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Life after Mars One

Image: Bryan Versteeg, Mars One

Three months ago today, Mars One announced the final 100 candidates for its much-publicised one-way mission to Mars. Back in May 2014, we looked into Mars One for a story in DG #15 and spoke to some of the candidates who had survived the first major cull from 202,586 candidates to 705. We recently got back in touch with one of them, Joe Martin, after he failed to make it through to the next stage. Here’s what he told us about life after Mars One.

What did you think when you read the email saying you hadn’t made it?
I got the email on a Friday in mid-February. It was all very generic, you weren’t given any individual attention. The tortuous thing was that we were under a nondisclosure agreement and we couldn’t tell anybody until Monday.

I was expecting to be relieved in a big way if I wasn’t chosen, but I ended up being a little bummed out – being competitive and losing a competition. In the first couple of weeks I just wanted to forget about it. I haven’t looked at the remaining 100 candidates. I’ve avoided most of the articles and the publicity I bumped into.

What was tough was that your life potentially takes on this greater meaning. Then you lose that, and you’re just Joe again. You kind of lose a part of yourself.

What was the interview for this round like?
There was a video interview in early January which lasted only about ten or fifteen minutes. I had to study all the material, mostly from the website and a couple of documents they had sent us, about Martian environments and that. They asked three questions which were mathematical, about how much oxygen you have, whether you know your reserves, that sort of thing.

In the weeks prior to the interview, I spent about one to two hours a day reading through all the material and taking notes. I assumed they wanted details and numbers memorised. I was right about that, but they asked the question in different units than what the website was saying so you had to convert them yourself. I got the numbers right, but I told them in the wrong units.

Then they asked me one final question: if the technology became available to leave Mars and go back home, would you do it? My guess is they asked everyone that question. I thought about it for a second and said ‘yeah, I would probably consider it, depending on how things were going.’ In hindsight, I think they were looking for an answer that revolved around teamwork. I think that was the nail in the coffin. As it was coming out of my mouth, I thought ‘this isn’t right’. I still thought I might have a chance, but once I hung up I didn’t think I did terribly well. [Dr Norbert Kraft, who did the selection interviews, confirmed in an interview that every candidate was asked that as the final question: “Anybody who answers ‘yes’ is out because they haven’t understood what we’re doing. We want to start a settlement on Mars. It is clear – they cannot come back… Our goal isn’t to be the first on Mars, it’s to create a settlement on Mars.”]

How has your thinking about Mars One changed now that you’re no longer a candidate?
I’m more sceptical of [Mars One] now. That’s easy to say because I lost the competition, but I had given them the benefit of the doubt about the whole process being a little thin and under budget. There’s not a lot of meat behind it. Sometimes I wonder if that’s a matter of how much money they have or if it’s a matter of the way it’s being managed. I don’t know the answer to that, because there’s only so much visibility.

The selection process – at least in hindsight – was very thin, particularly for what they’re trying to do. I think they’re in a catch-22: the money doesn’t start rolling in until they have the TV show so they need to bring down the number of potential candidates, but in order to succeed they need to spend a lot of money on a good selection process. They’re trying to do this incredible thing on a shoestring right now, and I think that’s damaging their credibility.

You probably heard of the MIT simulation of the Mars One mission plan. Its conclusions were quite negative. I would have liked to see Mars One do their own competing simulation study, which would hopefully show the project’s feasibility. But they didn’t, and to my knowledge have no plans to do so. This could be simply because they’re operating on a shoestring for now, or because they really don’t have a handle on all the details on how to create a sustainable colony after all. I don’t know the answer, but it did make me quite queasy while I was still a candidate.

There is a part of me that says I dodged a bullet. I could have dedicated myself to this and the whole thing could have failed – I could have lost years of my life. I don’t want it to work out that way, I wish them the best, but that thought does cross my mind.

We initially interviewed Joe for the feature ‘The World is Not Enough’, which was published in issue #15 of Delayed Gratification. We’ve made the full feature available online here.

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