Get ready, Earth: Mission to Mars is closer than we think

By Rohan Smith

Meet the aspiring 'Martian' willing to give up her life to be the first woman on Mars. Photo / Getty Images
Meet the aspiring 'Martian' willing to give up her life to be the first woman on Mars. Photo / Getty Images

Sonia Van Meter doesn't just want to live on Mars. She wants to die on Mars. So it's fair to say she's invested.

The woman planning on becoming the first human being on the Red Planet is willing to give up life on Earth to follow her dream, even though it means leaving her husband forever.

The Texas-based astronaut in the making has plans to colonise Mars in the next 10 years. She's part of a select few given the chance by the ambitious Mars One program.

But not everyone believes it will happen. A senior science adviser at the European Space Agency said this week Ms Van Meter's plan is still a long way out of reach.

"They don't have the money in place," Professor Mark McCaughrean said. "They don't have the physics in place ... they don't have the technology in place."

Van Meter is undeterred. She says Mars One is "going full steam ahead" and the "Mars is decades away" rhetoric is becoming tiring.

"NASA and other space faring agencies have been saying 'Mars is decades away' for, literally, decades. It's been their battle cry since the day we brought home the Apollo 17 astronauts. But NASA is bound by much more stringent restrictions and regulations than private companies," she said.

"In addition to the staggering hurdles space explorers already face, government funded space programs are up against incredible bureaucratic obstacles. Mars One has an operational freedom that NASA doesn't."

She told news.com.au she is "confident Mars One will find a way to get this done".

The "this" she speaks of is incredibly complex. Mars One aims to establish the first human settlement on a planet 225 million kilometres away. It will take at least seven months to get there.

Once they work out how to get there, they have to construct their settlement. That, according to the project website, will involve "a lot of time ... to make their home into a comfortable place" to live.

"Our goal is to enable them to construct a space 10m wide by 50m long. This will be a spacious environment in which to live, where they can also grow trees. Such a large living volume will make Mars a much nicer place to live."

Sonia Van Meter doesn't just want to live on Mars. She wants to die on Mars. Photo / Facebook
Sonia Van Meter doesn't just want to live on Mars. She wants to die on Mars. Photo / Facebook

The Mission, if all goes to plan, will leave Earth in 2026 and experts say those who take the risk of abandoning Earth won't last long.

"The first crew fatality would occur approximately 68 days into the mission," a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found last year.

"Some form of oxygen removal system is required, a technology that has not yet been developed for space flight."

Dutch entrepreneur and Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp admits the technology needed to keep humans alive on Mars needs to be "designed and tested extensively" but says the "technology is already there".

Earlier this month, Mars One unveiled its first concept for a space suit to protect humans "under the most difficult conditions".

The suit is made from a similar material to that used by NASA's astronauts. Those who make the mission will go with 3D printers should replacement parts be necessary.

In addition to the staggering hurdles space explorers already face, government funded space programs are up against incredible bureaucratic obstacles. Mars One has an operational freedom that NASA doesn't.

Van Meter says she knew there would be setbacks but she does not accept that Mars is out of reach right now.

"We're currently exploring multiple avenues for funding, and our founder and board are still very determined. Pushing dates back a few years along the way was to be expected, but the organisation is still going full steam ahead," she said.

"As for me? You bet I'm still 100 per cent committed. Just waiting for them to give me the call."

The challenges are many for Mars One, but Van Meter's biggest challenge remains convincing people she's doing the right thing.

"'How can you leave forever?' 'What does your family think about this?' 'Your husband's OK with you leaving him?' These are the questions I'm peppered with when I tell people this is a one-way trip. And these are reasonable questions, perfectly understandable, and they deserve well-considered answers," she told Time magazine.

"My father and sister think I'm a little nuts, but they know my reasons for doing this are about furthering a dream for mankind, not making a name for myself."

She still has to pass the final selection hurdle and, if she's not successful, she says "life will go one".

"Earth is a pretty fabulous place after all, and there are plenty of corners yet to explore. I've got a job I love, two fabulous step children, and the greatest husband in the history of marriage. There are plenty of mountains to be conquered right here."

- news.com.au

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