Oxford student shortlisted for Mars mission

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An Oxford University student is one of five Britons to be shortlisted to take part in the Mars One project.

Ryan MacDonald, 21, from Derby, is a Masters student in physics at University College. He is also one of five people from the UK to have reached a shortlist of 100 to take part in this mission to the red planet.

The project plans to send humans on a one way trip to Mars in order to set up a permanent human settlement on the planet by 2024, at an estimated cost of $6bn for the Dutch non-profit organisers.

Ryan Macdonald told the Huffington Post, “I would like to go to Mars for a dream. Humanity’s greatest strength is our ability to dream of a better world, to imagine a future and to inspire a generation to bring it to life.”

The Oxford physicist, who can recall 90 digits of the mathematical entity pi, also commented to The Guardian, “The most important thing to do in life is to leave a legacy. A lot of people do that by having a child, having a family. For me this would be my legacy.

“Hundreds of years down the line, who is going to know who was the President of the United States? Everyone will remember who were the first four people who stepped onto Mars.”

The four other Britons among the final 100 candidates for the mission include Durham University PhD astronomy student Hannah Earnshaw, University of Birmigham astrophysics PhD student Dr Maggie Lieu, Alison Rigby, 35, a science laboratory technician who is from Beckenham, Kent, and Clare Weedon, 27, a systems integration manager for Virgin Media.

These five candidates form part of a total of 50 men and 50 women who have been shortlisted from all over the world; 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, seven from Africa and seven from Oceania.

They were picked from a pool of 660 candidates who participated in online interviews with the mission’s chief medical officer Norbert Kraft, in which they were tested on their understanding of the risks involved, team spirit, and their motivation behind taking part in the expedition.

Initially, over 200,000 people applied to take part in the controversial privately funded mission, which could be filmed for a reality television series. It’s not over yet for those candidates who were not selected either; they’ll have the chance to re-apply in a new application round opening in 2015.

Other Oxford students were both excited and perplexed by the controversial project and the concept of a one-way trip.

Alex Shickell, a fellow student at Univ, commented, “I think it’s a great idea and that it will help humanity explore the boundaries of our existence. Nonetheless, it’s a very daunting project and you’d have to be one very brave and perhaps slightly unhinged person.”

Worcester fresher Charlotte Dowling also stressed the downsides of participating in Mars One. She said, “I think it’s an interesting idea; expansion into the stars is like something out of a sci-fi film. However, I’d question whether we have the right to settle there. It’s a little bit like colonisation. Just because it is not owned by anybody doesn’t mean we have the right to take it.”

Exeter undergraduate Flora Hudson added, “In my opinion it could be a new imperialism. We don’t own space. What right do we have to settle there? More importantly, it seems to me like a suicide mission. That in itself is a very frightening prospect.”

All of the shortlisted candidates will now be tested in groups to assess their responses to stressful situations in order to decide who will make the final list of 24 actually selected for the mission. Part of their training will then take place in a simulated Martian environment.

Before the Mars Project can go ahead, the Dutch organisation will have to amass funds to send a robotic lander, as well as a communications satellite, to the planet.

If this goes as planned, they will then have to send an ‘intelligent’ rover in order to scope out a landing spot for habitation modules and life support systems which will be sent up on rockets before the first humans arrive there.

The project has not been without scepticism, as researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggested in a report last year that any manned mission to Mars would result in the crew dying after 68 days.

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