200,000 to 100 – Exclusive Interview with Mars One Finalist Lennart Lopin

Is living on Mars possible? / Photo credit: D Mitriy
Is living on Mars possible? / Photo credit: D Mitriy

“I believe that by turning mankind into a multi-planetary species we strengthen our case for a long term survival. For kids growing up in a world where mankind lives on Mars, nothing will seem impossible,” said Lennart Lopin who is amongst the last 100 candidates for the Mars One project, a Dutch program that will send people to Mars in 2024.

Lennart Lopin - one of the last 100 finalists
Lennart Lopin – one of the last 100 finalists

Lopin doesn’t seem really different to his fellows. He loves reading science and math books for fun, playing chess against a computer, his wife or his kids, and enjoys working on his latest software project. Besides he loves hydroponics, tinkering with go-karts, and electronics in his garages, going for a scuba dive, as well as hanging out with his fascinating, lovely children.

Even so, the next nine years could be the last years with his children. All of them are his biggest fan base and supporters. They are huge space geeks as well and think that this mission is a fascinating endeavour. But probably they do not realize yet what it really means to fly on Mars.

Mars One is a one-way mission to planet Mars with no coming back to earth. Over 200,000 people applied for the program. The search for the astronauts began in April 2013 and should be finished in the end of 2015. The whole selection program precedes four rounds. In the second round individual interviews took place about the motivations of the applicants.

50 men and 50 women passed successfully this round in February 2015. The candidates come from all around the world: 39 from the Americas, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, 7 from Oceania and 31 from Europe. Lennart Lopin is one of the last two Germans who are still being in contention.

“The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” said Bas Landorp, co-founder & CEO of Mars One. The ability to work in a team is mandatory. Lennart Lopin said he is “keeping a very cool head in the midst of a ton of work, stressed out people and opposing lines of action.” Also the Mars One team acknowledged it as an important skill for the mission as Lopin successfully passed the second round.

Chief medial officer of Mars One, doctor Norbert Kraft, announced that the third round would take about two weeks in the second half of 2015. There will be daily challenges for groups with ten to fifteen people. “Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player. I look forward to see how the candidates progress and work together in the upcoming challenges.”

The fourth round will follow immediately after round three with a simulation mission and should be done by end of 2015. “In the end the astronauts have to do all the work by themselves. We can just give them the basics, but we don’t hold hands,” said Dr Kraft about the program.

Mars One Illustrations / Photo credit: Mars One
Mars One Illustration / Photo credit: Mars One

Lopin is aware of the fact that the next round is not getting easier. “Round three will be tough. Lot’s of very good people did not make it to this round and Mars One will filter down rigorously. However, if the team dynamics work out and we pass through the challenges unscathed, round four will be right up my alley.”

The 36 year-old software engineer is currently working and living in Florida in the USA. He was born in Germany, grew up in Austria and spent several years in Sri Lanka as a Buddhist monk. His new lease on life gave him a first insight how it could be to start a new life on Mars.

“I had a personal experience as a teenager when I left the known and comfort of Western Europe and within a few months suddenly found myself in a small hut, alone, in a jungle in Sri Lanka. That was quite a shock – the sudden loss of all things familiar, the sense deprivation, self-isolation – at first I thought I would not be able to cope. It was almost like a panic attack.”

“As much as I had looked forward to being there, and trained for it for two years, I suddenly realized that I had left everything I took for granted behind. It was a very revealing experience, especially because I did not intend to come back ever again. I am pretty sure there also will be moments of fear and melancholy in Mars One, especially after we depart from Earth and venture into the unknown.”

Nevertheless Lopin realized for why he had chosen such a path in his life and came up with the same conclusion. “Almost all of a sudden the panic dissipated and I felt a deep sense of purpose and happiness in my new alien environment. Like a demon slain, that emotion never came back. Somehow I have the feeling that something similar could be the case here – so you have to be very clear as to your motivation why you want to do this, which I think I have.”

His motivation is based on current scientific developments: “The amount of technological advancement, scientific breakthroughs and civilizational progress that such a future entails makes it, in my eyes, worth fighting for. Also the idea of setting up a colony and by that a functioning replication of our modern industrial civilization is in and by itself fascinating.”

In contrast to Lopin the team of Dr Kraft had to realize that many applicants had the wrong motives of joining the project. “It’s not about to be an astronaut. It is not an adventure. It is a life time commitment.”

Is living on Mars possible? / Photo credit: D Mitriy
Is living on Mars possible? / Photo credit: D Mitriy

Mars One estimates the cost of putting the first four people on Mars at six billion US-Dollar. This figure is the cost of all the hardware combined, plus the operational expenditures, plus margins. Their business models are based on the public interest. Targeted means of funding will be exclusive partnerships, sponsorships, sales of broadcasting rights, involvement with high net worth individuals, revenues from intellectual property and crowd funding.

Many space experts remain sceptical about the program’s odds of success. On the one hand experts like aerospace engineer and Mars society founder, Dr Robert Zubring, were saying that a travel to Mars has been made already in the 1990s. The only reason we do not yet have an outpost on Mars is a lack of political resolution.

On the other hand researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed a study that any manned mission to Mars would result in the crew dying after 68 days.

“I read the study and I am actually surprised that the MIT students did not even check in with Mars One officials to verify the foundation of their hypothesis. The entire habitat will be fully operational a year before we even leave planet Earth – naturally, there is always something that can go wrong, but no risk – no gain, or more poetically, like Shakespeare once said: Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

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