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Imagine you had a blank slate and the chance to shape the way that society views and values ageing. This is a real opportunity facing those people selected to colonise Mars as part of the Mars One program.

Mars One is an organisation aiming to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Applications opened in 2013 for those brave enough to venture to the great red planet, however there’s a catch– the ticket is one way.

Over 200,000 people applied and by 2015 this had been narrowed to a shortlist of 100 people captured under the moniker of the ‘Mars 100’. The Mars 100 are a group diverse in age, gender and ethnicity. An impressive thirty-four countries are represented with the youngest candidates aged 21 and the oldest aged 63 (he will be 73 at the time of launch if selected for the first manned mission to Mars).

The Mars 100 are each now vying for a prized place on one of the final four-man crews that will embark on a ten-year training program to deliver fully trained astronauts and space pioneers. Launch date for the first crew is planned for 2026.

Australian Dianne McGrath is one of the Mars 100. She is not an astronaut… yet. Born the day before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon cropped-photoperhaps it was destiny that she made the shortlist for a one-way ticket to Mars. Highly driven and diverse in her experience, Dianne is currently completing her PhD at RMIT University with a focus on environmental engineering, environmental management and sustainable food systems – undoubtedly useful knowledge when faced with colonising a planet with limited resources. Not someone to rest on her laurels, she has already begun the mental and physical preparations required to successfully transition to a new life on Mars – and that prospect is ten years from now.

It is known that atmospheric changes have an impact on the way the body functions. NASA reports that astronauts can lose up to 20% bone mass in six months if not countered by a strict and regular exercise program whilst in orbit[1]. In addition, the surface gravity of Mars is 38% that of Earth[2] creating physiological changes to bone density, muscle strength and cardiovascular function.

And whilst Dianne embraces these physical challenges (has already started a program to increase her bone mass) it is the psychological opportunities that really inspire her. She embraces the chance to be part of defining a society, a culture and the norms that comes with it.

“On Mars, everybody’s skills will be needed in their varying and evolving degrees to survive. All must play a role. I think the culture and how we respect and recognise our elders and their contribution of knowledge will be key as the community grows larger and becomes more established”.

The cultural differences on Earth in how we interpret our elderly and their role in our communities is something that Dianne has considered in her vision for life on Mars, “Through our lives we constantly reinvent. However, in Western cultures I’m not sure we give our elders the same permission to reinvent; it’s as if our expectations of them lessen.  This is different in Eastern cultures where the role as a matriarch or patriarch is more revered. We all play an important role in what we know as community. And it’s critical to remember this is not always based on what you can physically do because that changes when you age.”

Dianne has a deep respect for the role that storytelling has in ensuring that knowledge is retained and advanced. For her, ageing is positive – every wrinkle telling a story of a life well lived. She believes elders on Mars will be highly sought after and valued due to the multi-planetary wisdom that they will be able to offer.

“There is something special about the knowledge and cultural experiences that our senior members of society can share through storytelling. These lessons and insights can help us find new knowledge or different solutions to problems. I see a future on Mars where our elders will be leaders of discussions, challengers of ideas and innovators. While their physical capacity may diminish, their capacity to contribute to the society will not”.

And while optimistic about the process of ageing, familiar fears remain when contemplating growing old on Mars, “There will be a time when those we love dearly on Earth pass away and we will be very very far from them. It will mean the end of communication with them and all that will remain are memories. That will be very hard as will the loss of someone from our Martian community. The bonds will be strong and the loss will be felt by all”

It just goes to show that some things truly are universal.

 

Our thanks to Dianne McGrath for generously donating her time to speak with us. You can learn more about the Mars One program and the adventure that Dianne is undertaking by visiting http://www.mars-one.com/

Image credit: Luis Ascui

[1]https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/postsecondary/features/F_Bones_in_Space.html

[2] http://www.spacesafetymagazine.com/space-exploration/mars-mission/earthlings-martians-living-red-planet-affect-human-bodies/