An ambitious project that aims to put boots on Mars in 10 years may have fallen short of the expected number of Martian wannabes, but there is no shortage of Canadians willing to live on the red planet — and die there.
With the Aug. 31 deadline almost here, nearly 7,000 Canucks have applied to join Mars One — a $6-billion project that plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023.
They are among more than 165,000 applicants from 140 countries who have paid an application fee ranging between $5 and $75, depending on the country, in hopes of being selected for the one-way trip.
"My entire life I have always wanted to be a part of something that really makes a huge difference," the 26-year-old said in an interview.
"Having my life mean something, for me, is just so important and this is the ultimate expression of that."
Mars One — the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Landorp — says the first four settlers would be followed by more groups, every two years.
If the project ever makes it off planet Earth — and many are skeptical it will — it won't be without risks.
Organizers say there could be an accident during launch, vital components could malfunction during the journey, a number of issues might arise when entering the Mars atmosphere and there could be problems during landing.
Connor Martz, 19, thought about the risks, but they did not stop him from applying to join what some have called a suicide mission.
"That part scares me, obviously, never being able to come back or see my family and dying there," he said from his home in Waterloo, Ont.
"I think the good outweighs the bad in this case because you have the opportunity to advance mankind in its exploration and colonization of other planets."
His mother, Linda Martz, said she is concerned about the no-return aspect of the mission, but hopes her son will grow out of the idea.
"We are talking ten years from now so he will be 29," she said. "Things change, I don't know where he will be ten years from now, maybe he will change his mind."
For now, Connor is getting ready to start first year of university in September to study physics. He said he's been hitting the gym to build up body mass, which could prove vital on a long space voyage.
"Every kid wants to be an astronaut at some point and I guess that is where I started," he said.
Applicant submits poem
The application videos, some of which are posted on the Mars One website, range from the wildly absurd to the surprisingly sincere.
One Canadian applicant — identified only as Madison, 27 — posted a video talking about what drew her to the program.
"A year ago my younger sister died and with that of course came a bunch of questions about why are we here? What is the meaning of all this and what is the purpose in life?" said Madison.
"When I read about this Mars One program I thought: 'Wow, here is my chance to find some sort of closure or purpose or meaning in space,' so I couldn't not apply."
Another Canadian applicant — known only as Collin, 26, — chose to show off his rhyming chops in his video, submitting a full poem, which included these verses:
"I am a scientist, adventurer, wizard and explorer/Philosopher, technician and confidant ninja warrior/My brain is sane enough to sustain itself on such a lengthy trip/I will bond in trust and faith with fellow astronauts on the ship."
Kenneth Flack, 53, from Pointe-Fortune, Que., said he wanted to join the mission because he's convinced the Earth "will eventually be destroyed and consumed by the sun."
"We have to colonize the rest of the solar system, and the galaxy for that matter, for us to have long-term longevity," he said in an interview.
Flack also argues about the need for "old" and "fat" astronauts on his application video, in an effort, he admits, to attract more views.
Reality show expected
Mars One had hoped to attract up to a million people from around the world when it first launched the application process in April. After the Aug. 31 deadline, the group will decide who goes on to the next round of the selection process.
The world will likely get to know some of the applicants in an expected television show that will document the selection and training of the final four-member crew.
Paul Romer, co-creator of the popular "Big Brother" reality television show was made a Mars One ambassador in April 2012. He will likely be instrumental in the creation of a television program that will go towards funding the Mars mission.
But Lansdorp, the group's CEO, said that doesn't mean that a Mars One show will necessarily be a reality TV show.
"The mission to Mars is one of the most exciting and inspirational stories of all time and we do want to share that with our audience, but more in the way that the moon landing is shared with our audience or the Olympics," he said.
However, many of the contestants know that being popular on television may help them advance through the selection rounds.
"I don't think it (the Mars One show) will be like "Jersey Shore" or "Survivor" or "Big Brother", said Andrew Rader, 34, from Ottawa, who was among the first Canadians to apply. "It's more like the Discovery Channel."
The spacecraft systems engineer — who recently won Discovery Channel's competitive reality TV show "Canada's Greatest Know-it-All' — hopes his communication skills will help him in the race for a spot on the Mars shuttle.
Rader also thinks the media-centric independent funding model of the Mars One venture is superior to the traditional government funding for space exploration.
"I'm a bit of a libertarian and I think space needs to pay for itself, and if a private company can do things more inexpensively and if it can bring in sources of revenues without taxpayers dollars then I'm all for it," said Rader.