Life on Mars: Irish man signs up for colony mission

Space exploration company Mars One has shortlisted 1,058 people to travel to Mars. Joseph Roche is the only Irish man on the list. The catch? If he goes, he can never come back

Space exploration company Mars One has shortlisted 1,058 people to travel to Mars. Joseph Roche is the only Irish man on the list. The catch? If he goes, he can never come back

Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 16:22

Growing up on a small farm in Kildare, Joseph Roche spent many clear nights gazing at the stars, dreaming of becoming an astronaut. He couldn’t have known that, 20 years later, he would be undergoing a medical examination as part of the selection process for a manned mission to Mars.

Last week, a private space exploration company called Mars One announced that it has shortlisted 1,058 people from 200,000 applicants who wanted to travel to Mars. Roche is the only Irishman on the list. The catch? If he goes, he can never come back.

If you think the whole thing sounds crazy, you wouldn’t be the first. Even the man behind the project admits it’s a gargantuan task. Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur, aims to land a colony of four astronauts on the surface of Mars by 2025. The successful applicants will undergo eight years of training while a number of robotic missions lay the infrastructure on a planet 225 million kilometres away.

Establishing a colony on a planet we know little about would be a giant leap for mankind. Of all the issues the project presents, Lansdorp says that technology isn’t among them. “No new inventions are required for this to happen. It’s largely the same technology that has been keeping humans alive for the past 11 years on the International Space Station that will keep our astronauts alive on Mars,” he says.

All going well, the first rover launch will take place in 2018. It will demonstrate the capability to extract water from Martian soil and test solar technology, which will be used to power the colony’s hardware. It will also provide the first live webcam to stream video from another planet.

Subsequent rovers will deliver living quarters and life-support units, while back on Earth the first four astronauts will prepare for lift-off in 2025. Getting to Mars is tricky; surviving on Mars is theoretically possible, but getting a crew back is a problem that has yet to be cracked. The technical feasibility of the mission is enhanced by the fact that these astronauts will never return to Earth.

“For some people it’s very scary, but there are plenty of people who want to go to Mars and spend the rest of their lives there, to explore this strange new world. There’s a certain breed of people who dream about this.”

Roche, an astrophysicist who works at the Science Gallery in Dublin, knows all the risks. “People assume that just because I want to go that I must not be happy here, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been very fortunate. I grew up in a great family and love my work. I think putting someone on Mars who has a full appreciation of life on Earth is key to the mission’s success.”

The real question mark over the Mars One project relates to money. Lansdorp has estimated that the entire roadmap to get the first four colonists to the red planet is about $6 billion (€4.4 billion). He plans to raise this partly through crowd- sourcing, public-donation drives, but mostly through television and sponsorship deals. Mars One will be a 24-hour reality TV show, with the public voting on which applicants will get to travel.

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