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One way ticket to Mars

One way ticket to Mars
Highlights

The world is in the grip of Mars mania. Is it new, one may ask. Our fascination with the Red Planet goes back to hundreds of years even though it is...

The world is in the grip of Mars mania. Is it new, one may ask. Our fascination with the Red Planet goes back to hundreds of years even though it is not Earth's companion like Moon in our solar system. It's a celestial satellite that gives the earthlings 15 days of wane and shine in a month. But those lunar phases are enough to send some men and women into agony and ecstasy.

Poets have gone gaga over the 'cool' Moon and romanticists have lost their moorings over describing the lunar effects on love-struck couples. Centuries of mystery surrounding our nearest planetary neighbour has continued until two Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon on 20th July 1969 and demystified its secrets to the world. Many have followed in the footsteps of the first Mission to the Moon until scientists have turned their attention to other faraway planets, solar systems and a host of celestial bodies which hold out promises of habitation. As we know, there is no luck so far.

But the Moon mania of the 1990s has given rise to Mars mania now, with governments, individuals and the industry talking about colonizing it, notwithstanding the challenges time and distance pose to humans when they leave the terra firma. Technology will take care of such hurdles is the firm belief of those who are planning to venture into uncharted territories. They are, of course, serious-minded scientific communities.

At the other end, we have people with commercial interests who want to have a big pie in the Mars business. But for the American Mars Rover Curiosity that landed on the Red Planet last year, there is nothing in the vast barren terrain. Rover's search for signs of life in the Martian rocks is yet to yield results but thousands of pictures it is beaming back may help us improve our understanding of the planet which will be of utmost use when the humans launch inter-planetary migration plan.

That is quite far off. Maybe, in another 20 years it will be possible. The likely year is anywhere between 2030 and 2035. A Dutch non-profit organization, Mars One, has initiated a project to send four humans to the Red Planet and invited space buffs. Though the cost is yet to be worked out � a few million dollars, I suppose � the enthusiasm it has generated is phenomenal.

Among the thousands of applications the project authorities have received, there are 600 Chinese, the highest so far. It is puzzling why such a large number of Chinese are interested in space travel, now called celestial tourism, and settle down on a planet where conditions and surroundings are all alien.

Their journey to Mars is not like going to another continent for permanent residence; it is choosing a planet to end their lives because, as of now, there are no plans to bring those who opt for Martian life back to the Earth. It's just one way ticket to Mars. Still, there is a lot of rush for Journey to Mars, although ultimately only four applicants will be chosen for the privileged landing in 2023. The Dutch are hoping to receive about 5 lakh applications of which 40 will be shortlisted and the selected trained. The final four will be voted in by an international TV audience.

If people are excited about the long-term prospects of winning one way ticket to Mars, NASA is giving Mars lovers a chance to be part of space exploration history as a short- term measure. The University of Colorado and NASA are inviting Mars enthusiasts to submit their names and a personal message online for a DVD that will be carried aboard a spacecraft that will probe the Martian upper atmosphere and ultimately be destroyed. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, also known as MAVEN, is scheduled for launch in November.

The DVD will carry every name that is submitted. The public is also encouraged to submit a message in the form of a three-line poem, or haiku. The deadline is July 1. An online public vote to determine the top three poems to be placed on the DVD will begin on July 15. If contributors think that their haikus and messages will be forever like the time capsules, they are wrong.

The recorded DVD won't reach even the Mars surface. After the orbiting mission, the spacecraft will burn up in the planet's atmosphere. But the "Going to Mars Campaign," has a noble mission: It is aimed at making a personal connection to space, space exploration and science. However, those who participate in the mission will be rewarded in other ways: They will get a certificate showing their names will soon be on the way to the Red Planet.

India too is in the race, along with China, Japan, Europe, Russia, and, of course, the US. Our ambitious unmanned mission to Mars in October-November, if successful, has the potential of making it among the first to reach Mars. If India succeeds, it will be a fitting tribute to our ancient astronomers.

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