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Want a one-way ticket to Mars?

August 26, 2013 08:50 IST

Want a one-way ticket to Mars?

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Indulekha Aravind

Come 2023, and four people will blast off on a 200-day journey to Mars to establish a human colony on that planet. Indulekha Aravind talks to some Indians who have lined up for the unprecedented adventure

You have to travel more than 200 days to reach your destination, during which you eat only canned food, and cannot take a shower. You share a confined space with three people who are neither old friends nor family - those you've already left behind in the full knowledge that you will never see them again because this, you see, is a one-way trip.

And when you reach the end of your voyage, you can't be entirely sure of what awaits you on Mars.

And this is just a teaser of what you would have to deal with, should you be one of the four selected by Mars One for its mission, the first attempt of its kind to establish a human settlement on the Red Planet in the year 2023. 

But if you are intimidated by any of this, there are over 78,000 people across the world (and counting) who are clearly not, since they have sent applications to the Dutch not-for-profit foundation to be part of its mission.

The proposed space odyssey has also attracted 1,752 applicants from India, with many from Bangalore. 

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"ISRO's headquarters being in the city might be one reason for this. People in the city would realise this is not fiction," says Aashima Dogra, Mars One's editorial manager in India. Anybody over the age of 18 can apply at this stage. Globally, the most number of applicants are from the US, and Dogra says this is a bit of a problem because they want the pool to be as diverse as possible. According to Dogra, among other qualities that you would require to proceed to the later stages, a sense of humour is most essential.

That's something Jiten Khanna, one of the applicants from Bangalore, believes he possesses.

The 31-year-old, who works with retail giant Tesco, sent in his resume and a short video because he felt this would be an adventure that is "totally different". And far from being a deterrent, the fact that this would be a one-way trip made it all the more interesting.

"Friends and colleagues ask me how I'll survive and that's something even I'm not sure about but I know it would be a journey that I'll never forget," says Khanna, who spends some time every day reading up about Mars. Being an only child, his parents are yet to reconcile with the plan, but he says he is otherwise looking forward to the challenge.

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Image: An artist's impression of the possible settlement area on Mars
Photographs: Courtesy Mars One Facebook Page

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Amulya Rastogi, a third-year student of mechanical engineering in Gurgaon, is another Indian who welcomes the idea of settling on Mars.

"The programme was launched on April 21 and I applied the very next day," says the 20-year-old, who adds that he had always wanted to be an astronaut.

 "It's been my goal for many years. I know, for instance, that there are eight other planets but I want to see it for myself." Asked about the long timeline (if selected, candidates will have to train for around eight years), Rastogi feels it's quite practical, considering what's at stake. "We would be kept busy every day with the training."

That's not the only Indian connect.

Two of Mars One's board of advisors are also Indian. KR Sridhara Murth, former managing director of Antrix Corporation, who also served as scientific secretary of ISRO, is part of the panel of scientific and industry experts, as is Gautam Hariharan, director of Grintex, a company that offers technology services in space, satellite communication and homeland security.

Other experts include a former NASA engineer and aquanaut, an astrogeologist who has worked with NASA, and a host of others.

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Image: An artist's impression of the possible settlement area on Mars
Photographs: Courtesy Mars One Facebook Page

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The mission itself is the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp who sold his majority stake in a wind energy company in 2011 to launch his dream project. The basic premise of Mars One is that the technology to send people to Mars, and enable them to settle there already exists, and just needs to be purchased, put together and tested.

The selection of the astronauts will be in four stages, with the tens of thousands whittled down to between 24 and 40 by 2015. From this round onwards, the rest of the process, including training, will be televised and broadcast.

The estimated $6-billion cost of the mission will be part-funded with revenues from this years-long reality show, with the rest coming from investors and sponsors. The deadline to apply is August 31.

And in case Mars does not sound exciting enough for you, efforts are already on to crowd-research a manned mission to Jupiter's moon, Europa.

As John Lennon crooned, "You may think I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

According to Mars One, astronauts must be:
* Intelligent
* Creative
* Psychologically stable
* Physically healthy
* Resilient, adaptable, curious, able to trust and resourceful

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Image: An artist's impression of the possible settlement area on Mars
Photographs: Courtesy Mars One Facebook Page

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