A few years before he resigns from his job as an IT professional, 57-year-old Subramanian V. has decided on his future — to go to Mars and stay there.

Subramanian is one among the more than 7,000 Indians who have applied for the Mars One project that invited volunteers to go to Mars to colonise the red planet.

Subramanian has also decided what he wants to do once he gets there. “Anything under the sun and beyond interests me. I have plans of terra-farming Mars using kusha grass (dharpai pul in Tamil). Grass that can grow easily with little water will be the first flora on any planet that will make it habitable for human-beings,” said the father of two who hails from Coimbatore.

It has been a long wait for Subramanian. “From the days of Apollo 11, when I was barely 10 years old, I have been interested in astronomy. I would build telescopes at home using talcum powder tins and locally-available convex lenses,” he said.

Mars One is a Dutch non-profit organisation that plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. By 2015, 40 candidates will begin their eight-year training programme during which they will learn to deal with long periods of isolation.  A four-member crew will depart from Earth in September 2022.

The recruitment for volunteers began in April through a video with voice-over that called out to people to register for the Mars expedition: ‘Mars 2023 – Inhabitants wanted. Apply today. From now on, we won’t just be visiting planets. We’ll be staying. You will be staying. The search for life on Mars begins on earth.’

Anybody above the age of 18 could apply for the project at apply.mars-one.com before September, and according to sources, over 1.6 lakh persons from across the world have applied to go to Mars.

“I was completely thrilled. This is the new era calling out to us. I am fascinated with peculiar life forms, and I also want to work on communication channels,” said Anantha Narayan G.V., an engineering student. As soon as the announcement was out, Ananth paid the $7 fee and put up his video application on the website.

“They do not allow couples on the mission. Otherwise, I would have definitely convinced my wife to apply too,” said R. Guna (35), a management professional. “I am very strong mentally. I have a policy of reusing things as much as possible. This will help me in not just getting selected to go to Mars, but also surviving there,” he said.

Guna is also excited about being part of an experiment that will contribute to humanity. “I am going to be part of the biggest research activity ever. There can be no greater achievement in life,” he said.

Reasons to go to Mars are as varied as can be. While R. Bala, a researcher, wants to study microbes on Mars, R. Shankar, a 38-year-old software professional, said, “After my divorce, I had nothing much to look forward to on Earth. At least now, I have some plan for the future.”

Experts are sceptical, however. “There are very few serious applicants. The viability of the project itself is being debated, but the idea is gaining in popularity,” said R.G. Murthy, a professor at Anna University.

The Mars One website said a return ‘cannot be anticipated nor expected’ because of the physiological and technical challenges involved.

Will the applicants be able to cope with the fact that they will not return to Earth? Or that they will never get to meet friends and family again?

“No one knows what the future has in store for us. I have been to the Himalayas and have always wanted to go to the moon. Now, I have a chance to go to Mars. I won’t chicken out unless I die. And who knows, they might eventually come up with a plan to return, ” said R. Mahesh (47), a businessman, who has been going for early morning jogs to regain fitness, ever since he applied for the project.

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