If you could be one of the first people on Mars, but it meant you would never return to Earth, would you do it? Many of us have dreamed of traveling to another planet, but Josh Richards may actually turn that dream into reality. Richards is one of 100 remaining candidates to be on a team of four astronauts for Mars One, an organization whose mission is start a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet. I had the opportunity to ask him what inspired him to be a scientist, his odds of being one of the first humans on another planet, and why space exploration is so important for our species.
Josh has been a physicist, a stand up comic, has taken apart landmines and booby traps for the Australian Army, and is now willing to travel to another planet and never return in the name of science and exploration. After a decade of adventure (seriously, read his bio), Josh is currently traveling the world while speaking to students about the significance of space exploration and performing his hilarious one man show, Cosmic Nomad.
I met Josh after seeing Cosmic Nomad in Cincinnati a few weeks ago. After speaking with him for a few minutes his passion for what he does was evident. He has the energy of an explorer; his eyes light up when he mentions the possibility of going to Mars. I spoke with Josh via Skype and took the opportunity to interview him for SOE. Below is a transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Chris Anderson: I want to ask about your involvement in the Mars One program, but let’s start with your background. You started off your career as a physicist. What inspired you to be a scientist in the first place?
Josh Richards: I was always interested in science as a kid. I could see the different career paths I could follow. And of course my parents were definitely encouraging. My dad was in the Australian Army, so he wanted me follow a different path – advice I eventually ignored!
CA: Let’s talk about your that. You also spent time as an explosive engineer for the Australian military. What did you learn from that experience that will be helpful traveling to and living on Mars?
JR: Having a physics background helped a lot with understanding explosives which would certainly be useful on this mission. But I think the biggest thing I got out of it was learning that you can push yourself a lot further than what you realize is possible. You get put into situations where you have deal with things far beyond what you would expect from everyday life. The army in Australia tested that to a certain extent, but I wasn’t really pushed hard until I moved to the UK to work with the British commandos.
CA: If you are chosen, Mars One will send you and three other people to Mars to establish a permanent settlement on the Red Planet – without any way to bring you back to Earth. What made you want to volunteer yourself for this mission?
JR: Through my physics studies, I learned that we could get people to Mars, but probably not be able to bring them back. So a few years ago, I was writing a comedy show about going to Mars and not returning and I thought why don’t we just go? We haven’t left low earth orbit since 1972 at the end of the Apollo program, why don’t we have the courage to just go? And that’s when I signed up for Mars One.
CA: Right now you are one of 100 candidates remaining from over 200,000 of applications received by the program. How will Mars One determine which of the remaining candidates will be part of the final team of 4 to be sent to Mars?
JR: The next step is to get down to 40, which they will start sometime next year by putting us through group testing, solving challenges together as teams over 5 days with each day sending 10-20 people home. Some people are great candidates, but don’t work well with teams, a necessity on this mission. From there we’ll have about 2-3 weeks of isolation testing, from which a final 24 will be chosen. Over the next 10 years they will continuously test and evaluate those remaining to get down to the final team of four.
CA: You spend a lot of time going to schools and talking with students, something very close to my heart as a former science teacher. If you are to be one of the first humans to set foot on Mars, what is the one thing that you would want kids to know?
JR: When I was kid, I told my mom and dad that I wanted to be an astronaut. Their response was you couldn’t become an astronaut if you weren’t an American. Being part of the Mars One program has taught me is that it doesn’t matter where you were born, that you can be part of space exploration too.
CA: Why is the Mars One program (and space exploration in general) important? Why should this matter to the readers at Science Over Everything?
JR: Ultimately, the way that we exist as a species relies on people taking risks and going beyond. We survive because people move forward and space exploration is the pinnacle of that. But even if you don’t see the point in going to Mars, the benefits of going to are immeasurable. Microwaves, cell phones were developed because of the space program. The technology that we develop from meeting these challenges shape our everyday lives.