Sunday, 11 January 2015

Mars One merchandise that we bought (silver coin and concept sketch poster)

Happy 2015 to everyone! :)

We had bought the silver coin in Mars One's Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign ( It arrived a few months back. I got the concept sketch poster for free, as I had submitted an entry in the Mars One university competition (for a payload on the 2018 lander). I ordered the poster in end of October 2014, and it arrived in beginning January 2015. A few pics of these two items are given below.

Mars One Silver Coin:

Mars One Concept Sketch Poster:

The following message is displayed on the poster:

"This poster is a collection of ideas, thoughts and impressions - nothing more, nothing less. Concept sketching is one of the most powerful tools in making your dream becoming a reality and sketches quickly reveal problems or solutions.

Some sketches are stillborn and some bring you into the future. By the time you read this, ten times as many sketches have been created and have probably replaced the ones you see here. But they all have one thing in common: they are supporting the effort of creating a permanent human settlement on Mars - by Mars One."

Everything is hand-drawn. The poster is signed by Bas Lansdorp (Mars One co-founder and CEO).

Cool items, both of them!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My interviews with journalists.

Being a round 2 candidate of Mars One may provide fleeting moments of fame (if that is not too strong a word) for some otherwise ordinary individuals. With the results of round 1 announced at the end of 2013, many newspapers and news channels all over the world interviewed a few round 2 candidates in their countries. Some candidates got coverage in long newspaper articles and /or TV interviews, while some got no coverage at all.

My position was in between these two extremes. While I was not featured in any interview broadcast on TV or presented in detail in a lengthy newspaper article, I did give brief telephonic or email interviews to journalists of some newspapers / magazines: The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, Mid-Day, and Sakal. of these, I was mentioned in articles in The Wall Street Journal and Sakal, and also in an article in HT Mint, though I did not get interviewed by that newspaper [they must have read the content on my online profile, and also this blog (!)]. A few people also said they saw my picture in a Mid-Day article. I tried searching on the internet, but could not find anything like it. Wish I could get a copy of the print!

The telephonic interviews went something like this:

Journalist: What do you do?

Me: I completed my bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, and worked as an engineering intern for some time. I will soon start my masters degree in mechanical or aerospace or energy engineering.

Journalist: So, Sarthak, why Mars?

Me: Well, when I got to know about this program, I got really interested in it, as it offers an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the expansion of human civilization beyond Earth. It would be amazing to be one of the first few humans to set foot on another planet.

Journalist: But it is a one-way trip, so you would not return to Earth. How does that make you feel?

Me: It is daunting, but the excitement of exploring a new world and discovering new knowledge would be much greater than the disadvantage of not returning to Earth. If I am selected and this mission is successfully launched, I would definitely be happy.

Journalist: And how did your family members and friends react to all this?

Me: They were all quite happy, and even astonished, to know that I have cleared the first round. They, like me, are hoping for the best in the second round now.

Journalist: So how are you going to prepare for the second round? What are the requirements?

Me: The second round will consist of an interview. But before that, the selected candidates have to carry out certain medical tests and submit the final medical statement to Mars One. Once that is done, the interview will take place. As of now, we have not been informed about the interview details like when and where it will take place, or what kind of questions will be asked. But I think they will want candidates who have not only physical fitness, intelligence and knowledge, but also a lot of resilience and self-discipline. Regarding my preparation, there is not much special stuff to be done right now. I just have to maintain my physical fitness, and wait for further instructions.

Wall Street Journal blog. Date: 12 May 2014.
Web URL:

Article in HT Mint. Date: 17 September 2013 (it appeared before the Round 1 results were declared). I was not interviewed, but the journalist saw my Mars One profile and also this blog!
Web URL:

Article in Sakal (Marathi newspaper) about the 5 candidates in Maharashtra (western state in India) selected for round 2 of Mars One. As listed in the article's heading, the 5 candidates are: Abhimanyu, Zareen, Anil, Sarthak and Ashish.
Date: 11 May 2014.
A few journalists also asked me to email them a few of my pics. I did that, but I could not see any article online, that had my pics. But it seems the Mid-Day newspaper did print my pic in the article, as I got to know later. If only I could see it!

