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Meet Lekha Menon, selected for future mars exploration expedition

Indian-origin academician Lekha Menon, professor at Cork’s (in Ireland) University College has been selected for a future mars exploration expedition by Mars One. She talks about the project, her selection and more. Excerpts from an interview.

education Updated: May 12, 2015 18:00 IST
Gauri Kohli
Lekha-Menon-professor-at-Ireland-s-University-College-Cork
Lekha-Menon-professor-at-Ireland-s-University-College-Cork

Indian-origin academician Lekha Menon, professor at Cork’s (in Ireland) University College has been selected for a future mars exploration expedition by Mars One. She talks about the project, her selection and more. Excerpts from an interview.

Tell us about yourself.

My home town is Kerala but I was born and brought up in Coimbatore. I completed my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from PSG College of Arts and Science and went on to complete my master’s degree from the same college. Thereafter, I moved to Bangalore to work as a biochemist. I joined University College Cork in Ireland, in October 2008, to pursue my doctoral degree in microbiology (specialisation in marine biotechnology) and graduated in June 2013. I also worked as a postdoctoral researcher for two months (October-December 2014) at the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the university and am currently looking for postdoc positions at the same university.

Tell us about your selection for the Mars exploration expedition.

The Mars One announcement was made in 2013 when I was taking a break in India. The first round was writing a motivational letter, questionnaire and a profile video telling why I would like to go to Mars and so on. Around 2,00,000 applicants had applied and I was one among 1050 applicants who got selected for the next round. I was one among 705 candidates who was selected for the interview round.

What is the Mars One project all about?

Project Mars One is starting a human civilisation on the red planet, Mars. It was started by Mars One, which comprises scientists, engineers and other experts from countries such as the US, Canada and The Netherlands. I just know that it is going to be one big adventure. It is never going to be an easy one (like a flight travel from India to Ireland or vice-versa). It definitely involves risk so I am hoping for the best.

When we can travel anywhere around earth, why go for a space holiday to Mars?

It is a one-way trip so far. In future, if the technology develops there can be a possibility for a two-way trip. It is basically starting from scratch. The available components will be delivered to the candidates using different payloads. The first trip to Mars (carrying four candidates) is expected to commence in 2024 and will last for seven to eight months. Every two years from then on, the other candidates would travel until all the 24 candidates reach Mars. The first four would prepare for the next four and so on. An entire human colony would be set up in few years time. The candidates would do research such as collection of samples using the tools provided to them by the payloads and then the data would be sent down to earth through communication satellites for further analysis. Humans would also communicate, watch movies and lead a normal life just like humans on earth.

How can scientists play a role in the mission’s success?

Engineers and scientists can be an asset for this mission. They can help in developing and building useful payloads for helping the candidates on Mars. Moreover, they can also be a great help by way of collecting the samples and conducting data analysis etc. They can also be very useful by improving the already existing technology which could be beneficial for both the candidates and the people on Eerth.

Your motivation to be a part of this project?

Being a researcher myself, my motivation was the recent information collected by the Curiosity Rover which sparked an interest in me. Explaining the scientific developments to the young scientists would definitely inspire them to explore other career such as space science. It would be very helpful even discussing the various skills required for taking a career in space such as persistence, risk taking, confidence etc.