Astrophysicist Dr. Joseph Roche is still hopeful that he will become the first Irishman on Mars… despite the very real possibility that his potential ticket to space is one-way.
Roche, who works at Trinity College’s School of Education, has been whittled down to the final 705 out of 200,000 hopeful candidates on Mars One, a Dutch not-for-profit group hoping to beat a number of government space agencies to put a group of 300 Earthlings on Mars. Permanently.
Needless to say, interest is at fever pitch in Roche’s Dublin office as the Big Brother-style elimination process continues apace. What’s more, his colleagues are every bit as excited as Roche is at the prospect of him proving that humans can be an interplanetary species.
“People tell me about stories they read about Mars One, and someone came into my office and said, ‘I read that if you go to Mars, you’ll die really quickly. The idea of dying quicker on Mars isn’t appealing, but it’s exciting that people are talking about it."
For now, the 28-year-old – who has previously worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre - is waiting for that all-important call.
His next duty will be to undergo gruelling training and testing before the highly publicised mission to Mars, which plans to leave within the next ten years.
Among the tests is an intensive psychological one, designed to see not only if participants can live functionally among a few hundred other humans… but also to see if they can deal with the fallout of never seeing their families and loved ones again.
"The idea (that it's a one-way trip) doesn't weigh on me at all... it's a wonderful thing," he says. "Although we have to face that fact that I could be eliminated, or reach an obstacle (during the medical training or screening) that I can't overcome. For now, I'm firmly thinking of my life on Earth."
Speaking to an assembled crowd of young science enthusiasts at the Creative Tech Festival in Google’s Dublin HQ this afternoon, Roche revealed that the successful Mars One astronauts won't be as isolated as one might think: "One thing they've promised you on Mars is Internet and WhatsApp. WhatsApp is how I keep in touch with family and friends on earth, so I'm happy with that."
Referring to his single status, Roche added onstage: "A lot of people wanting a relationship want commitment, and it's hard if you can't commit to being on the planet. But there are (Mars One) candidates with children and wives who are willing to leave their loved ones behind."
The Creative Tech Summit is an event run by TechSpace, an after-school programme that inspires young people aged 8-18 to become digital creators and innovators.