Vision: An artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft. Photo: Reuters
Michael Tamits hasn't done much travel; the furthest he's been is the Gold Coast. Understandably then, the 18-year-old Adelaide student is pretty excited about a little interplanetary jaunt he's got planned for 2023 - a 225-million-kilometre one-way space trip to a place called Mars.
''How could you not be excited?'' Mr Tamits asks. ''This is without doubt the most ambitious life endeavour known to man.''
I'd rather die looking upon Earth from outer space than to be on my deathbed thinking I could have had my chance.Michael Tamits
Mr Tamits is one of 78,000 people worldwide - scores of them Australian - who have applied to become part of Mars One, a Dutch-led initiative to establish a human colony on Mars by 2023.
"The one-way aspect is a bit scary:" Michael Tamits. Photo: David Mariuz
Founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, the project aims to spend $6billion transporting rovers and supplies ahead of the humans, who will arrive every two years in groups of four, two men and two women, ideally. By the mid 2030s, there should be 24 to 40 people on the red planet, playing Scrabble and doing the dishes.
''The one-way aspect is a bit scary,'' Mr Tamits says. ''But when you think on the grand scale - the knowledge we will learn from it and the sense of accomplishment - it would be a worthy sacrifice.''
Mr Lansdorp has set up the Mars One Foundation to raise funds. (Candidates also pay a $30 application fee.) But the bulk of the money will come via the search for colonists, the final rounds of which will be a broadcast as a reality TV show next year.
Wussy Earthlings need not apply. The winners will be subjected to eight gruelling years of astronaut training in the US, where they will learn dentistry, emergency medicine, engineering, biology and mechanics.
The journey will take seven months (no showers, wet wipes only). Upon arrival they will be confronted by a waterless wasteland, ravaged by dust storms and radiation. Such is the distance to Earth that the best possible video call will have a seven-minute delay.
Not that this has put off expat Paul Leeming. ''To inspire humanity to push further and further out, so that we may finally be able to call ourselves an interplanetary species, that's what motivates me,'' says the 40-year-old, who is working as a film director in Tokyo. He says he was trained by the air force and was an airline pilot in Papua New Guinea. He is not afraid of the journey, nor of not seeing friends and family again.
''What I fear, if you can call it that, is that we, as a species, take the safe road and don't try to exceed our limits.''
Mr Tamits is similarly philosophical. ''I'd rather die looking upon Earth from outer space than to be on my deathbed thinking I could have had my chance.''