Sophie Mackenzie: How close are you to being one of the four people who colonise and live on Mars for the Mars One mission?
Josh Richards: There are currently one hundred of us who were selected from a candidate pool of over 200,000. From the one hundred, eighteen to thirty-six will be selected early next year and become full time employees of Mars One, where we’ll train for the next 14 years until the final four are chosen.
SM: What will happen in your 14 years of training?
JR: We’ll be bouncing all around the planet to wherever the equipment is being manufactured or training is best. We’ll also learn the basics – like dentistry as we won't visit a dentist again or using a toilet in micro-gravity. They have this special room in the Johnson Space Centre in Texas where there’s a camera that live-streams to a TV screen nearby so you can learn to line yourself up to go to the bathroom properly. It's the life support systems, waste processing systems and toilets that are arguably the most complex pieces of equipment on a spacecraft.
SM: Have you seen The Martian?
JR: When The Martian came out there was a lot of discussion about Mars One. The self-sufficiency aspect of The Martian is exactly what they'd want to reach in thirty or forty years. But apart from that the two don't really gel - Mark Watney’s entire screenplay is him trying to get back to Earth, whereas we are designing systems with the intention to stay.
SM: What do you imagine daily life will be like as an inhabitant of Mars? Will it be lonely and boring?
JR: I’m not expecting to get lonely – I love the idea of being a long, long way from humans for a very long time. Boredom is a very high risk as our day-to-day life will be exploring how our bodies react to this foreign environment. We’re human guinea pigs, and Mars is the first step to seeing how human bodies adjust to different gravity components. It could be the deciding factor on whether we colonise further into space, what technology we develop and how or if we need to 'create' gravity. We’re establishing a foothold and that always has the highest mortality rate. Like a military scenario, you have to hold the territory, survive, and wait for more people to arrive behind you. And the best way for me to advocate that people should be living on Mars is for me to put my hand up and say, ‘I’ll go. Who wants to come with me?’
SM: Why is it so important to colonise another planet?
JR: Every single life form on this planet has survived because it has evolved, because it has taken risks. Colonising Mars is hugely risky on an individual basis, but from a species’ perspective it is essential. What happens to us when we experience what happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? An event like this could wipe out the vast majority of humanity – and if we haven’t evolved to the point of colonising other planets then it could be the end of our species. We’re cosmic nomads – we should go somewhere, discover more about the universe and then move on to somewhere else.
SM: Do you think we can make a mess of one planet and keep colonising others?
JR: I hate the idea of messing up any planet. Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years, and a species that has been around for 3.5 million years isn’t going to ruin it. A catastrophic event may wipe out an entire species, but life will come back to Earth, like it did after the dinosaurs and four other times before that. It’s an interesting idea that we have the power to destroy Earth–no, we just have the power to destroy ourselves.