The South African Woman Who's Signed Up To Move To Mars

One Small Step For Adriana. The Next Giant Leap For Mankind

It’s ironic that minus a few letters, Adriana Marais’s surname spells ‘Mars’ because in just over a decade, that’s exactly where she hopes to be. When the call went out for applications to join the Mars One mission to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, Adriana didn’t hesitate to apply. And it’s a one way ticket. Most people would never have dreamed that travelling to another planet would materialize in their lifetime, but it’s happening. As one of the top 100 people selected to partake in the expedition, Marais aims to play an instrumental role in the project. She is set to headline a Heavy Chef event in May 2016 to share her perspectives and insights with an eager audience of technology experts, digital enthusiasts and scientifically minded individuals. We chatted to Adriana to find out more:
 
What is the Mars One project?
 
The Mars One Project plans to establish a human settlement on Mars, with the first four departing in 2026. I first read about it in a Durban newspaper in January 2013.
 
Have you always been interested in space travel?

 
I’ve dreamed of living on another planet since childhood. Now, for the first time in the 4 billion years that life has been evolving on Earth, the possibility to live on another planet has become feasible. I feel lucky to be alive right now!
 
Initially 200 000 people showed interest in the Mars One project. What has the interview process been like?
 
It’s all been online so far – we’ve answered questions in writing and in video clips about ourselves and our motivations for volunteering, and we had an interview examination on material we had to learn. We’ve also had a medical examination with our local doctor.
 
Have your family and friends been supportive of you applying for the Mars One project?

 
Everyone has been extremely supportive, especially my parents. My dad has written a novel involving humans visiting other planets, and my mom pointed out that I have the explorer’s blood of our ancestors.
 
What is the next phase of the interview process and how are you preparing for it?
 
Next year, we face the final round where the 100 remaining Mars One Project candidates from all around the world will meet. Over a period of about two weeks the Mars 100 will be narrowed down to 24 who will be offered full-time positions as trainee astronauts with the project. We will be required during this selection to study material, perform tasks and overcome challenges in teams, as well as to undergo a final isolation screening process.
 
Besides research in quantum astrobiology, lecturing duties, outreach and media interaction, in preparation I’ve done a 10 day silent retreat, I  applied to the South African National Space Agency to join the Antarctica take-over team this December, and in March I ran the 56 km Two Oceans Ultramarathon.
 
Tell us a more about your research and your PhD?

 
I am a researcher with the Quantum Research Group established by Prof. Francesco Petruccione at UKZN. My PhD focused on the topic of quantum biology, which looks at specific life processes that can only be understood using quantum mechanics, for example photosynthesis. Now I am interested in whether quantum mechanics can contribute to our understanding of how life emerged, and we are looking at how the buildings blocks of life which have been detected in space may have formed.
 
Has the Mars One project influenced research you would like to do going forward?
 
I am a theoretical physicist and a problem solver. I have applied my knowledge of physics to areas as diverse as information security, photosynthesis and the origins of life. I spend my days thinking about fundamental questions about the world around me. As a researcher, being one of the first human minds to experience living in a totally new world would be a dream come true. The possibility of contributing to the discovery of evidence of life on Mars would get me out of bed each morning.
 
 

Image credit: Anelia Loubser

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