Meet the next Martians: Aspiring Red Planet colonists

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    Joseph Sweeney, Bas Lansdorp (Mars One founder), Aaron Hamm, Randy Bevins, Austin Bradley and Heidi Hech pose for a photo before the first “Million Martian Meeting” — a gathering of potential colonists to the Red Planet. (Melissa Bradley)

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    A poster for the “Million Martian Meeting,” a gathering of prospective colonists to the Red Planet through the Mars One program. (Joseph Sweeney)

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    Potential “Martians” listen to a presentation at a get together in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Mars One. (Austin Bradley)

The group was down to Earth — but not for long, they hope.

These folks want to go to Mars.

“I want off the planet – I want humanity off the planet,” declared Leila Zucker, 45, also known as “Dr. Leila,” because she is, in fact, a doctor who works nearby in the emergency room at Howard University Hospital. She has yearned to be an astronaut — and a doctor — since the age of 3, she told

“One dream fulfilled, one to go,” she said happily.

Zucker joined not a million, but 100 or so “aspiring Martians” from across the country, one with green hair and costume antennae, for a “Million Martian Meeting” held Saturday in Washington, D.C., which was sponsored by the FaceBook page of the same name. The group came together as applicants of the Mars One project, an ambitious 10-year plan for a one-way trip to colonize the Red Planet.

‘I always told my friends and family and my wife that if I could go to space I would go.’

– Potential Martian Austin Bradley

A private nonprofit venture, Mars One is hoping to raise $6 billion over the next 10 years to train teams of astronauts while putting together the technology and resources to send four individuals into space in 2023. From there, they will launch subsequent teams every two years, establishing the first small settlement on Mars.

All of it will be captured in a real-time broadcast online and on television in an elaborate media spectacle Mars One hopes will capture the world’s attention and generate financial support to maintain the colony for years to come. Maybe enough to build a return vehicle, because right now, there is neither the money nor the technology to offer a round-trip ticket.

According to Mars One founder Bas Lansdorp, who spoke before the group Saturday, the one-way element of the adventure doesn’t seem to be a disincentive. Mars One started taking applications this spring, resulting in more than 78,000 entries from around the world. Of that number, about 1,500 have entered videos detailing their desire to chase the stars. As of this writing, the most recent videos posted to the Mars One website were from Nepal, Japan, Brazil, Greece and India.

Men make up about 80 percent of the total pool, with the average age between 25-35.

“Certainly not all of them will be qualified to do it, but all of them are serious about wanting to do this,” Lansdorp told

But why would anyone want to spend two years — if not the rest of their days — in a biosphere on a barren planet with three other people, all of whom may have been the Rock of Gibraltar during training, but after a year of prolonged isolation might just as easily turn into Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”?

“I always told my friends and family and my wife that if I could go to space I would go,” said Austin Bradley, 32, who after a stint with the Army and working for the government, went back to school and is now studying physics and philosophy at George Mason University. He’s a life-long Star Trek fan (“of course,” he told, and he dyed his hair green for the occasion. But about space travel, he is quite serious.

“I want to use my life to make a positive impact on humanity,” he said.

For sure, many of the applicants have expressed an interest in pioneering and in moving the human species forward, becoming pilgrims of the next modern age. This theme was encouraged by Robert Zubrin, who Lansdorp called the “godfather” of realistic Mars exploration. He was on hand to talk to the future cosmonauts Saturday.

Speaking via Skype – very Trekian – Zubrin compared the first team going to Mars to early humans leaving Africa and spreading out across the earth for the first time nearly 2 million years ago.

“We have the prospect of taking this to the next step, going from a global species to a multi-planet space species,” said Zubrin, an aerospace engineer who has written two books advocating Mars exploration. He is the founder and president of the Mars Society and a developer of the advanced systems necessary for launching and landing people and material on the planet, and for harnessing resources once they get there. Waving away the naysayers, he insists it can be done.

“The first crew has to be the toughest – they will make or break the program,” he told the audience. Not only will they have to deal with the isolation, but know how to work together “to get the job done under those circumstances.” In other words, have a sense of humor, be cool under pressure, and work well with others.

Oh yeah, and learn how to farm food, maintain a small nuclear reactor and respond to dental emergencies, too.

Lansdorp insists they have plenty of time to teach, as long as the future astronaut has the aptitude. Personality becomes the most important factor. “It might be that someone has a good brain and learning ability and became a plumber, but he might be a better applicant than the physicist with a Ph.D.,” Lansdorp said. “You don’t have to be an Einstein to go to Mars.”

Joseph Sweeney, 24, is banking on this, since he does not have a scientific background, but he does have a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a master’s in applied intelligence, and he calls himself a “sci-fi nerd.” His favorite movie: “Total Recall” (the original, of course, with Arnold Schwarzenegger).

“[Mars One] opened this up and said anyone can do it. I thought, I finally have a chance” to realize a lifelong dream, he told, adding that he believes he would be a good asset to the team because he is a “people person” with a good head on his shoulders. “This is a very exciting time.”

According to Lansdorp, investors and suppliers are ready for takeoff, but he wouldn’t disclose a dollar amount. Critics, including other scientists, have balked at the grandiosity of the plan. Others have chided applicants as being naive, calling the whole thing a gimmick.

To counter this, said Bradley, “we can let them know who we are, who I am. Once they realize how serious we are – the applicants – they will realize we are going to make this happen.”