Astronaut Candidate Josh Richards: To Infinity And Beyond

He’s a Physicist, An Explosives Engineer, A Soldier, A Stand-Up Comedian AND an Astronaut Candidate for MARS ONE. Yep, Josh Richards is no ordinary guy…

In the last decade he’s picked up booby traps for the Australian Army, slogged through mud with the British Commandos, used napalm in a music video for U2, been a science advisor to the richest contemporary artist in the world, and performed with some of the world’s top comedians while wearing a giant koala suit to confused audiences from Los Angeles to Edinburgh.

Josh found his true calling in late 2012 when he discovered the Mars One project. Selected from over 200,000 initial applicants, Josh is now one of 100 worldwide astronaut candidates short-listed to leave Earth forever and become the first to colonise Mars in 2025.

When he shared his story with 3,000 young leaders at The National Young Leaders Day event in March, you can only imagine some of the questions students had for him. Josh was kind enough to continue to answer some further questions following the event so that we can continue to learn more about why he loves to learn and experience things that some of us would only dream of…

Do you have to go through NASA to be able to go to Space?

NASA is just one of many government space agencies around the world - there's also the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and the Chinese National Space Agency to name just a few. They all send people into space, but besides having the right qualification you also need to have that country's citizenship to become an astronaut for them (American to join NASA, European to join ESA, etc.).

However, for people born in countries that don't have a space agency there are now lots of private companies that will be sending people to space. Mars One is a private company trying to send people of any nationality to Mars, but most others aren’t trying to send you one-way to Mars. Space officially starts at 100km up, so companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and XCOR all want to send people on "Sub-orbital" flights, where they launch in a small but powerful rocket, go up to about 110-120km, experience 5-6 minutes of weightlessness, then fly back to Earth again. Other companies like Bigelow Aerospace want to build hotels in space that people can stay in.

So there's lots of ways to work in the space industry and get to space, and there's nothing stopping you from starting your own space company - with all the funding and support available, Australia is currently one of the best places in the world to try and to start a small space company.

Did you ever think about staying in the Commandos instead of becoming a comedian and eventually an astronaut?

Leaving the Royal Marine Commandos was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, but I've never looked back. I learnt so much about who I am during my training with them, and have the utmost respect for the guys who went on to earn their green commando beret and serve in places like Afghanistan. There were some horrible things that happened during training that made me start to question whether or not I still wanted to be there. A deer tick bit me during a training exercise; I was infected with Lymes disease, nearly died, and spent 10 weeks recovering in a rehabilitation unit. Those 10 weeks of recovery were much slower paced, and gave me a lot more time to really think about what I was doing. My Dad had been in the Australian Army for a long time and been very good at his job, and I was scared of letting him down. Soon enough I realised he just wanted me to be happy and I decided to throw myself into something I really loved - comedy. I'd barely laughed in the 8 months I'd spent with the commandos, and it was a great way to deal with some of the things that happened. But if you go back to my childhood, even before I wanted to be like my Dad in the Army, I'd wanted to be an astronaut! And now I can be.

What are you most looking forward to doing and seeing on Mars?

Red skies and blue sunsets! It's also going to be pretty incredible learning about Mars's geological history, searching for microbial life, and living in 38% Earth gravity. My biggest interest however is setting up a permanent sustainable colony so that people who arrive in the future have it much easier, and even be use Mars as an interplanetary pit-stop before going on to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, or even beyond our Solar System.

Playing ukulele on another planet is going to be pretty cool too.

What made you decide to sign up for a one-way mission to Mars?

I was writing a comedy show about how we should have colonised Mars 20 years ago by going there one-way, angry and frustrated that the US had the opportunity to build on the momentum and public excitement for space that happened with the Apollo program to the Moon. I felt frustrated that even if NASA had continued on from the Moon to Mars, you'd still have to become an American citizen to become an astronaut. And then as soon as I started researching my show I found a company who said they were going to do it, and that anyone from any country could apply to go as long as they were over 18... I HAD to apply. 

This mission (and the ones that follow it) will radically redefine how we see ourselves as a species. People will remember it for generations - not necessarily as individuals, but that we as a species went to another planet to live and explore. It's not important if I go or not - what's important is that someone goes. And the best way I could support the permanent colonisation of Mars was to volunteer to be one of the people who went.


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