Would you be willing to spend the rest of your life on Mars?

And if you did, what would it be like?

That might sound like science fiction for most people. But for two people from Ottawa the questions are very real.

One is Andrew Rader. The thirty-four year old Space Engineer consultant and MIT professor is one of thousands of people who have volunteered for the Mars One project. It’s an ambitious, international effort to put people on Mars by 2023.

The other is Elizabeth Howell. The freelance journalist and Space Studies PhD candidate has just returned from a place that’s about as close to Mars as you can get without leaving Earth – the Mars Desert Research Station in the cold, desolate hills of Utah. “It’s a place where you get to experience Mars exploration as closely as possible,” says Howell.

Administered by the Mars Society, the Research Station forces people to work and survive in a cramped, isolated environment. No one is allowed outside without donning a space suit. “It felt like a whole different world out there, so to speak,” says Howell. “Because we were in the space suits, walking around. It made the pictures look different. It made the feel different. Because you’re trying to do work in these things.”

It’s important research as people like Andrew Rader prepare for the real thing. The Ottawa native is one of around 1,000 candidates still in the running to make the trip to Mars. “Right now I’m in the process of going a medical, which is very similar to the astronaut recruitment medical and also an interview,” says Rader.

The difference between going to a simulated Mars and the real thing is that the real trip is one way. If Rader is ultimately selected to go, he isn’t coming back. “I really would go. I think it would be the greatest adventure, the greatest way you could possibly spend your life,” he says.

Rader says it’s a long shot, and not just because of the number of candidates. A lot of technology has to be designed, built and tested before anyone is going to Mars.

But Rader is willing to spend the rest of his life on Mars.

And Elizabeth Howell can give him a good idea of what it would be like.