Mars One is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands planning to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2025. This private spaceflight project, led by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, aims to have humans on Mars before NASA. This controversial company has been criticized for being unrealistic. Many people believe Lansdorp would not be able to raise the money and others believe that the colonists do not have a very high chance of making to Mars at all. This week, Mars One announced the Round Three Astronaut Candidates, from the initial 202,586 candidates. Only 100 hopefuls have been selected to proceed to the next round of selection. Out of the 100 finalists, there are 50 men and 50 women, from all around the world: 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa and 7 from Oceania. Out of interest, I went through this list of finalists and noticed the sheer number of software engineers and programmers included. There were also dentists, doctors, astronomers, and of course, many engineers. There were also a number of physicists, but the group I am most interested in is the geologists.
The Martian Geologists
Out of the 100 final candidates, a total of three are geologists. I have always been fascinated with planetary geoscience and I have had literal dreams of being a space geologist in training. However, I am definitely not someone who felt confident enough to apply to this pioneering one-way mission. The three finalists are all women in geoscience: an American graduate student Elena Finley, an Australian dental surgeon who also happens to be a geoscientist, Electra Navarone and last but not least a Serbian geo-engineer, Ljubinka Nikolic.
Elena Finley is a 24-year-old graduate student studying 3D seismic characterization of the Niobrara Formation, Permian salt and Precambrian basement in Laramie Country, Wyoming. She wants to make history like Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong. Her main interests lie in geology and astronomy but she also enjoys the genre of science fiction (hard to imagine any candidate who doesn’t).
Electra Navarone is an Australian agriculturalist, dental surgeon and geoscientist. Her dream is to terraform mars. At 37-years of age, she has experience in agriculture, military peace-keeping, dental surgery and geoscience. Her other interests include aviation medicine, radiation health, hiking, swimming, martial arts, astronomy and exoplanetary colonization.
Ljubinka Nikolic has two master’s degrees, one in geography and one in Interior Decoration with a bachelor’s degree in Geological Engineering. In her online biography, she mentions not only can she analyse rocks, but she can also arrange them nicely. She believes The Red planet will be the next home for humanity. Her interests include ancient history, world politics, archaeology and new tech gadgets.
The Geologist on the Moon
Harrison Schmitt was the first member of the NASA scientist-astronaut group to fly into space. He was on the last Apollo mission (Apollo 17) and became the twelfth person to set foot on the Moon in 1972. Schmitt received his PhD in geology from Harvard University and was very influential within the community of geologists supporting the Apollo program. The original team scheduled to go to the Moon was Eugene Cernan, Joe Engle and Ron Evans, but after public lobbying Harrison Schmitt replaced Joe Engle as one of the last men on the moon. This public lobbying came from the scientific community who insisted that a geologist be sent to the Moon.
Fortunately, this move did not disappoint, as Harrison managed to take the most interesting rock sample from the Moon: Troctolite 76535. Sample 76535 is a coarse-grained plutonic rock made up of olivine and plagioclase, with a slow cooling history and formed as a cumulate at depth. This sample was dated to be between 4.23 and 4.26 billion years old and has given much insight into the Moon’s geologic history. It is the oldest known unshocked lunar rock and has been used to figure out whether or not the Moon had generated a magnetic field. This specific rock sample allowed scientists to figure out that the moon had a long-lived magnetic field.
Another interesting contribution from Harrison was that he was probably the one who took the famous “Blue Marble” photograph of the Earth. This photograph is one of the most widely distributed photographic images in existence.
In summary, there are many good reasons to send geologists to Mars and I am glad there are three finalists with geoscience backgrounds. One small step for man, one giant leap for planetary geoscience.