Travelling to Mars may seem like an impossible, childhood dream for most. For some lucky individuals, though, Mars One is seemingly planning to make it a reality.
In April of this year, the Dutch non-proft foundation launched the first round of its hunt for four astronauts to establish the first human settlement by 2023. It invited “would-be Mars settlers from anywhere in the world” to send in their online applications. Since then, over 100,000 from around the world have applied, unfazed by the ambition of the project, the uncertainty of a return journey to Earth and the plan to turn the mission into a global reality TV event.
Meet one of these applicants and University of Nottingham student, Liam Flanagan. He is 20, a third year studying MSci Chemistry and hoping to be chosen by Mars One to lead the first human colony on Mars. Impact spoke to him exclusively to find out why he wants to undertake this proposed enormous venture.
So Liam, why do you want to go to Mars?
Like I say in my application video- I think it’s one of the coolest and most worthwhile things I could do.
What caught your eye concerning this particular project?
It caught my eye because I realised that it was actually possible for me to be a part of it from the beginning, and therefore to be a part of something great. NASA is only open to American citizens unless you’re on a collaboration with the ESA or someone else, and both the ESA and NASA are severely underfunded at the moment.
Have you always been interested in space travel? What first got you interested?
I can’t remember anything that got me interested in space travel specifically. It’s just sort of always been there. I think the first time I thought it might be an actual possibility was when I talked to some genuine astronauts during a school trip to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston during my A levels.
How do you feel about the lack of return journey? That must be difficult to swallow.
I recognise that the absence of a return journey is a vital part of making this project feasible. By eliminating the return journey, you eliminate the need for a return vehicle and reduce the weight and therefore the costs of launching in the first place. This also isn’t just another Moon landing- the point is not just to visit and then never return, but to establish an actual working, living colony that will keep going indefinitely.
“This isn’t just another Moon landing.”
Even if it means leaving your life- family and friends- behind?
Well, it actually isn’t that different to emigrating to the other side of the world to work. Yes, I won’t see any of my friends or family in person, but there are still plenty of ways of keeping in touch.
What’s your opinion on the reality TV aspect of the project? Would you be happy with millions of people watching you?
Even if this weren’t being run as a reality tv show to raise the funds, people were always going to be watching. The first people on Mars is a big milestone in our history. Just think how many people watched the Moon landings, and how many more now have access to TV and the internet. So yeah, I’m OK with it.
“The first people on Mars is a big milestone in our history.”
What do you think makes you a good candidate then?
Again, I give a few of my reasons in my application video, but I think it’s a combination of factors including my age, fitness, personality and love of science.
Mars One have also made a big deal of the fact that they’re not looking for the stereotypical ex-fighter pilot astronaut in their applicants. What they care the most about is finding people with the mental resilience to go through with this and to spend the rest of their lives in effective isolation. That’s something I believe I have that not many other people do.
It’s interesting that Mars One seems to be interested in candidates’ sense of humour. Why do you think this is?
I think what they’re looking for in terms of sense of humour is the ability to stay positive and on good terms with those you’re living and working with. I can see there being a lot of back-and-forth between the astronauts, especially once they’ve been living together for a while.
What would you do to make your fellow astronauts laugh?
I think it’ll depend on the type of people I could end up with. If you’re living together for the rest of your lives then you’ll run out of jokes at some point. Ideally, Mars One will group like-minded people together, so I’ll end up with people like myself. If that’s the case, then I can see there being plenty of banter, and probably more than a few practical jokes.
“I can see there being plenty of banter.”
It is thought by some that the project is a hoax or won’t be feasible by the planned launch time. Are they just being cynical?
I think it’s a natural human response to be cynical of anything this…ambitious. But if it is a hoax then it’s the biggest hoax ever seen. The list of people sponsors and advisors is seriously impressive, and not forgetting the thousands of hopeful applicants.
The people who are saying it won’t be feasible by the proposed date probably have more of a point, although the whole principal of this mission is that it is possible with technology that already exists. Mars One have acknowledged the fact that there are almost always delays in projects of this scale and have a reserve date of 2025.
So, what would you say to Nottingham students who may be thinking of applying in that case?
To anyone thinking of applying: do it! This is your chance to be a part of history in the making.
See Liam’s application here
The first round ends on 31st August 2013.