The next giant leap

Reporter: Rachel Stokker

Mars One, an ambitious private company, has made the first plans to colonise another planet.

This Dutch-led initiative would see human feet on Martian soil in less than 20 years.

Is this commercial space adventure the next giant leap for mankind or the world’s “most elaborate version of Big Brother”?

This story is part of a summer podcast series produced by journalism students from RMIT University: read more about the project


JOSH RICHARDS: It’s about doing things that humans have never done before because we didn’t think we were capable of it.

RACHEL STOKKER: Josh Richards is one of Australia’s Mars One applicants. He and 200 thousand others have volunteered for a one way ticket to the red planet.

JOSH RICHARDS: It’s about inspiring another generation by bringing it together in a format that people appreciate.

RACHEL STOKKER: More than four decades ago the moon landing was beamed into livings rooms across the world.  Mars One is hoping to make the next screening profitable, and a little more permanent.

IAN CHRISTIE: A lot of people talk about the reality TV aspect of this, of things being filmed. I think it’s actually vital that that’s there because it maintains peoples interest. It’s every night you’ll be tuned in to see what the latest is from Mars, from another planet.

RACHEL STOKKER: The red planet, reality TV and rogue astronauts. Needless to say, there are some skeptics, and Ian Christie from the Victorian Space Science Education Centre is one of them.

IAN CHRISTIE: One of my partners has just held up a little sign and in her opinion they’re loonies. The big difference I think with Mars One is the idea that they want the general public to fund it.  It is very much a commercial enterprise, um, it is a money making scheme. It’s like the world’s biggest most elaborate version of Big Brother.

RACHEL STOKKER: However doubtful, Mr Christie is quietly hopeful.

IAN CHRISTIE: They’re not using tax payer dollars, good luck to them. I’m just skeptical about it succeeding, I hope it does, but it’ll surprise me.

RACHEL STOKKER: But that’s not to say he doesn’t dream about taking a one-way ride across the milky-way.

IAN CHRISTIE: We’ve all got to die to die sometime, I don’t know anyone who’s 150 years old, do you? So if I’m the first person on Mars that’s fantastic, that’s a form of immortality.

RACHEL STOKKER: While applicants prepare to watch the earth shrink beneath them in their rear-view mirror, Glen Nagels from NASA’s Deep Space Tracking Station in Canberra is worried we don’t yet have the right technology.

GLEN NAGELS: It’s a huge undertaking, and we still don’t know enough about that environment to really be able to say we can send humans and do it safely. Mars is a place that is, while similar to Earth in a lot of ways, actually an extremely harsh environment. It’s a planet that, literally, would be trying to kill you every minute of the day.

RACHEL STOKKER: The Mars One colonists will be the most isolated humans to have ever lived. Their distance from Earth will prevent any real time interaction with people back home and if anything goes wrong, they’ll be completely alone.

GLEN NAGELS: A crew will have to be experienced in a whole range of different areas, in engineering, in rocketry, in celestial mechanics, they’re going to have to be experts in communications systems, in computer systems, a whole bunch of different things, because if NASA had a problem on the journey to the moon, they could effectively phone home.

RACHEL STOKKER: Despite the risks and the skeptics and the light years in between, Josh Richards remains hopeful.

JOSH RICHARDS: This is ultimately about people from all over the world coming together with no specific nationality, with no borders, no interest in international politics or anything like that. It’s very much about people with a passion for space and a passion for exploration from all over the world regardless of gender and skill colour and all of that coming together to work together for one goal.

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