible atmosphere with 95 per cent carbon dioxide for ambience, and an average temperature of minus 50 degrees Celsius. Your companions are just three other people in spacesuits and your home is a sealed, inflatable living unit.
I’m not talking of a scene from a sci-fi flick. I am talking about what could be our not-so-distant future. Would you consider leaving the verdant goodness and oxygen of the Earth to live on Mars forever? Well, 202,586 people from around the world certainly would.
Our obsession with the fourth rock from the sun began with the invention of suitable telescopes in the 1600s. As of 2014, there are two unmanned rovers – Opportunity and Curiosity – crisscrossing the surface of Mars, and five orbiters (including our very own Mangalyaan, in orbit since September 2014) doing their rounds in space around it. The only ever return mission attempted from Mars’ moon, Phobos, had failed. Yet today, we are looking to establish a fully functional colony on Mars, with a crew of settlers leaving Earth to permanently reside on our neighbouring planet.
In 2011, Dutch businessman Bans Lansdorp got together with partners such as hardware suppliers Lockheed Martin and Paragon, to establish man’s first planetary resettlement mission, MarsOne. The partly-crowdfunded mission’s goal is to “establish a human settlement on Mars”, which not-for-profit organisation Mars One believes, is “the next giant leap for mankind”. Starting with a rover mission to select a suitable spot on Mars in 2020, six cargo missions will transport all necessary hardware and technology over the following couple of years to pave the way for the first four person crew to establish man’s pioneer settlement on another planet in 2024.
Earlier this week, a hundred people, out of over 2,00,000 applicants, were shortlisted for the Mars One mission. “The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” Bas Lansdorp said in a press statement. “These aspiring martians provide the world with a glimpse into who the modern day explorers will be.” These hundred candidates were selected from a longlist of 660 after personal interviews with Chief Medical Officer, Dr Norbert Kraft, M.D. “Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player, so I look forward to seeing how the candidates progress and work together in the upcoming challenges,” Dr Kraft told the press. The Mars 100 consist of 50 men and 50 women from around the world. Three Indians have made it to this list. 29-year-old Dr. Taranjeet Bhatia who lives in Orlando, 19-year-old Shradha Prasad from Palakkad, Kerala and 29-year-old Delhi girl, Ritika Singh.
YKA gets Ritika Singh, an engineer and MBA graduate working in Dubai, to answer our quirky queries. Read about how the self-proclaimed adventure junkie cannot wait to take on the space aliens she might meet along the way.
Q. What prompted you to apply for the mission?
A. I was fascinated by the idea of going to Mars, from the first time I heard about the mission. Just the thought of exploring a new planet gives me goose bumps!
Q. If you make it, how will you prepare yourself for the one-way journey to a whole new planet?
A. After they shortlist the final 24, we will be trained, physically and mentally, for 8 years. We will do the Mars environment simulation on earth so we should be fit to go by 2024.
Q. What will you miss about Earth?
A. Of course, my family and friends. I will miss nature on earth, for sure.
Q. What won’t you miss about Earth?
The struggle to make and save money for the future.
Q. How will your family react if you get that one-way ticket? How will you convince them if they don’t let you go?
A. Initially, my family objected to my decision because they thought I was crazy, but I have managed to bring them on board and now they are more excited than I am.
Q. What if you fall in love right before you leave?
A. Well, if you are making a commitment to a one-way mission to Mars, you have to make sure that you stick to your vision. I will try to not fall in love, but there is a provision to back out at a later stage too.
Q. Do you ever think of what you might see on your journey and on Mars? What if you encounter aliens?
A. Right now, I am just looking forward to meeting my fellow Mars One candidates. If I encounter an alien, I will say ‘bring it on’!
Q. What will you take with you?
A. Pictures of my family and friends (tonnes of them!), music, some recipes (as we have to prepare our own food), gym gear (I cannot survive without working out), and lot of memories from Earth
A new application round begins in 2015. So if being the Indiana Jones of the Universe is something you aspire to, this just might be your chance!