- Published on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 09:22
- Written by Zuhaila Sedek-De Booij
OUT of some 200,000 applications sent to Mars One – an international non-profit foundation that aspires to establish a human settlement on Mars - a girl from Sungai Petani, Kedah was shortlisted as a potential candidate to be among the first humans to set foot on the Red Planet.
Not surprisingly, Xin Tong Chow, 26, was all over the moon when she found out she had made the shortlist. In the list, the number of candidates had been narrowed down to a total of 1058 individuals from all around the globe.
“This is so surreal!” said an elated Xin. She applied to participate in the project sometime last year and spent months preparing for her application.
Each application requires general information about the applicant, a motivational letter, a resume and a one-minute video to justify why he or she should be selected as one of the astronauts.
“The application process isn’t easy but I am serious about going to Mars, even when it is a one-way trip,” she said.
In the next round of selection, of which there are four, Xin will be required to get a medical statement of good health and she will be interviewed by a Mars One selection committee.
The interview will be made public, aired on television or the Internet. The committee will then decide on the successful candidates who will move on to the next round. Only at the end of the four rounds will the final candidates be chosen.
“I know the risks but these are challenges I’m willing to take. The only thing that saddens me about the project is the fact that I'm leaving my family and the beautiful nature of Planet Earth,” she added.
Xin was extremely fortunate because there were two other Malaysians who had sent in their applications but they fail to make selection.
Xin’s parents are supportive of their daughter’s wish to go to Mars. They were understandably a bit apprehensive of the idea in the beginning but eventually came to terms with it. The same goes for Xin's two younger sisters.
Asked if she will be scared if she makes it to Mars, Xin believes that her excitement will overshadow her fears.
“I don’t know what to expect. But I imagine it to be an open, desolate landscape with red clouds in the sky, It will be a pretty sight,” said Xin.
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. It’s known for its red surface - a result of iron oxide build-up, also full of craters and has a thin layer of atmosphere. The air is toxic.
What about the aliens? Will she meet the Martians?
“If I made it to Mars, I would love to meet an extra-terrestrial. I’m not yet a believer though. I will only believe it when I see it for myself,” said Xin, toying with the exciting possibilities.
“I know this is a long shot but I really hope to make it there. There, I can learn so much more about myself and what I’m capable of,” she said.
Xin’s petite stature camouflages her big appetite for adventure, which is the motivation behind her interest to apply for Mars One project. She had spent the last five years travelling different continents alone.
Once, she went sailing for four months and she had to spend days and nights in a small restricted cabin area. She thinks this experience will help her deal with the small living area provided on Mars.
The eldest of three siblings studied electronic engineering and this knowledge she reckons made her a suitable candidate for Mars One. The Mars’ human settlement project requires at least two astronauts to be able to perform technical repairs on the equipment.
Other than her engineering background, Xin is also passionate about horticulture, which can come in handy as the selected astronauts are required to grow plants in their Mars’ home. According to Mars One, each astronaut’s cabin on Mars (which is in the form of inflatable components) will be over 538sq ft in size per unit. Each unit contains a bedroom, working area, a living room and a plant production unit. They can shower too in the cabin, just like when they are on earth.
But Xin doesn’t want to think too far ahead. She is taking it a step at a time. She is definitely hopeful, though.
“I still remember when I was 12 and I told my teacher that I wanted to be an astronaut. She said that is impossible. So, if I really do make it I can show her that she was wrong. Anything is possible I think,” Xin said.
“And if there’s someone I can be with, someone with a good chemistry there, I guess I wouldn’t be that bored on Mars then,” she said jokingly in the end.
Mars One was announced in April 2013. The project is an International event where six groups of four astronauts will be created towards the end. These groups will undergo extensive trainings of eight years, which will also be their full paid job. Throughout the training sessions, those who are unable to prove themselves can be booted out. The trainings include three aspects; technical training, personal training and group training.
Considered as humankind’s mission, Mars One plans to make democratic decisions for the mission. The global community will have a vote on the first group of four to be shuttled to Mars. Due to its International status, the highlights of the project will be broadcast around the world. Because the project emphasizes on the expansion of a human colony, new batches of crew are expected to arrive every two years.
Some may find the Mars One project far-fetched. But remember when the Wright Brothers wanted to build airplanes people thought they were crazy, but they proved them wrong. Same goes with Thomas Alva Edison when he invented the light bulbs as well as Alexander Graham Bell who revolutionised communication with the telephone.
As far as living on Mars is concerned, I have faith in the project. Who knows in 10 years time, we’ll have a Malaysian creating history by planting a Malaysian flag on the Mars' soil. After all, our track records have shown that we are capable of making the impossible, possible.