In 2025, a group of crazy… I mean, amazing… earthlings will head to Mars to start the first ever colony there.
The mission is called Mars One, and it is the vision of a not-for-profit Dutch organisation to build the first socio-space-settlement. It’s part Star Trek and part Big Brother, as the crew will film their pioneering endeavours and send them back to Earth. Over 200,000 people applied for the privilege in 2013, and this week that list was whittled down to 100, including some adventurous Australians.
41-year-old Queenslander Gunnar Prehl, a cook from Cairns, got the out-of-this-world news that he could be a part of the six billion dollar cosmic adventure. I asked him why he wants to go to Mars.
Gunnar, you might be headed to Mars, but there is nothing there! There is nothing to do. It’s like going to Canberra. Kidding! But let’s face facts, you might die. Why would you want to put your hand up for that?
Of course, it is definitely a really dangerous undertaking and we could die the moment we take off. Mars is also a very dangerous environment and the air is hard to breathe and you can’t leave the habitats or the settlements for longer than three hours every few days because of the radiation of the sun. Mars has only one per cent of the thickness of the atmosphere of Earth. On Earth we are protected from the radiation from space, but on Mars it’s much less thick and you need some kind of protection.
So what’s the plan? Mars One is going to go up there and build the colony and then you will move in? Or is it your job to go up there and start building the colony?
No, I hope that once I get up there something will be waiting. In 2018 there will be a demonstration mission that will go to Mars and there will be a habitat waiting for the astronauts that will depart in 2024. People won’t leave Earth until there is a green light and everything is working on Mars. There will be a group of four people leaving Earth every two years. The first group will leave in 2024 and arrive in 2025 and after that another crew will land on Mars every two years.
How have people reacted to you going to Mars?
When they first hear I want to go to Mars, the question is always, “Do you want to make babies on Mars? Actual Martians?” Things like that are so far away. The most important thing is to get there and live. Get all the equipment working so there is air to breathe and water to drink.
What do you see as the greatest challenge about living on Mars?
Mentally it will be very tough for your own mind to realise that you are so far away from everything. Your new crewmates will be all you have. Of course, you will be connected to earth with data lines and internet and things like that. We will have email, but you won’t be able to Skype call with your partner or friends, as it will always be delayed by six to 20 minutes. It will take approximately 210 days just to get to Mars and from time to time there are solar eruptions taking place on the Sun. On Earth you are protected through the atmosphere, but on your way to Mars on the spaceship, you have no protection.
So if those solar eruptions occur you have to get in a little small radiation shell with your crewmate, and this radiation cell won’t be bigger than a little bathroom. You have to stay in this little room for days, weeks, depending on how long the solar eruption occurs. In that room, you have to live, you have to sleep, and you have to go to the toilet, and that will bring you to the limits of your capabilities. That is what the Mars One community has to find, the right people who are actually capable of doing that.
They aren’t looking for higher skilled people or scientists, they are looking for people who are willing to learn all the things they have to learn, but who are also capable of dealing with that pressure.
What friends and family are you leaving behind, and why are you happy to do so?
Well, my girlfriend stands behind me and so do my close friends. They understand where I’m going and they know the reasons why. My family does not support me at all, my sister won’t talk to me about Mars One and neither will my parents. Whenever the conversation comes up they will avoid anything about Mars One. They are not as excited about space exploration as I am.
I respect it, even though I don’t really understand it. I wish I would get more support from my family.
It’s very difficult to be a pioneer and explore, and it’s an interesting conversation about a parent and a sister who will miss a brother and a son. But I think the real dynamic is with your girlfriend. If you stay together, it will be the longest distance relationship ever.
True, but anyone can drive home and have a car accident and die straight away. The mission isn’t for another 10 years, so I have 10 years to say goodbye. It’s actually a gift that most people don’t have in their life.
I still don’t understand why you would volunteer to say goodbye to all you love.
I live in Queensland and have a really beautiful life and friends and many people don’t understand how anyone would want to go on a one way trip and leave it all behind. But I think if there was a candidate who was lonely somewhere in his room with no friends and no life and no happiness, I don’t think that would be the right kind of candidate. I think you have to know what you are leaving behind. I have these beautiful memories for future life on Mars. I am fully charged.
Wow, that’s an extraordinary attitude. You’re not just sick of mowing lawns?
Have you ever been in a long-term relationship? Did it work for you? Let us know in the comments below!