Q+A with an expert: when are we really moving to Mars?

What’s it going to take for us to get a community on another planet - and when can we do it? Dr Adriana Marais answers our burning space questions.

Theoretical physicist and founder of 'Proudly Human' Dr Adriana Marais has dreamt of exploring our solar system since she was a child. Now, she's leading a team of aspiring 'extraterrestrials' in an experiment that wants to prove it could work.

The Feed got in touch with Dr Marais while she was visiting Australia to talk about her work.

Ok, we've gotta ask this first - what exactly is an 'aspiring extraterrestrial'?

I believe that humanity is capable of so much more than we can imagine, and this includes the capability to expand our imaginations and our world beyond Earth.

Exploration broadens our understanding and perspective and living on more than one planet is an important part of evolving into a more advanced and knowledgeable society.

So why Mars?

As a neighbour, Mars is currently the most feasible planet to get to and to live on. It will be a stepping stone to get further out into the solar system.

Life on Mars
Dr Adriana Marais is leading a team to prove humans can develop the tech and skills to survive on Mars.

We've talked about living on other planets for years, but nothing yet – how soon should we expect to be there?

Elon Musk's team at SpaceX is building the Starship transport system to get the first humans to Mars within the next decade. In 2022, they plan to demonstrate landing on the surface of the red planet which will pave the way for crewed missions to follow.

If they are successful, achieving crewed missions before 2030 is not unreasonable.

Can you tell us about your project 'Off-World', and what you hope to achieve?

Human settlement of the Moon and Mars in the coming decades is increasingly realistic.

At the same time, the industry required for this development is having an impact on our planet's climate, and unprecedented and extreme weather conditions are predicted to increase. The future survival of humanity, whether living off-world or battling the elements on Earth, will depend on technology.

Off-World is an initiative of Proudly Human: pioneering new frontiers in research and technology for a sustainable future on Earth, above and beyond.

In December 2020, my team and I will depart for an overwinter, off-world settlement simulation experiment in Antarctica to demonstrate community living and off-grid capabilities from life-support to communication systems, in the harshest and most isolated environment on Earth. For nine months over Winter, no ships or planes can access the continent.

We aim to promote companies developing technology for sustainability, facilitate skills development, boost research, innovation and technology towards off-grid functionality. We also want to provide a vision for young people in South Africa, Africa and beyond, of achieving successful communities in extreme and resource-constrained environments through grit, imagination, science and technology.

Dr. Adriana Marais speaking at SAP e'ffect in Sydney

Is there anything about space exploration that scares you?

I'm afraid that our current trajectory as a society is not sustainable.

Our growing population, increasing resource consumption, disruption of the equilibrium of the climate and elimination of so many species with whom we share our home, will likely lead to extreme conditions that will fuel further human conflict.

I hope that seeing how people live on Mars will be the wake-up call that we need to change our perspective and the way that we live on Earth.

What's the biggest challenge currently to space exploration?

A lack of imagination. However, a lot of research needs to be done.

At Proudly Human we will contribute by testing technologies and models for communities in a range of extreme and resource-constrained environments. After Antarctica, we plan to live in a submarine, developing the knowledge to eventually consult and participate in the planning of communities on the Moon, Mars and beyond.

'Mars One' - the project that famously was sending a team into space - fell into bankruptcy earlier this year. Has this affected your plans at all?

Mars One is essentially a start-up that has been facing fundraising challenges since the get go, we are still awaiting to hear the outcome of current discussions with a new funder. The mission to Mars is bigger than any one of us. We'll get there. One way or another.