A 32-year-old financial planner may possibly be the first Egyptian to go to Mars. Out of over 200 thousand applicants, Mohammed Sallam, and 99 others from around the world were shortlisted by the Mars One organisation which plans to send 24 people to Mars to create a human settlement there. Sallam spoke with eniGma’s Mohamad Nagi about his hopes, dreams, and fears of the first manned mission to Mars.
What makes you so interested in going to Mars?
There must be a reason planets exist, and I’m really curious to find out what that is. I’ve been into astronomy since I was a little kid. In 2011 I got a telescope, and as soon as I saw the moon and the stars, I realised I wanted to do something related to astronomy. I found Mars One by chance, and it was a no-brainer. You know when you’ve been living in a house for a number of years, and there is a door that you’ve always known about but never opened? Well, now we need to take that step. If we find any life on Mars, even a microbe for example, then this would mean there are other forms of life there or on other planets. Even if we don’t find anything on Mars, that’s also a discovery. It will allow people to focus on something else. By discovering nothing you’re still discovering something.
Is it so easy for you to leave this world?
I can’t tell yet because I’ve never done this before. I can’t even imagine my last day on Earth. But deep down inside I know this is what I want to do, because the goal is just worth the risk. I want to be part of this legacy. Even if we don’t make it, just by trying my name and that of Egypt will be part of history. I know it’s going to be difficult and terrifying. But if it’s going to be done anyway, I might as well be part of it.
What are you going to miss the most?
It’s not just one thing, it’s a package that I’m going to miss. I’m going to miss my family, my friends, my whole life. I’ll miss the people, the smells. I’m going to miss animals the most. It’s going to be a long time before I see another animal. But it’s worth it, totally.
How do you think this will make a difference to you, or the world?
On a personal level I’m going to enjoy every bit of it, even if I don’t land on Mars. But for the world, everyone is going to benefit, especially the space companies. Once a human lands on another planet, more investors and researchers will be interested in the topic. It will be the talk of the millennium. I want Egypt to be involved. I want to spread awareness about space travel in Egypt from now until 2024. If we don’t enter the field of space research, then everyone will benefit except us.
When will the final participants be chosen, and what will they be doing until take-off time?
This summer all the 100 applicants are going to meet. We will be divided into groups and will perform group challenges. Each crew, which is about 10 to 15 participants, will also spend 10 days in an isolation chamber for psychological assessment. After this, Mars One will choose the final 24 applicants who will actually become astronauts. These will undergo training, and will get paid. There have to be 12 doctors and 12 engineers; that’s why the astronauts will be studying to obtain PhDs in these fields during these eight years. I still haven’t decided if I will become a doctor or an engineer if I’m chosen.
What scares you the most about this entire process?
Right now, my fear is that I don’t make it to be one of the chosen 24. After that, my fear would be having to drop out due to some uncontrollable circumstances.