For Ben Criger it’s a no-brainer: “If somebody says, ‘We’re leaving for Mars,’ you say, ‘Yeah, OK.’ That’s just what you say.”
The 28-year-old is one of the top 100 candidates being considered for the Mars One project, run by a Netherlands-based organization that’s attempting to form a settlement on the distant Red Planet.
More than 200,000 would-be explorers initially applied to Mars One in 2013 and now, after multiple cuts, the remaining applicants will be whittled down until just 24 individuals remain.
Criger is one of six Canadians still in the running to make a permanent move to Earth’s second-closest neighbour in the solar system. The next round of cuts will likely begin later this year or next year.
“Maybe one per cent of the time I’m either excited or horrified,” Criger said of his top 100 status.
He’s nervous about being a failed reality TV contestant, because part of the process will likely be documented in a reality-television-style broadcast. Mostly, though, he says it doesn’t feel much different than when he originally applied.
The Hamilton, Ont., native is currently living in Aachen, Germany, while doing post-doctoral work in theoretical physics and quantum information. Before that, he completed his PhD at the University of Waterloo.
As a physicist, he’s excited by the innovative technology he’ll be able to use on Mars, largely thanks to its thin atmosphere and gravitational pull, which is 62 per cent less intense than Earth’s.
If all goes according to Mars One’s plan, four pioneering astronauts will blast off in 2024, with four more joining every two years.
The journey to Mars is predicted to take approximately seven months in extremely tight quarters. Once they land, the colonists will live in an inflatable habitat, where they’ll eat, sleep and grow crops.
That is, as Criger said, if they’re able to launch the rocket at all. A Mars landing of this magnitude has never been attempted, and many are skeptical about the mission’s feasibility.
Since there will be Internet access for the colonists on Mars, Criger thinks he’ll feel somewhat connected to home, but he’ll miss some its simple pleasures, such as some of the food and coffee.
While there, his diet would be mostly limited to what he and his fellow colonists could grow in the habitat. He predicted that they would grow simple crops such as wheat and soy.
Though not religious, Criger values a work ethic that he believes is rooted in immigration movements, such as the mass Jewish migrations of the early 1900s.
Criger also sees a link between Mars One and the migration waves of the past, though from a communications perspective, he thinks it will be easier to stay connected with family and friends than it was for immigrants in the past.
“We’re comparatively going to be in constant contact,” he said.
As for his parents, “their feelings are mixed about it,” he said.
“You can’t expect someone to be completely behind you all the way. They do stand to lose something if I go away forever,” he added.
“So they’re a little emotional about it. But at the end of the day, they respect what I’m doing. My parents are proud of me, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”