It started simply enough…after a brief interoffice debate about the viability of life on Mars and the now not-so-crazy and darn-near-practical-certainty of the looming MARS ONE project which seeks to put the first human colony on Mars, the gauntlet had been thrown, and I accepted. Then, I just Googled: apply…go…to…Mars. I was off on my journey.
First, what is the Mars One mission, you ask? In case you are not familiar, it is basically a group of people from across the globe who are volunteering to go on a one-way (YES- ONE-WAY!) trip to Mars, starting in the year 2023 with hopes of setting up a permanent settlement (to date, more than 100,000 people have applied). In successive years (every 2), additional people would go in groups of 4 and the colony would grow. To be blunt, you will die there. Though, the chance also exists for you to live there, and go down in history for it, no doubt. And although they have a projection of being able to video chat (with a not-insignificant 7minute time delay mind you), you will be mostly cut-off from the planet earth for the rest of your days.
In case this all sounds like pie in the sky type futuristic thinking, let me assure you: the science seems sound: even a cursory glance at previous data gathered from the Mars rover projects seem to indicate that at some point, some of the vital elements needed to support human life on Mars existed on the red planet; further, there is even speculation that some of the emissions that currently plague and erode our own planets resources (I’m talking to you coal!), could actually be beneficial in the act of manipulating the MARS atmosphere to being more like our own. With all that in mind, I mentally prepared to dive into the application. After quickly receiving an email message that “you have authorized the payment to Interplanetary Media Group, LLC.”, I knew I was on my way.
The first question that began to creep up on me was…do you make yourself sound crazy so as to assure you will not be picked? Do you make yourself sound sane and see if that is something they would even value? Or do you just answer honestly and let the chips fall where they may? After another office spat, we all agreed that for the sake of this article, it would be best to simply answer honestly, be forthright, and see what happened. Now also seems a good time to mention that I had not yet let my wife in on this little plan-so I here took the time out to advise her. It went like this, verbatim: “hey, so don’t ask me why, but I’m applying for the one-way trip to MARS, but it’s ok, cuz (SIC) it’s for work.” After the passing of a few minutes came the response, “What, is there a bonus involved?” I guess that means she is in if there is, but not if there’s not? A great wife answer if ever there was one.
The application itself should be applauded for its purposeful accessibility. First off, it is available in 11 different languages. Secondly, they do a relative price point on it that is actually based on the GDP of the applicants home country, thus allowing the price point to be enough money that people actually seriously consider it before applying, but not so much that anybody who wants to apply is priced out of contention. Such humble, noble, and inclusive pricing strategies should be noted as proof-is-in-the-pudding type evidence that they truly are seeking to establish a multi-national apolitical new colony.
I was immediately dismayed to find out upon starting my application that it is quite cumbersome. Turns out, they are quite serious about this whole gig and want to be sure they are getting the right kind of people. Also to their credit, they are not just looking for doctor and science types; they want people who can fully experience and explain how they feel about the process—dare I say, they are practically screaming to have a writer on board—ok, I will do it! One application, essay, picture, and video later and the app is all in. Now we will just have to see what happens next…
When you think about it, Mars is probably not that different from Kuwait: unbearable temperatures that keep you from going outside for long periods of time, dust storms that spring up out of nowhere and blanket you in a could of gritty brown nothingness, the ever-present potential for unkown creatures to leap out at you from the darkness of a pitch-black night. Same-same!
I am doing this on a lark, there is no doubt about it; but, as you go through the process (and committed as we as an office decided I must be in order to properly report on the process) it is hard not to seriously try to grapple with the implications of the decision at hand. In short, if the 8 years or so of training in small confined spaces is not enough to put you off (mostly in two-month increments), certainly the need to say a big ol’ permanent goodbye to everyone and everything you have ever known must be considered. And who are these people who really want to do this? Innumerable questions start to pop up at random… So here are some of the questions in the random order in which they occurred to me:
Questions I ask myself (the order of which is real time, and notable for their sporadic trend):
Can you get Wifi there? If so, is it only every 6 months when the planets are closest?
Can I bring my dog, and if so does he need to fill out a separate application?
Do I actually meet the height requirement? (turns out I do; 157cm is only 5’1 no problem-o!)
Will they have the astronaut icecream on the flight?
Oh boy is my family gonna be mad.
Oh boy is my wife gonna be mad.
Exactly how small is a “small confined space?”
How likely is it that one person gets space- dementia and has to be handled?
If you had a baby up there, would it be considered the galaxy’s first Martian?
What if it is not the galaxy’s first Martian?
To be honest, the questions have not stopped since we started this whole thing. So I ask you dear reader: could you do it? Would you do it? In the end, we were absolutely honest about everything (with the exception of our tongue-in-cheek Private Motivation Letter), and in so doing, had to really consider the implications of the application far more than I was ready to when I began. One thing is clear: given the size of this project and the companies commitment to seeing it through, to say nothing of their promise for a potential corresponding reality TV show that would air the lives of our future astronauts, there is a high probability that the colony will at least be attempted. Whether the long-term prospects of life on Mars turn out to be all they plan for or not is almost regardless to the fact that we, as human beings, are trying it at all; the future is here indeed.
The MARS One project can be learned about, applied to, or generally mocked for its impertinence at www.mars-one.com