Zac Trolley, an electrical engineer living in Calgary, is on the shortlist for a one-way trip to Mars.
Last April, the non-profit organization Mars One began accepting applications for a mission to establish a human colony on Mars, starting in 2025.
The application process was straightforward. Mars One asked for a written essay and a one-minute video. Organizers received over 200,000 applications from across the globe. In December, Mars One announced that the list had been narrowed down to 1,058 people, including Trolley.
“I had no idea that I was in the running,” Trolley said. “I don’t know what criteria they used to cut that down, but that’s where we are at right now.”
The people chosen for the mission will be sent indefinitely. Right now, there is no way to return to Earth from Mars.
The reasoning behind the plan is simple enough. For every pound of cargo loaded on the Mars One rocket, more fuel is needed. By cutting out the return trip to Earth, there is enough space to bring the equipment necessary to establish a colony.
“But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to ever come back,” Trolley said. “It’s like buying a one-way ticket to Europe. You’re not sure when you’re coming back and you don’t have the cash to, but it’s not impossible.”
Getting the list to a workable number marked the end of the first round of a four-round selection process.
“The next several selection phases in 2014 and 2015 will include rigorous simulations, many in team settings, with the focus on testing the physical and emotional capabilities of our remaining candidates,” said chief medical officer of Mars One, Norbert Kraft.
Mars One will be financed, in part, by televising the remaining rounds. Viewers worldwide will vote for who makes it through and ultimately which crew will be sent to Mars first.
“We fully anticipate our remaining candidates to become celebrities in their towns, cities, and in many cases, countries. It’s about to get very interesting,” said Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp.
However, Trolley is not interested in fame. He looks forward to the pleasure of being among the first people to walk on the red planet.
“Be the first person to toss dust in the air, to look around and just be there,” Trolley said. “I am looking forward to going to find the old rovers and dusting them off. If we could pack up the Viking landers and send them back to hang in the Smithsonian, I think that would be pretty excellent.”
Trolley’s biggest fear is the mission not going ahead. Which seems fair — it’s not hard to picture the mission getting caught in some never-ending bureaucratic nightmare.
But what about being strapped to a hydrogen bomb aimed at a lifeless planet?
“The Challenger footage is ingrained in our memories, seeing that explode on takeoff,” Trolley said. “It’s dangerous. These are huge machines, these are big risks and this is a lot of power. There are ten thousand things that could go wrong. It’s just that fear that everything is fine, all systems normal, you get one warning — light — and that’s the last thing you remember.”
If successful, this will be the first manned mission sent to another planet. But Trolley hopes it won’t end there.
“It’s a way for us to kick start ourselves into not only a multi-planetary species but a multi-star species,” he said. “I mean, we’re not going to make it to Alpha Centauri without first making it to Mars. This is the first step to creating a completely different civilization for ourselves.”