India to host Million Martian Meet

Jan 12, 2014, 12:38 IST | Anu Prabhakar

India is all set to be the fourth country in the world to host a Million Martian Meet. But this is no surprise, considering 62 applicants from India have been shortlisted for the second round of the popular mission to Mars by Mars One

The night of January 6 was an exciting one for 62 Indians, livingin different parts of the country. A few of them decided to retire to bed early, just like any other day, while a few others decided to pull an all-nighter. For, on January 6, these 62 people, who have been shortlisted for the second round of a highly publicised one-way trip to Mars in the year 2024, were asked to expect an email about round two from trip organiser Mars One, a Netherlands-based non-profit organisation. Mars One aims to set up a permanent ‘human colony’ in the red planet by the year 2025, for which four well-trained applicants will be sent there in the year 2024.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Amulya Rastogi, a mechanical engineering student based in Gurgaon, is one among those who spent the night awake in front of his laptop, waiting for the email. It finally came at 1.30 am on December 7. So, when we catch up with the 20-year-old for a quick chat early in the day, he begins the interview with the most unusual conversation starter. “I am sleepy,” says a groggy Rastogi.

Later, without divulging any confidential detail, Rastogi explains that the email asks applicants’ physicians to fill out the Mars One Applicant Medical Statement for the selection committee. It also instructs applicants to make their profiles public on the applicant site and, thus, visible to all visitors.

The round places prime importance on accessing applicants’ physical fitness and medical health. But Rastogi’s immediate concern, however, is organising India’s first Million Martian Meet at The Institution of Engineers (India) Karnataka State Centre in Bangalore, on January 25. With the first edition of this meet, India will be the fourth country in the world to host a Million Martian Meet, after the United States, Germany and Russia.

India’s first Million Martian Meet
‘Come and meet your fellow Martians (Mars One Astronaut Applicants) at the Million Martian Meeting in India,’ calls out the event’s invite. ‘Get to know what made them apply to the most daring call in history.’

When we talk about the meet, Rastogi’s excitement is almost palpable at the other end of the telephone line. “I first heard about the Million Martian Meet in the US last year and I wanted to go for it, but didn’t have money. So I decided to organise one,” he says. Rastogi (who has now made a habit of signing all his emails as ‘Amulya Nidhi Rastogi, Mars One Astronaut Applicant’) started preparing for the event in September last year with help from developed start-ups as sponsors.

The meet, which is open to anyone interested in learning about Mars, space and life beyond Earth, has an interesting schedule. There is a speech by American author and aerospace engineer Dr Robert Zubrin for around 40 minutes, via Skype. The CEO of Mars One Bas Lansdorp is also expected to make a presentation and the movie One Way Astronaut will also be screened. “So far, 70 to 80 people have confirmed they are attending the meet,” adds Rastogi.

A changed life on Earth
Going to Mars-- and staying there -- is not a decision that these applicants made on a whim. They either look at it as a great service to the field of space science and research or as one big, exciting adventure.
It was on New Year’s Eve last year that Mumbai-based Abhimanyu Singh received an email from Mars One, informing him of his selection for round two. “I was very happy when I received it,” recalls Singh. The software engineer explains that he was always fascinated by the subject of space exploration and is an avid viewer of Discovery Channel.

Enrolling for the expedition and his subsequent selection has changed Singh’s life in more ways than one. For starters, he has begun to hit the gym with a vengeance and has, so far, shed four kgs in a couple of months. He has also rekindled an old interest in learning German and has begun to fine-tune his English-speaking skills. “I studied in a Hindi medium school, but for this mission, Mars applicants must know English as their first language,” he says. Singh is also one among the many expected at the Million Martian Meet. “I have already booked my flight tickets. It will be nice to meet like-minded people. Here, my friends either think the mission is a scam, or they tease me, or they ask for a treat!” he laughs.

Mumbai-based filmmaker and writer Anil Sadarangani, too, has been shortlisted for the next round. “I am planning to, somehow, increase my height for the mission,” says the 35-year-old gravely. A shocked silence ensues and he bursts out laughing. “I am just kidding!” chuckles Sadarangani. On the contrary, the former journalist is determined to continue living in the most normal way possible. “I read somewhere that one candidate has already isolated himself by moving into a house or room alone, in preparation of the expedition,” he says.

Interestingly, the shortlisted candidates haven’t given much thought to the repercussions of their decision 10 years later, when they may have families of their own. While Sadarangani says that his parents were fine with his decision (“I think they want to get rid of me,” he laughs), Singh, who lost his parents years ago, says that marriage scares him. “But still, if I am interested in a girl and she is not comfortable with the Mars mission, I will not proceed with the relationship,” he says. “Making it to Mars is my topmost priority.”

Marriage may not necessarily scare Rastogi but there is something else that unsettles him so much that he has had dreams about it. “Pyramids,” says Rastogi. “I always wonder ‘What if I see pyramids in Mars and that scares me.” Why? “Because then it will be clear that we are not alone in the universe,” he laughs.

A lot like Mars
The crew’s journey to get to Mars will be shot for a 24-hour reality TV show that will partly fund the mission. Everything about the mission is incredible enough but still, Mars hit headlines last week for the unlikeliest of reasons — the big chill in the US. According to reports, the temperature in the country plunged to such new depths that it was lower than on the surface of Mars. It looks the Americans have already had a taste of what it’s like to be on Mars.

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