Community members reflect on mission of Mars One

On Aug. 27, Mars will swing nearer to Earth than it has been in almost 60,000 years. This sequence of photographs shows how it appears larger as it gets closer to Earth.

It sounds like a movie plot, but the team at Mars One isn’t joking around. The Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp founded the mission in 2011 with a goal to make a permanent human settlement on Mars by 2025. 

The only catch is the team won’t be coming back to Earth. 

According to its “road map,” the plan is to obtain a crew through a four-round selection process set to be completed this year. The crew members will then be trained for their duties on Mars. A rover and satellite as well as cargo will be sent to Mars preceding the first departure of humans, who plan to land in 2025. They will establish the settlement in preparation for the second crew, who will be launched the following year.

The selection process for astronauts to man the mission began in April 2013. Anyone could submit an application consisting of general information, a resume, a short video and a motivational letter. Over 200,000 people from across the world applied.

In December 2013, 1,058 applicants made it to the second round in a decision made by “a team of Mars One experts,” according to the website. In February, the number was brought down to 100 candidates, chosen after individual video interviews. 

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From here, the final Mars travelers will be chosen based off factors like ability to work in a team and in harsh conditions. After their training, they’ll be set to go to Mars and never return.

All applicants had to ask themselves if they were willing to embark on this journey and leave their lives behind to be remembered for the rest of history. 

Jordan Coe, sophomore in ACES, initially said he would. After seeing a post about Mars One on Facebook, he decided to apply. 

“It just seemed ridiculous so I thought I might as well sign up and see what happens,” Coe said. “I’ve always just done weird stuff like that, so it was another thing to say I did.”

He read the website and submitted his application, only to find out he didn’t make it past the first round of selection. 

Even if he would have made it through the selection process, he said he would have declined the offer to go to Mars. 

“There’s too much here, and nothing there,” he said.

It’s an entirely different outlook for Heidi Hecht — 33 and sister of Anna Hecht, creative director of The Daily Illini and a senior in Media — of Orlando, Fla. 

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, cool, somebody’s going to try to send people to Mars,’?” Hecht said. 

Hecht said space travel has always interested her. She decided to apply and cited her computer knowledge and desire to be involved in space travel on her application. 

When she found out she made it past the first round in December 2013, being one of the 1,058 chosen from the total 202,586 original applicants, she said she was pretty surprised and happy.

From there, Hecht had to complete an individual 15-minute video interview with Norbert Kraft, M.D., Mars One’s Chief Medical Officer. She said the purpose of the interview was to test her knowledge about Mars and the Mars One program, as well as identify her personality and motivation for applying. 

On Feb. 16, Mars One made the announcement for the next round of the selection process. Hecht didn’t make the cut. 

Though disappointed, Hecht said she made it further than she expected she would. 

Overall, she described the process of being a candidate as a fun and interesting experience that allowed her to meet other candidates at a meet up in Washington, D.C., in August 2013, who she described as “a real cool bunch of people.”

But it’s not over yet. In the same announcement, Mars One explained how candidates who didn’t make it will be able to reapply in a new application round this year. Hecht said she will definitely take up the opportunity. 

Mars One has faced criticism ever since its mission was announced. Even one of the ambassadors for Mars One, Gerard ’t Hooft, said he didn’t think it would happen on schedule, according to an article in The Guardian. 

“I think they’ve got a fair shot,” Hecht said of the feasibility of the mission. “Even if they don’t, at least they got people talking about going to Mars.”

The mission, estimated to cost around $6 billion, sounds hazardous on the surface, and Mars One doesn’t fail to acknowledge that. 

Athol Kemball, associate professor of astronomy, said the total cost and potential danger of the mission adds to the risks.

“It’s unquestionably dangerous but very bold also,” he said.

Nevertheless, he emphasized the value of exploration to Mars.

“It’s a very important planet for us to visit because it’s very nearby, relatively speaking,” Kemball said. “We need to know if there is microbial life on Mars … but this may be something that only a human astronaut could do.”

If Mars One doesn’t make it, Kemball said “it’s something we will clearly do in the history of humanity.” 

All risks aside, the goal of Mars One is to explore the universe further as well as create something humankind will remember forever.

“It’s real new, and this is the first private organization that’s trying to send people to other worlds,” Hecht said. “Of course, they’re going to get the skepticism, but I think it could work.”

Though the space enthusiast may not make it to the red planet anytime soon, Hecht said she looks forward to hopefully seeing Mars One meet its goal.

“It’s like the human adventure,” she said. “We make progress because we get out there and explore. It does mean taking risks, but it’s a matter of knowing what risks are worth taking.”

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