NEWS — 13 February 2014

Astrophysicist Joseph Roche

Dublin astrophysicist Joseph Roche tells Shelley Marsden he’s not the first to consider leaving everything behind to explore a new land…

LATE last year Dr Joseph Roche, an astrophysicist at the Science Gallery in Trinity, Dublin made the shortlist for ‘Mars One’, a private space exploration company’s mission to Mars.

Mars One is the brainchild of Dutch engineer Bas Lansdorp, whose plan is to get a colony of four astronauts on the surface of Mars by 2025. The 24 successful applicants will undergo eight years of training, before which several robotic missions will lay the infrastructure down for the planet’s future inhabitants.

Roche was the only Irish person to make the cut on a 1, 058-strong list which started out with 200,000 applicants. But if he makes it as far as the Red Planet, he won’t be coming back – it’s not in the budget (the mammoth cost for the mission has been estimated at around $6 billion).

He told the Irish World: “It’s the prospect of exploring a planet we’ve dreamed about visiting since we first discovered it. A lot of people struggle with why someone would sign up for a one-way trip, but when it’s something you’re passionate about, it changes things. This is something I care deeply about.”

Roche added that he would be “absolutely” ready to say goodbye to loved ones should he be chosen for the mission, and sees parallels with adventurers on earth: “People in history have chosen to undertake a mission where they faced the prospect of saying goodbye to everyone they know, and know they were not coming back – like the Vikings, leaving their homelands – wherever they ended up was their new home. It feeds into the explorer nature that is a part of being human.”

What the planned settlement on Mars will look like

Critics would say that gazing at the stars and dreaming of exploring other planets promotes the message that the Earth is disposable, arguing that we should focus on earth rather than a place that only the rich will eventually have access to. Roche doesn’t see it that way. For him, the mission would teach us valuable lessons about our own planet.

He explained: “If we have the capability to become a multi-planetary species, it’s something we should investigate. We do care for the world and life on this planet, but our actions as a species don’t say that; we’re draining our resources. If we were to go to another planet, it would force us to look at ourselves a lot more.”

Roche uses the analogy of the Apollo missions to illustrate his point. When mankind managed to get into lunar orbit on one of the early Apollo missions, they were circling the moon and coming back to earth, and for the first time in history the team was greeted with the earth, rising in the distance. One of the astronauts, William Andrews, took a photo of the earth with the moon in front of it, and that photo, ‘Earthrise’ became one of the most famous in history.

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 15 Feb 2014).

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