So these were the interviews with journalists. Now, I am waiting for the big day: Round 2 interview with a mars One official!

Oh, and happy new year, everyone.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Mars missions! ISRO and NASA satellites successfully enter orbit, and send back interesting images.

OK, so this is not strictly about my candidature at Mars One, but it is an exciting news about exploration of Mars, so I wanted to post a bit about it.

On 22 September 2014, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft, of USA's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), successfully entered Mars orbit. Then, on 24 September 2014, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM, also informally called "Mangalyaan"), of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), successfully completed its Mars orbit insertion.

Both the orbiters aim to study the red planet. NASA's MAVEN will carry out a first study of Mars' "tenuous" upper atmosphere, and try to determine how Mars lost its atmosphere and water (presumed to once have been substantial). ISRO's MOM, on the other hand, is mostly a technology demonstrator mission, and will help in "developing technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission". It also has some science objectives, like sensing for methane on Mars (and determining whether methane, if any, is of biological or geological origin); mapping the planet's surface composition and mineralogy; study Martian upper atmosphere; etc.

I do not want to bore anyone with too many details; they can find all those from reliable sources. But it is an exciting moment, especially for India (as ISRO has a successful interplanetary mission - in the first shot). ISRO now joins NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Soviet space program, in the select group of space agencies with successful missions to Mars.

On 24 September, all Indian news channels were abuzz with this news, and it was a proud moment for the whole country. Though some people's pride skyrocketed into blatant arrogance, and on NASA's Facebook page, many Indians have now started posting about how ISRO is more advanced than NASA, just because it is the first agency to be successful on its first attempt at a Mars mission! LOL, they obviously know little. As I read in another comment, ISRO scientists and engineers have been successful not only because of their own hard and smart work, but also because they are "standing on the shoulders on giants", i.e. the first few failing missions provided us with valuable insights and learning, helping in making later missions reach success. Also, ISRO's MOM mission was successful in part due to the telemetry and tracking support from NASA's Deep Space Network stations located at Goldstone (USA), Madrid (Spain) and Canberra (Australia), and South African National Space Agency's ground station at Hartebeesthoek. Science and technology is a global endeavor, and more than arrogance or competition, we need respect and co-operation.

Anyway, the orbiters soon started beaming back interesting data. Some of images which were made public are shown below:

MAVEN spacecraft's first Mars observations, via the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument (false-color). Captured from an altitude of 36,500 km.
First Mars image released by ISRO. Captured by the Mars Colour Camera (MCC) on-board the Mars Orbiter Mission. Altitude of 7300 km; spatial resolution of 376 m.
Second Mars image released by ISRO. Captured by the Mars Colour Camera (MCC) on-board the Mars Orbiter Mission. Altitude of 8449 km. The Martian atmosphere can be seen.
First global image of Mars released by ISRO. Captured by the Mars Colour camera on-board the Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft.

Let's hope that these and other space missions are successful, and they all help us to know more about this wonderful Universe! But just imagine... If the whole world was united into a single country, with a single space agency, we would have achieved so much more... [Yeah, the world as a single nation also means a single central government, a single currency, a single set of defense forces (for maintaining "internal" disturbances), etc. And hopefully, less or no wars.]

Thursday, 4 September 2014

This blog completes a year!

Well, nothing much, but yeah, it is something... This blog was started on 2 September 2013, with my first post: "DO YOU WANNA GO TO MARS???". So it has completed 1 year and 2 days!

But I admit, my activity on this blog has been quite low, with months passing between some posts. This is only my 13th post. I will try to be more regular now.

As far as the viewer statistics go, it is not much impressive... a little over 500 views till now. But what surprises me is that a large chunk of viewers is from the USA, as shown in the all-time audience statistics section in my account...

