Dubai resident Khalid Al Jaaidi has been shortlisted along with 1,057 others for an ambitious one-way trip to Mars in 2025. The 21-year-old Yemeni graphic designer was picked from nearly 200,000 hopefuls to make it to the list, which will now be whittled down further in the quest to establish the red planet’s first human settlements. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
A comfortable life in Dubai is everybody’s envy. Why are you giving it all up for a one way trip to Mars?
Exploration and curiosity are the major factors that influenced my decision. One of the saddest facts I had to grow up to is that every surface land of Earth has been discovered. The age of venturing into the unknown to find what God has laid out there is gone. So my heart was naturally racing to the fact that space exploration is the new form of exploration, and it’s happening in the next decade, and I could be a part of it. I can think of nothing more exciting than this. Not just that, it’s a mission for all of us. Mankind as a whole will benefit from it. I see space travel becoming a luxury travel trip in another 10-20 years, becoming more affordable as time goes by.
You are among the thousand odd people chosen from 200,000 applicants to be part of Earth’s first colony on another planet. Why do you think you were selected?
I believe I was chosen based on a certain level of resilience, seamless adaptability, curiosity in all that’s around me and creativity as a means of being resourceful. And a sense of humour that I will share with a few other people daily for a very long time.
What was your family’s reaction when they learnt about your plan?
The first day [December 30], I got the email I shared a screenshot of it on my WhatsApp family group. For a week or so everybody thought I was joking. Later I had long discussions with my dad. He’s fine with it, but said it all depends on what I was willing to give up. That said, he still has a hard time believing it’s possible.
My mom said ‘with all your crazy plans, this is by far the craziest’, she couldn’t believe it and told me to ‘keep dreaming’. I don’t think it has sunk in yet.
How does it feel to live with the fact that you will be severing ties with your loved ones?
That is probably the hardest psychological challenge. Everything in life is replaceable, all the commodities, comfort, technology, etc. Except your ties with the people who matter in your life.
What do your friends have to say about your Mars mission?
Most of them are happy, just as excited, and supportive. I’m lucky to have such friends. My favourite story is about a close friend from high school. He keeps telling me to change my mind, tempting me with different things to let go of my plan, until one day he said, “Don’t go, and I’ll get you all the Mars bars, Bounty, Twix and Galaxy that you want”. But he does give me that all important alternative perspective too. We’re still close friends.
How are you preparing?
I am preparing myself psychologically. How will I live without all the things we usually take for granted? Things don’t seem the same or permanent anymore, the only constant in our lives is change. I’m soaking up as much information as I can about Mars, and Mars One mission. I’m also getting back to the gym after a one-year break. My boss has been very supportive. He has given me a time slot everyday during work hours to pop into the building’s gym upstairs.
What will do on Mars?
We will be mainly involved in constructing the base, expanding, growing our food, researching, sending vital data back to Earth base. In the base, we will be able to do pretty much everything you can do here indoors. And yes, we will have internet connections too.
2025 is still far away. What if you fall in love before that?
I’ve already fallen in love with Mars. Haha! On a serious note, that’s something that doesn’t knock on your door, it happens. The only way for me to get into marriage is if I’ll be allowed for the Mars mission.
Do you have second thoughts?
Sometimes. Especially when I’m in the company of loved ones. If I’m ever to back out, it would be for them. Otherwise, I’m locked in. Whenever I’ve second thoughts, I remind myself of my passion for the stars, Mars, and the dream of exploration.
What on Earth/Dubai will you miss most in Mars?
My mom’s creme’ caramel dessert.
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