Could You Be The Next Astronaut to Go To Mars?
Meet the man you need to impress if you to be one of the first pioneers on the red planet.
For any science enthusiasts, or those that, like me, felt a connection to Matthew McConaughey’s character in Interstellar, the opportunity to travel to a new world may be within reach.
Norbert Kraft is the chief medical officer for Mars One, a mission created by a Dutch nonprofit that wants to colonize Mars. Previously, Kraft trained and worked as a doctor in the Austrian military, and for 20 years, he studied the suitability of astronauts for long duration space missions, working with US, Russian, and Japanese space agencies. He is also one of the leaders in the process of selecting the first potential Mars colonizers.
In April 2013, Mars One opened up applications for aspiring astronauts. By the time the application period had closed, more than 200,000 people had applied. Mars One’s goal is to pick 28 to 40 candidates by the end of 2015 and train them for their mission.
Here are the steps Kraft is currently undergoing to find the crews for the Mars mission:
The first step in narrowing the field of prospective space travelers is to weed out the people who are not fit enough for the journey, which includes people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even asthma. This medical criteria is in line with traditional space agencies, and candidates have to provide medical certificates signed by qualified physicians.
“For the first settlers we are very, very strict,” Kraft said in an interview with BBC. “Later on we might loosen the requirements when we have, say, 600 settlers on Mars and better medical facilities.”
After receiving medical clearance, candidates then move on to a more traditional interview. The field of potential astronauts has shrunk rapidly by this point, with only 660 people making it to stage two. Interviews began in December 2014, and while Mars One applicants do not need formal qualifications, such as a degree or particular skills, they are expected to know about Mars, the mission, and a clear understanding of what the mission entails.
“Here we filter out people who have no clue about where they’re going, what they’re doing, what’s happening,” Kraft said. He also hopes to get a hint of whether or not the applicants will work as a team and why they want to go to Mars.
Group Challenges and Dynamics
We’ve always been told working in groups is a valuable life skill. There’s nowhere in the universe where teamwork is more important than the Mars mission. Kraft explains that the time delay between mission control and the settlers will be about 40 minutes, so it’s critical that they can work together calmly and safely without help from those back on Earth.
To begin assembling the perfect colonizing team, candidates will be invited to in-person training sessions for a series of group challenges that demonstrate their ability to work together. Any team is likely to involve a mix of sexes, personalities and skills.
“I have a perfect group in mind,” Kraft said. “You might be the perfect astronaut but not able to work with the group, so be totally useless—it’s the perfect group, not the individual that I’m after.”
Arguably the most important step in the selection process is isolation: shutting groups of prospective astronauts away in simulated spacecraft and isolation chambers for weeks at a time to see how they hold up. The purpose of this is to see how different teams function together in a sealed environment—much like they would have to on a real long-duration mission.
If candidates make it past these steps, they will be required to spend another 10 years training intensely in order to develop the skills necessary for isolated life on Mars.
“I’m going to give them so many challenges,” Kraft said. “My hope is that when they get to Mars, they’ll say ‘compared to what Norbert put us through, Mars is a paradise!’”