I wonder how many people (other than myself) have actually read a full post... LOL.

Any way, I am happy that this blog has continued till now, and was not lost into oblivion because of my laziness. I hope my Mars One astronaut candidature also continues into the further rounds!

The global university competition for a payload on the 2018 Mars lander, and Mars One's request for its popularization.

As described in my last post, Mars One aims to launch a lander in 2018, that will land on Mars in 2019 and operate there for up to 1 Earth year (i.e. till 2020). It will be based on the successful 2007 NASA Phoenix lander, and its prime contractor will be Lockheed Martin. It will have 8 payloads, some of which aim to demonstrate certain key technologies necessary for a permanent human settlement on Mars. The total payload mass of 44 kg will be allocated as follows:
1. Water extraction (10 kg)
2. Soil acquisition (15 kg) 
3. Thin film solar power demonstrator (6 kg)
4. Camera system (5 kg)
5. Open for random proposals from the highest bidder (2 kg)
6. Open for random proposals from the highest bidder (2 kg)
7. Educational payload (2 kg)
8. Winning university experiment (2 kg)

The last payload will be designed and developed by the winning team of a global university competition.

On 23 July 2014, Mars One sent an email to all its astronaut candidates, part of which is shown below:

I had checked the Mars One community website (, where the competition entries were displayed. Till end-July 2014, there were less than 20 entries in this competition, which was kind of disappointing, as it was a global competition for a payload on something that would land on Mars. Any competition like this should easily attract more than 50 entries from all over the world. Of course, Mars One has its share of skeptics, who think the whole idea of a private not-for-profit organization aiming to send humans on one-way trips to Mars, is laughable. Many would consider even this 2018 lander mission as almost impossible, as it would require funds of more than a hundred US dollars, which Mars One is yet to secure. But maybe the reason for low participation in this competition was lack of advertising.

In beginning August 2014, I went to the web-page for registration in this competition. They had not mentioned the application deadline anywhere, so I emailed Mars One, inquiring about the application deadline, and also whether they could send me some posters in hard-copy (or soft-copy which I could print) that I could send to universities in India. They replied, saying that the application deadline is 31st August 2014, and though they did not have any posters, there was a lot of information in the "Request for Proposals" and the "Proposal Information Package", whose links they had provided in the email.

31 August was quite near, so if I had to advertise this competition, I had to do it soon. I thought of designing and printing the posters myself, and then sending them by speed-post to reputed Indian universities for engineering and science (e.g. Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science, National Institutes of Technology, etc.). But when I calculated the total cost of doing all this, it proved to be too much. Even if I printed the posters on ordinary A4 size paper (instead of professional poster printing on large size, as I was thinking earlier), and sent the copies to around 50 universities, the total cost would be more than Rs 2,500. That was kind of beyond my budget for this purpose. I thought of reducing the number of universities to around 10, but what would be the result in sending posters to so few universities? Finally, I decided that there was no need to actually print the posters and send those hard-copies to universities by post. It would be much quicker (and have zero cost) if I just emailed a PDF file of the poster to the universities, and requested them to take its print-out and put it up on their notice boards.

The poster I designed is shown in the image below:

In the beginning, I emailed this poster to the director of institute and head of each department in the Indian Institute of Science and the 7 old Indian Institutes of Technology (the top 8 universities in the country). But that took too much time, and I had to ensure that the emails reached all universities latest by mid-August. So for the other universities, I sent the email only to the institute directors. In all, I emailed the following 54 Indian universities:
  1. Indian Institute of Science.
  2. Indian Institutes of Technology (16 in no).
  3. National Institutes of Technology (30 in no).
  4. Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (5 in no).
  5. National Institute of Science Education and Research.
  6. Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology
I also got a print-out of the poster put up on the notice board of my college (Rizvi College of Engineering, affiliated to the University of Mumbai).

