Dr Adriana Marais, Head of Innovation, SAP Africa, is one of the candidates for the Mars One programme, meaning she could go on a one-way trip to Mars. We talked to Dr Marais about what drives her out-of-this-world ambition.

Dr Marais said: “I’ve wanted to explore other planets since I was about four. I wasn’t sure which ones at that point, and then in 2013, I read the newspaper headline: ‘Call for volunteers for a one-way trip to Mars’. I hadn’t even finished reading that sentence when I knew, this was my opportunity, this was my destiny.”

The all-time adventure

“Exploring Mars will be the adventure of not the century, not the millennium, but in my mind, the history of planet Earth,” she said. “This is the very first era in which we are seriously contemplating establishing a settlement of not only humans, but plants and other supporting organisms that we’ll need for food potentially on our next-door neighbour planet, Mars, and this is really the beginning of our future in space, I believe.”

The Mars One team

Over 200,000 people applied for the Mars One mission. We asked Dr Marais what she thinks made her stand out to be chosen.

“Technical skills are necessary,” she said. “I am a theoretical physicist so problem-solving is something I love. The more difficult the challenge, the better so it’s a good characteristic for people going into the unknown to really enjoy a challenge, to enjoy the intricacies of using software and mathematics and equipment to solve a specific challenge.”

She added: “I’m a quantum biologist, so besides doing physics and coding and maps, I’m interested in the origins of life and what kind of molecular systems can constitute what we would call a living system. I’m very excited that potentially on Mars, we may find systems that are different to the living systems that we find on Earth that may broaden our knowledge of what life is.”

Intergalactic interpersonal skills

Dr Marais continued: “But besides the technical capabilities, and I think it’s the most important part, are your interpersonal skills. If you’re a really difficult person to work with –  you can be a genius and sometimes geniuses are not easy to work with – this could lead to the failure of the mission. Arguing amongst each other, disagreeing, not anticipating people’s bad moods and not taking the time to talk to them… this is not going to be good.

“So being able to work well as a team, having empathy, having consideration, having trust, having cohesion within the team; this is arguably the most important part. So, while there are a lot of engineers and medics and researchers among the hundred, I think in the end, it’s really your qualities as a person and your capability to be a people’s person that could lead to the success of the mission.”

Marais concluded: “The Mars mission is going be expensive but I think we must not forget those aspects of what it is to be human, which is the art side of life.

“I hope we’re going to bring all of this beauty of humanity to Mars, not just the engineering capability.”

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