The application process to take part in a reality-style show and become one of the first people to land and live on Mars and never return home to Earth is drawing to a close.
More than 165,000 ‘wannabe astronauts’ have applied for four initial places to colonise the red planet despite it only being a one-way ticket.
Melissa Ede, 52, a transsexual taxi-driver from Hull, is one of 7,000 applicants from the UK hoping to be picked.
She said: “The attraction’s got to be going down in history, being remembered.
“Ever since a little child I’ve wanted to do something where I was going to make my mark on this Earth, this is the way of doing it.
“My parents always used to put me down. They always said I’m on cloud cuckoo-land and I live on a different planet. Well I could say actually, I do.
“On Earth I feel I’ve done enough now, I’ve completed all my challenges that I had in life. I’ll be able to wave down at everybody.”
As well as the UK, applicants from China, Brazil, India and Russia have paid on average £17 to cover the administration costs of the selection process for the Mars One project – the brainchild of Big Brother co-creator Paul Römer.
The applications close today.
By 2015, the astronauts selected for the trip will start their training, using a simulation of conditions on the planet where they’ll learn to repair their equipment, grow food and deal with long periods of isolation.
The team’s home on Mars will be operational by 2021. Their living pods will provide them with oxygen, water and electricity.
The first crew will set off for Mars a year later on a journey that will take between seven to eight months.
Dr Michael Martin-Smith, head of the Hull and East Riding Astronomical Society, said: “There will be rugged conditions with an inflatable habitat.
“Every rocket that lands with a crew will bring an empty stage, it won’t be dead metal, it will be useful.
“They can extract radiation protection which is another big issue-are we going to get fried living there? Yes, if we live out there in a swimsuit on the surface, but if you build a nice igloo-type structure using Martian soil radiation protection can be created.”
The estimated £4bn cost of the mission will be met by television rights and other kinds of media sponsorship and spin-offs.
Dr Adam Baker, an expert of space engineering at Kingston University, branded the project “a big publicity stunt”.
He said: “They’re doing very well to get the public fired up about going and some time in next decade or two we might see a commercial model … but in the current form it’s unlikely to succeed.
“There are a number of issues with Mars radiation. It doesn’t have the same level of atmosphere to protect you from things like solar flares, dust is a problem, how toxic it is to human life in the long run? We don’t know enough about that.”
But, the biggest challenge could be finding people who can cope with never returning home.
Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford said: “The main thing the organisers will be looking for is emotional resilience.
“Are these individuals capable of functioning on a different planet without any access ever again to their loved ones, friends and family? What are the qualities of their attachment needs and are they self-sufficient?
“The kind of people who might be attracted to this kind of expedition are adventure seekers, thrill seekers, people who want to have a life that’s very different to the norm, who find ordinary daily activity mundane, and they want a sense of adventure.
“They probably aren’t thinking ahead to the fact that they might not come back.”