In addition, I also emailed the following 3 foreign reputed universities:
  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. California Institute of Technology
  3. University of Oxford
I wish I could email more universities, but there was not enough time. Any way, 58 universities and colleges seemed a decent enough number. If my poster inspired even a single person to participate in this competition, my effort and time invested in this task would not go to waste.

After the application deadline of 31 August 2014 passed, I saw that there were 3 entries (out of a total of 35) from the above universities! The participants and universities are listed below:
  1. Chandrakant Kaushal, from the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology.
  2. Biplob Kumar Nandy, from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali.
  3. Kartikay Tehlan, from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.
Of course, there is no way to be sure that the above 3 participants got to know about this competition from my poster... they may have got the information from some other source. But it is very much possible that they got the info from my poster which was printed and put up on the notice boards in their institutes.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mars One's 2018 unmanned mission, its crowd-funding campaign, and a personal (minor) shock...

My blog post after a long time...

I will get right to the point. Mars One aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, but before sending humans there, a lot of preparation and other work has to be done by first sending unmanned (or machine-only) missions to the red planet. The first such unmanned mission of Mars One is the "2018 lander and communication satellite".

As per Mars One's website, in 2017, Mars One will launch a lander and communication satellite that will reach Mars in 2018. The satellite will be placed into a Mars stationary orbit, enabling 27x7 communication between Earth and Mars. It would relay images, videos and other data from the Martian surface. Meanwhile, the lander will land on a suitable location on the planet's surface, and carry out demonstrations (i.e. provide proof of concept) of some technologies that are important for one-way human missions to Mars.

Mars One has not released too many details about the communications satellite. They seem to be focusing on the lander right now. Anyway, they say that design of the Mars One's lander will be based on that of the successful NASA Phoenix lander that was launched in 2007 and landed on Mars in 2008. Lockheed Martin was the prime contractor for the Phoenix mission, so it was also chosen by Mars One as the prime contractor for the 2018 mission. The lander's conceptual image released by Mars One is shown below:

In the beginning, Mars One needed Lockheed Martin to do something like a concept study for this mission. Obviously, Lockheed Martin (or any other company, for that matter) would not do it for free. I do not know the exact amount charged, or what process was followed, but the fee seemed quite a bit: Mars One organized a special "crowd-funding campaign" on the crowd-funding website, with an aim to raise US $ 400,000 by selling various kinds of merchandise (ranging from Mars One community membership for US $ 2 to launch party access for US $ 5,000). On the website, they say it is for the 2018 mission, but obviously, much more than US $ 0.4 million will be needed for the entire unmanned mission. This initial amount is probably only for the initial study(ies) carried out and report(s) submitted by Lockheed Martin. Actual construction, testing, launch and operation of the satellite and lander will cost several tens or hundreds of millions of US dollars. (Take the Indian Space Research Organisation's Mars Orbiter Mission launched in 2013, for instance. At about Rs 4.5 billion or US $ 75 million, it was called the cheapest mission yet to Mars. NASA's MAVEN mission to Mars, also launched in 2013, cost about US $ 671 million.)

Mars One's Indiegogo campaign lasted from 10 December 2013 to 9 February 2014. The total amount raised was US $ 313,744 (about 78 % of the US $ 400,000 target). As it was of the "flexible funding" type, it received all the funds it raised.

My personal experience...

Though I supported it and, like all other Mars One supporters, did my bit to popularize the crowd-funding campaign (e.g. by posting about it on Facebook, participating in the "Thunderclap" event, etc.), I had not considered making any payment to it, chiefly as I was still a student then, and not earning any money on my own. But my father, who appeared to have noticed this campaign while browsing the internet for information about Mars One, bought a silver coin worth US $ 110, and did not tell me about it till August 2014! I wish he had told me before buying it, as then I would have asked him to make the purchase through my Mars One online account. Had this been done, I would have gained 220 points (2 points for every dollar spent) and my points score would have increased from 100 (default start value for all Mars One astronaut applicants) to 320 points!! :(

("Points" in the Mars One Community Platform show the "degree of support" to Mars One, and also determine how much weight your vote will carry, in any community poll. Greater the number of points you have, the more weight your vote will carry.)

