Mars One rivals break the mould

By Mphathi Nxumalo Time of article published Jun 17, 2016

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Durban - Fans of bitchy, cut-throat reality TV may be disappointed to learn that unlike their small screen counterparts, the would-be astronauts vying for a place on the spaceship going to Mars do not fit the mould.

Dr Adriana Marais, one of two KwaZulu-Natal hopefuls on the top 100 shortlist, was nothing but complimentary about one of her potential rivals in the country recently as the selection process hots up.

In a recent statement the Mars One organisers announced they were ready to whittle down the number of contestants from 100 to 40.

But unlike previously, when individual assessments were made, this round of selection would consist of group challenges, and contestants would have a say in the formation of the group.

Marais said she had already met one of the people vying for the trip to the Red Planet.

“It was an absolute pleasure to meet Josh Richards – ‘Space Pirate’ – in person when he stopped by South Africa this April. We had a lot of fun on a short road trip in the Cape, and I believe (there are) many adventures ahead!” she said of one of her fellow Mars One candidates.

On her chances of being one of the chosen ones, she said of her strengths: “I am a theoretical physicist and a problem solver. I have applied my knowledge of physics to areas as diverse as information security, photosynthesis and the origins of life.

“I spend my days thinking about fundamental questions about the world around me.”

Describing what motivated her, Marais said the possibility of discovering life on Mars was what got her out of bed every morning.

But the possibility of discovering alien life was not the only thing that drove her.

“I must be a kind of extremophile, thriving in physically and mentally challenging situations, and in this sense moving to Mars would be an ideal opportunity. I perform best and am able to keep a clear head under pressure.”

On her preparations for the next round, Marais said she was mixing up heavy duty science with heavy duty exercise and PR.

“Besides research in quantum astrobiology, lecturing duties, outreach and media interaction in preparation, I’ve done a 10-day silent retreat, this March I ran the 56km Two Oceans Ultramarathon, and this September, I will present my research at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, where Elon Musk will announce SpaceX’s plans for a city on Mars.”

Some itinerary, certainly, but Marais will have her work cut out if she is to make the grade, with a host of complicated selection criteria to meet.

These include that the crew be 50-50 men and women, while maintaining diversity in age and nationality.

The organisers said most of the challenges used by Mars One were based on Nasa research for selecting astronauts, determining the best crew/ crew combination, the best selection tools, and the best training method for long duration space flights.

Mars One Chief Medical Officer, Norbert Kraft said: “We want the groups to be as diverse as possible, and to utilise the uniqueness and special contribution from, for example, different backgrounds in order to solve complex problems.”

After a final 40 have been chosen there will be another selection process which will bring it down to 30 with a final 24 chosen. Mars One intends to send an unmanned mission in 2020 and hopes to send a manned one in about 2026.

The planet Mars, at its closest to Earth, is about 54.6 million kilometres, and is 401 million km away at its furthest point.

Divashen Govender, another of the top 100, is also originally from KwaZulu-Natal.

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