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Home of the Brave

Why an Indian wants to move permanently to Mars

ON A WARM SATURDAY MORNING in May this year, at a Starbucks in Orlando, Florida, much like every Starbucks in the world, I met a young man in a deep blue turban called Taranjeet Singh Bhatia. I may never meet him again. Not because I’m not sure when I’ll next get to Orlando, nor because I’m not sure when he’ll next get to Mumbai, where I live. Instead, it’s because in another 12 years or so, he may land 225 million kilometres away, on Mars. If he does, he has no plans—and I mean none, I mean zero—of ever returning here.

Bhatia aims to leave for Mars in the year 2026. He wants to make the months-long trip, which no human has yet made. He wants to settle there. He wants to do this even though he knows he will not come back. A young man from Madhya Pradesh, Bhatia is on a quixotic global project’s shortlist of a hundred people, readying himself for an improbable shot at Mars few think will succeed. This is why I went to see him in Orlando, where he is a graduate student at the University of Central Florida.

Bhatia is the 30-year-old son of a family that runs the small Hotel Blue Star in Indore. He earned an undergraduate degree in electrical and instrumentation engineering from Medi-Caps Institute of Science and Technology in his home city, and then stayed on to work in Indore for three years. In 2011, he joined UCF’s PhD programme in computer science. In this respect, he is like thousands of other Indians who travel overseas to study every year. I was one of these, for that matter. In 1981, fresh off my own BE, I was the first Indian graduate student at the computer science department at my university in the United States. I can’t imagine there is now a single American computer science department that has never admitted Indian students.

At UCF, Bhatia might have been like so many foreign students on American campuses: do your courses, spend a while floundering, eventually gather your energies, focus long and hard enough to finish your degree—which is more or less how things went for me. Then, people like us have to get out into the real world, find a job at a university or Google or Facebook. But sometime in 2013, Bhatia found out about Mars One.

Dilip D’Souza is a writer who lives in Bombay.

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4 thoughts on “Home of the Brave”

Let me clear the air here. Mr. Dilip D’Souza, no one is going to Mars before NASA does so. This private “Mars One Mission” is just a bogus stunt. It is not associate with NASA in any way. I wonder how come you write such an article without any knowledge of scientific field. This is just faulty and misleading to the public. At least do some homework before publishing anything on net. You are also just as any other writers who do have any knowledge about the subject, neither do you consult any subject matter expert yet keep on writing anything on the net. If you wana know the truth and have a serious discussion on this, you are welcome.

Udai

Dear Udai,

Thanks for your note. If you read the article, you would have understood that in no way do I suggest that Mars One is associated with NASA. Not only that, I explicitly write about my own and several other people’s scepticism about Mars One, including one scientist who is working on a project for NASA’s own Mars mission. The whole article was actually stimulated by Bhatia’s very interesting reaction to being shortlisted by Mars One — again, as you will see if you read the article.

best wishes,
dilip

Hey

I came to this page to write approximately the same comment as Udai Bhanu had above, and see that this conversation’s already taking place. I accept freely that your piece is aimed primarily at the human interest angle (and that aspect is indeed fascinating).

But I think it’s necessary to point out that the level of “skepticism” on the mars one project seems far in excess of what I remember taking away from your article (I read this in the magazine a month ago, and I didn’t take away the idea of “pie-in-the-sky-scam”, I took away uncertainty of a gigantic project)

Which is why I think http://andrewgelman.com/2015/12/15/mars-1-this-american-life-0/ would be an addition to the conversation. Also, seems as if NPR was taken in as well, and they live in the same country. :-).