His name is Josh Richards. He's a former soldier, a stand-up comedian and a physicist. He's also one of the 100 people shortlisted to be an astronaut candidate for Mars One, the international not-for-profit coalition determined to launch a mission to colonise Mars.
Recently Gizmodo Australia asked Richards about the parallels between exploration and virtual reality, and the Mars One candidate was pretty clear: VR's great, but it's only a piece of the puzzle, not the whole kit and caboodle.
"Virtual reality and robotic missions are fantastic ... but they're only part of the picture," Richards told Gizmodo. It's essential to have robots particularly to explore areas where it may not be safe for human traversal.
But humans can be lot more durable — and efficient — than their robotic counterparts, which puts a dent in the virtual reality's utility as a tool for exploration. "A human can walk over to a rock, easily notice differences in it’s geology, and then decide if it’s worth collecting a sample for analysis – a process that could take weeks with an Earth-controlled robot on Mars," Richards said.
Humans also have a massive advantage over their robotic counterparts when it comes to versatility. Robots don't have the capacity to perform tasks beyond their parameters or capabilities, but the Mars One candidate noted that humans would be able to fix or find a workaround for a problem. "Robots and virtual reality are great ways to learn more about our universe, they should always be an extension of human exploration — not a replacement for it."
You can read more about Richards' experience preparing and planning for the Mars One program, which includes what foods and activities he will miss, what the living quarters on Mars One would be like, preparing for a one-way trip off Earth and the feeling of weightlessness, over at Gizmodo Australia.