Sights set on Mars home

John Harvey

IT is no surprise that Plettenberg Bay software developer Tarn Alcock is over the moon after being named among 1058 people around the world to compete for a one-way trip to Mars in 2024.

The amiable 27-year-old, who answered the much-publicised call by non-profit organisation Mars One for people to join the out-of-this-world experience, found out on New Year’s Day he had advanced to the next selection level.

“I read the e-mail and I couldn’t believe it. I started jumping around the room,” he said yesterday.

Alcock is one of 25 South Africans who have made it into the second round of the selection process, after more than 200000 submissions were received by Mars One.

While some National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) scientists say humans do not yet have the technology to populate Mars, Mars One is adamant it will reach its goal of placing individuals on the planet by 2025.

The Mars One mission plan consists of cargo missions and unmanned preparation of a habitable settlement, followed by human landings. In the coming years, a demonstration mission, communication satellites, two rovers and several cargo missions will be sent to Mars. These missions will set up the outpost where the human crew will live and work in pods.

Every step of the crew’s journey will be documented for a reality television programme, which will assist in the funding of the project.

Given that the trip is a one-way ticket and successful applicants will have to live out the rest of their days on the Red Planet, the obvious question is why Alcock decided to throw his hat in the ring.

“I am a curious person and always want to learn new things, so I thought I would submit my video and essays. I never thought I would make it to the second round, but now I am starting to think about it seriously and what it all means,” he said.

“I actually left my video motivation until the last minute. I did it on my cellphone, but it was terrible. I think the four essays, in which I told them about my willingness to learn and curious nature, got me through.”

Understandably the former Wittedrift High pupil’s potential to be one of the first humans to live on Mars has been greeted with great excitement in his family – although not necessarily by everyone.

“My mom is not too chuffed at the moment, but my uncle is really excited about it, asking me a lot of questions and asking advice. But I think they are all very supportive.

“Obviously I would miss my family and going for runs, things like that.”

Strangely Alcock describes himself as a “homebody”.

“I do my work and enjoy Plett, and haven’t travelled that much. But this experience would be incredible.

“If you tell me I can’t do something then I will do everything to prove that I can.”

He said the idea of residing in pod living units was interesting. “I believe the space will actually be quite big and comfortable.”

According to Mars One, the Mars habitat will be a modular environment made up of multiple inflatable units, and will comprise about 1000m³ of total living space, equating to 250m³ per inhabitant for a team of four. Food production will be solar-powered.

“A lot of people are sceptical about this project, but I believe it will work out.

“There is so much technology now that makes this possible.”

The US had the most candidates, 297, followed by Canada (75), India (62), Russia (52), Australia (43), China (40) and Great Britain (40). Of those selected, 586 were men and 472 women.

Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp said: “We’re extremely appreciative and impressed with the sheer number of people who submitted their applications. The challenge with 200000 applicants is separating those we feel are physically and mentally adept to become human ambassadors on Mars from those who are obviously taking the mission much less seriously.”