Anyway, the campaign ended in February 2014, and I guess the funds raised were quite sufficient. (Mars One had also raised funds through other merchandise sale and donations carried out on its own website, Total funds raised till end of February 2014 were more than US $ 500,000.) On 30 June 2014, Mars One released the Request for Proposals (prepared by itself) and the Proposal Information Package (prepared by Lockheed Martin) for the payloads of the 2018 Mars lander.

The 2018 lander payloads:

So, what are the payloads, you may wonder. According to Mars One's Request for Proposals, there will be 8 of them, and the total payload mass of 44 kg is to be allocated as follows:
1. Water extraction (10 kg)
2. Soil acquisition (15 kg) 
3. Thin film solar power demonstrator (6 kg)
4. Camera system (5 kg)
5. Open for random proposals from the highest bidder (2 kg)
6. Open for random proposals from the highest bidder (2 kg)
7. Educational payload (2 kg)
8. Winning university experiment (2 kg)

Of these, I was quite involved in stuff related to the last one. I will write more about it in my next blog post. (Don't want to make any post unnecessarily long or boring... Already, the number of viewers is kinda low... LOL.)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Only 705 of the 1058 Round 2 selected candidates confirm their candidature!

Mars One had asked the 1058 candidates selected for Round 2 to complete the following tasks, in order to confirm their candidature for Round 2 (the interview round):

  1. Getting certain medical check-ups done, and if found medically fit, emailing the completed medical statement to Mars One.
  2. Provide full official name and current residential address in email to Mars One.
  3. Making the Mars One applicant profile public, if not already so.

A few days back, all the Round 2  confirmed candidates got an email, mentioning how many candidates had confirmed their candidature, and also having an MS Excel file that had the list of all those confirmed candidates, showing some details like gender, country, Mars One profile web-link, etc.

A screenshot of the email that I received is shown below:

One-third of the selected candidates did not complete the above requirements!
1058 - 705 = 353 candidates!

Of course, if you are selected, but upon getting the medical check-ups done, if it is found that you are not medically fit for the mission, there is nothing much more that can be done. But all those 353 candidates were not medically unfit. Mars One said that some of them voluntarily dropped out, due to personal reasons. Also, I think the cost of medical check-ups (which varies widely from country to country) may have been prohibitive for a few applicants in certain countries (I remember reading the post of one such candidate on the Mars One - Aspiring Martians Group on Facebook). Hopefully, the cost was not too much in India, so I could afford the medical check-ups.

The voluntary withdrawals were quite a surprise. I knew some exceptions would be there, but I thought the number of people changing their mind due to personal reasons would be very less (a few tens, maybe). I was expecting at least 80 % (if not 90 %) of all selected candidates to confirm their candidature. But the actual figure is just 66.64 percent!

Many people may have applied in Round 1 with non-serious commitment. Almost everyone would love to go to Mars, but only a few would choose to go on a one-way trip to another planet, never to return to Earth. It is especially difficult for those who have small children right now: 10 years from now, when your child may be in his or her teens, and would require your financial, emotional and other support to survive in this world, you would have to be with him or her.

All this is completely understandable. But people should think about important and obvious aspects like this in the beginning itself. Why waste your time, effort and money in applying, if ultimately you will voluntarily reject the offer? In a competitive program with limited places available, your place may have gone to someone else, who would have remained committed to the program, and gladly accepted the offer. Space missions are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (some are calling the Mars One mission a "once in several lifetimes opportunity"),

Anyway, the good thing is that the majority of selected applicants confirmed their candidature, and 705 is not that small a number of candidates. Things are going to heat up now. The interviews seem a bit intimidating, but I hope to give my best shot, and see where things go.

May the best candidates go to Mars!