AN OXFORD STUDENT has been shortlisted for the Mars One mission, a controversial scheme that aims to establish a permanent settlement on Mars by 2025.
Third year University College physicist Ryan MacDonald beat nearly 20,0000 other applicants to gain a place on the 1058-strong shortlist for a one-way trip to colonize the red planet.
MacDonald cited meeting Tim Peake, the UK’s first astronaut, in 2010 as rekindling his childhood dream of going into space. “I saw it as an amazing opportunity to do something remarkable with my life, to truly get to be an explorer in the old fashioned sense,” he told Cherwell. “More than just personal allure, the benefits back home in terms of the potential to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers is something that I can’t turn away from.”
As a physicist, MacDonald believes he would be invaluable to the mission’s surveys. He stressed the importance of putting scientists on the surface on the planet, saying, “If we really want to definitively answer the question of whether there is life on Mars, the rovers alone will never suffice.”
The Mars One project has come under criticism from top scientists, many of whom describe it as unrealistic. Dr Colin Wilson, an Oxford academic involved in the European Space Agency’s 2016 ExoMars project, raised concerns about the project’s “unrealistic” schedule and projected cost.
“I’m happy that Mars One is again raising interest in exploration of space and planets,” Dr Wilson stated. He added, “Mars One has no support from the scientific community: it’s simply that none of us believe it will reach the launch pad, let alone land on Mars, let alone establish a colony. It is science fiction.”
MacDonald defended the project’s scientific integrity, however, referring sceptics to Mars One ambassadors like Nobel Prize-winning scientist Gerard ‘t Hooft.
“I don’t see any obvious problems to proceeding with the mission as laid out,” MacDonald said. “The true hurdle by far is the financial side of the project, which remains to be seen if it will work out as planned.”
“But even if the project fails, I see it as a success because it has got people talking seriously about future human habitation of Mars.”
Mars One hopefuls, including MacDonald, will now proceed with a reality TV-style selection process. Dr. Wilson voiced concerns with this approach to space exploration, saying that he was “uneasy with the ethics of this project”.
According to Wilson, entertainment company and Big Brother creators Endemol, which will host the TV show, produced a 2005 TV programme called “Space Cadets” which tricked members of the public into thinking they were on a space mission.
“Endemol apparently is quite prepared to grossly mislead contestants,” Wilson said.
Instead, he says, “If Mars One’s proposed astronauts want to get involved in space exploration, there are a great number of opportunities to get involved, from rocket and balloon experiments to involvement in space engineering and research.”
MacDonald is nevertheless focused on contributing to a successful Mars One mission despite the possibility of giving up life on Earth. He said, “I will never be able to make physical contact with my family again, never be able to take a deep breath of fresh air and look at clouds above, never be able to eat chocolate again.
“Taken separately, there are many little things I would miss, but together they add to a big change in my life. I am prepared to give these up in order to make this mission a success.”