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An Australian is Going to Die on Mars to Prove a Point About Sustainability

Dianne McGrath will go all the way to Mars to convince you to take food waste more seriously.

by Denham Sadler
Feb 19 2015, 1:28am


A visual mock-up of growing plants on Mars. Image via Mars One/Bryan Versteeg.

This week an Australian woman named Dianne McGrath reached the next stage of the Mars One program. She now has a one in four chance of being a part of a one-way mission to the red planet. The program is setting out to create the first human colony on Mars, but the Victorian has her own motives. She's planning to demonstrate how simple it is to grow sustainable food by doing it more than 200 million kilometres from Earth. Her theory is that if she can do it on Mars, we can do it in our own homes and businesses.

The call for everyday people to apply for the mission went out in early 2013, and the organisation claims that over 200,000 people responded. Of the 50 men and 50 women to make the recent third round of the program headed by a Dutch not-for-profit, seven were Australian. When she found out she was included Dianne told VICE, "Excitement is an understatement, I was jumping up and down and squealing."

Of the 100 remaining hopefuls, 24 will be selected to be sent to live and ultimately die on Mars. In a press release, Mars One said the 100 candidates were selected for their understanding of the risks involved, team spirit, and motivation to be a part of the highly ambitious expedition.

But for Dianne the motivation is less pure adventure, but rather a chance to make a point about sustainability and food wastage. She's recently completed research at Melbourne's RMIT University focusing on the hospitality sector, as well as created the website watchmywaste.com.au to show small businesses the economic and environmental impacts of wasting food. "We're trying to make businesses mindful of how much food they're throwing away," she says. After spending countless hours on Earth trying to win hearts and minds on sustainability issues, she thinks she could launch a more convincing argument on Mars.

Although is seems like a pretty drastic measure, the 45 year-old insists Mars is actually a perfect environment to demonstrate her point. "We'll be in a situation where we can't just throw waste outside," she explains. "All of the nations have signed up to a treaty [the Committee on Space Research's Planetary Protection Policy] that says we have to treat celestial bodies in the same way that we treat Antarctica."

Storable food will be waiting for them on Mars, but will only serve as emergency rations. Dianne is aiming for the team to be growing all their own food after a few months, using makeshift structures and artificial lighting. There will be about 80 square metres of room to grown plants in the original habitat. In line with her vision of a closed, self-sustaining food system, extra plants will go towards emergency rations and non-edible parts will be recycled or stored until more advanced equipment arrives.

From the outside, it might sound like a daunting challenge that could be fatal if not successful, but Dianne is optimistic. "For me personally, that's the exciting part. We can have a completely closed-loop food system. It'll be like Antarctica except there won't be regular supplies delivered, we won't have that luxury." We admire her enthusiasm, but you have to feel for someone who is already thinking of Antarctica as a luxurious.

Follow Denham on Twitter: @denhamsadler


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