Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Meet the people who have volunteered to die on Mars

Mars One, an interplanetary travel nonprofit, will soon select the next round of wannabe astronauts from the nearly 700 current finalists. While making a short movie about the competition for The Guardian, we at Stateless Media had a chance to speak to a few people vying for one of the coveted seats on a Mars One Spaceship. I learned the following: they are all really smart, incredibly brave, and a little bit crazy.
Actually, they're a lot of bit crazy. And that’s a good thing. Because it takes a certain kind of person to choose to live the rest of their lives stranded on a desert planet with no breathable air, no Netflix, no Snapchat, no Game of Thrones, no General Tso's Chicken, and no long, romantic walks on the beach. Oh yeah, and no sex. Like I said, crazy.
Since the dawn of the Space Age, we have always selected our best and brightest, our most physically fit, and our most Tom-Hanks-like humans to be our ambassadors in outer space. Mostly because leaving earth has been hard. Astronauts needed to know how to fly jets, fix computers, and conduct all sorts of science experiments--all in zero gravity and in space suits that look really tricky to get on and off.
But while the challenges of space travel remain unfathomable to your average selfie-snapping, Starbucks-swilling Downton Abbey fan (raises hand), they are now much more manageable. Enough so that the future colonists of Mars do not need to be pulled from the highest ranks of the Air Force. With current technology we can rocket humans to Mars in about nine months, about the same time an astronaut spends on the International Space Station. Not a walk in the park, but it will not require any year-long naps in a cryo-chamber. And thanks to decades of reconnaissance by Curiosity, Opportunity, and the rest of NASA’s band of Merry Rovers, we know most of what astronauts will need to survive on Mars once they get there: souped-up spacesuits to protect against massive dust storms and sub-freezing temperatures; tons of freeze-dried food; housing pods that can shield against radiation; and a big drill to unlock the frozen water beneath the Mars surface. It's not easy living, but not too unlike, say, Minnesota.