19 SA takers for one-way Mars trip

2014-05-09 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The one-way trip to Mars has been derided as impossible and nothing but a big publicity stunt for the next form of reality TV, but South Africans from Durban to Keimoes and Ellisras to Brackenfell are keen to exchange Earth for Mars.

The private company Mars One, which hopes to send the first people on a one-way trip to Mars in 2023 after eight controlled cargo landings, has just announced the number of candidates who have made the cut into the next round of eliminations, with their numbers now down to 705 from 1 085.

The people hail from 146 countries and include 19 South Africans, which is more than the aspiring astronauts from countries like France, Italy and Denmark. All the applicants still have to pass many tests before they will be eligible for the training process that may end with just four of them — two men and two women — strapped on top of a rocket on a non-return trip to the red planet.

Dr Adam Baker, an expert of space engineering at Kingston University, last year criticised the Mars One project as “a big publicity stunt”.

Baker said solar radiation due to the lack of a protective atmosphere around Mars will be very dangerous to any humans staying on the planet. Then there is the fact that the bit of air pressure that exists on Mars is equal to the air 35 kilometres above Earth. Furthermore, the radiation dose which astronauts will receive on the shortest Earth-Mars trip will increase their risk of developing fatal cancers.

Mars One has meanwhile released the profiles of 17 of the 19 South Africans, of whom four are women and 15 are men. They include three Durbanites, six Johannesburgers, three Pretorians and one each from Ellisras, Keimoes, Brackenfell, Paarl and Plettenberg Bay.

Six of the initial South African applicants have already fallen out of the selection, together with 300 other applicants.

The next step is to select one person from each region — of which Africa is one — to appear in front of a selection committee late this year for round three. This interview could be aired on TV and Internet around the world. The audience will then select one winner per region and Mars One experts will select additional participants to continue to Round 4.

The South Africans wrote on their profiles:

• Adriana (30) from Durban wrote said she is a researcher in quantum biology and her famous question is: What is life? She said if life exists on Earth in this infinitely big cosmos, “it has to exist elsewhere as well”.

• Peter (25) from Brackenfell wrote, “Yes, I am clever and I know it”, adding that the journey of life has helped him to adapt to most circumstances, either being alone or with other travellers.

• Francois (29) from Keimoes wrote, “I get philosophical about almost anything — from the space out there to the space between your teeth”. He said where he lived was very isolated and he even still used a 56 kb modem. He claimed if he were selected, he would be the only one “to leave his my town in 120 years”.

• Rushton (22) from Paarl wrote he is studying accounting at Stellenbosch University. He said he had for many years struggled to remain interested in anything, but Mars One had immediately inspired his imagination. “I don’t want this to sound like a weakness, but I am looking for something I can be a part of.”

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