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Mars Colony Needs Doctors, Soldiers, Engineers … and Artists?

If you love the red planet, you’ve probably been following the exploits of the Mars500 crew, a team of European, Russian, and Chinese volunteers who are conducting a mock mission to Mars. Run by Russia’s Institute for Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency, the Mars500 project aims to simulate the psychological challenges involved in...

If you love the red planet, you’ve probably been following the exploits of the Mars500 crew, a team of European, Russian, and Chinese volunteers who are conducting a mock mission to Mars.

Run by Russia’s Institute for Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency, the Mars500 project aims to simulate the psychological challenges involved in spending a year and a half in *very* close quarters with your co-workers.

The crew has been confined to a mock spaceship for the past 250 days. Recently, the astronauts went through the motions of entering Mars orbit, deploying a lander, and touching down on the Martian surface.

Just yesterday two of the men inside the “lander” got to venture into a dark, sandy room designed to look like Gusev Crater.


“Marswalkers” Diego Urbina and Alexandr Smoleevskiy

—Picture courtesy ESA/IPMB

Interestingly, not all of the six men participating in Mars500 are trained astronauts.

Rather, the selected few are mostly engineers and physicians. You can read their detailed bios to find out what they actually do in their day jobs, as well as their interests and hobbies (“enjoys hiking, skiing, long walks on the beach, and evaluating soil compositions with ultraviolet Raman spectroscopy”).

As it happens, the first “Marswalk” coincided with a fresh flurry of emails responding to an earlier post here on people volunteering for an actual one-way trip to Mars.

A journal special issue last month sparked an onslaught of conversation about why hundreds of people are eager to travel to the red planet, despite the prospect of never coming home, and who would have the right stuff to make the first Martian colony a success.

A bunch of folk wrote in that first week, and the theme that emerged was that being handy with tools and comfortable with loneliness would be key traits for Mars colonists.

Since then a few more thoughts have been submitted, including the following:

Temple University student Eddie writes, “I would go, no doubt.” But he thinks we need to start the Mars push by building a base on the moon: “Earths gravitational pull makes it hard to launch a large mass out of our orbit because it takes a lot of force. This problem can easily be solved by sending equipment on shuttles to the future moonbase.” The moon’s gravity is a sixth that of Earth’s, he argues, so launches from the lunar surface “would make heavy objects nearly weightless, thus making the process faster and easier.”

21-year-old Jesse is an active duty combat medic who’s served in Afghanistan. He notes that his time as a soldier means that he has “experience solving problems under extremely stressful situations, I work well with a group as well as on my own. I live and have lived in extremely close proximity to others, not related to me, for long periods of time in poor conditions. I have extensive trauma experience as well as clinical. I am physically fit and love a challenge.”

Kyle is embarking on a career in the U.S. Navy, but he let me know that “I have to say I would love to take that one way journey because I have had this desire and motivation to travel out of this world and see whats out there. Just to see Earth from space would be a gift.”

Mars-lover Tames says: “As much as I love my fiance, my parents, our pets, I would leave it all for this. And I truly believe they would understand. It would be almost purely selfish, but I would sacrifice anything to experience landing on another world, and moving what we understand about life in a whole new direction.”

Darcy from Utah calls a Mars voyage the adventure of a lifetime, adding that “yes, I would miss my family, and probably never see the generations to follow me here on earth. But think for a moment, just as I take pride in my ancestors and the frontier they settled, they would be able to say that their family had a hand in the future.”

Unlike some of the other writers, cultural anthropologist Aimee is torn between anxiety over leaving her family and the excitement of an unprecedented career opportunity: “Do you realize how perfect of a situation this would be for an Anthropologist to study??? It would be a dream come true. A group of people from mixed backgrounds, beliefs, paradigms, and habits all mixed together trying to “colonize” a planet? This would be the perfect opportunity to study how social bonding, leadership positions, belief systems, and language evolution occurs! It blows my mind just to think of the endless possibilities!!”

Meanwhile, Devon from Canada writes that he’s “a geology student, which, when I have my degree, would be quite useful I believe. As long as I could bring a few e-readers loaded with literature and there were females going too I’d be fine with never coming back.”

Kevin wrote me partly in jest, asking to sign up for my one-way trek to Mars [obviously, I am *not* organizing an interplanetary road trip]. “However, in the goofiness, it did raise an interesting concept for me regarding traveling space with the intention of having performing arts present,” he writes. “I’m not particularly skilled with any real necessary colonization tools. BUT, I could be brought along to provide entertainment, story-telling, theatrical performances.”


Modern art, or Mars’s Trouvelot Crater?

—Picture courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Realistically, the very first Mars colonists would probably resemble the Apollo astronauts when it comes to education and training. Military leaders, engineers, and doctors would have the best shot at getting things started.

But Aimee, Devon, and Kevin raise the totally valid point that at some stage a Mars colony would need other types of specialists.

Despite his controversial views on climate change, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt will always be remembered as the first geologist to actually take samples from the moon.

Likewise, artist and Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean dedicated his post-NASA life to painting his impressions of the human presence on the moon, creating a series of very evocative artworks.

And most recently, ISS flight engineer Cady Coleman serenaded Earth from space with a rousing flute performance.

For sure, setting up a human base on Mars would be a lot of work. But even the busiest people need science, art, philosophy, and the occasional mental break, right?

I, for one, officially put my hat in the ring to be the first journalist on Mars. Reporting to you [almost] live from Olympus Mons …

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