Durham student hopes to become Mars pioneer

Hannah Earnshaw could be heading to Mars on a pioneering mission through space Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Hannah Earnshaw has spent most of her life looking to the stars. Her passion has brought her to Durham University where she is studying for a Phd in astro physics. But she hopes her enthusiasm for space will take her much further.

The 22-year-old has made it through to the last 705 candidates out of 200 thousand applicants for a place on a mission to Mars.

"I have always been amazed by how much there is to study in space," says Hannah, "and how amazing and complex and beautiful it all is.

"I am excited to be part of a big multi national, multi cultural, multi racial mission to push the boundaries of human achievement."

Mars One plans to set up a human settlement on Mars by 2014 Credit: Mars One

The organisation behind this ambitious project is Mars One. The Dutch company plans to set up a permanent human settlement on Mars by 2024.

But Mars is a very long way away. The distance can be anything from 55 million km to 400 million km, depending on how its orbit round the sun coincides with that of the Earth.

Either way, a manned voyage to the red planet would be the furthest any human has travelled from the confines of our home world.

Ever since the days of the Apollo program, which put man on the moon, Mars has been seen as the next giant leap for mankind.

There were ambitions predictions that we would see human colonies by mid '80s. But all we have managed so far are unmanned probes.

The most notable is NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which landed on the Aeolis Palus plain in August 2012. Its mission is to survey above and below the surface, and it has already sent back some images of this tantalising alien world that has captured the human imagination.

Our achievements in space are impressive, but sending robots and probes are no comparison to actually going there ourselves.

Journey to Mars will probably be a one way trip Credit: Mars One

Some say that the excitement has gone out of space exploration, but there are still those who dare to dream.

Mars One have a dream. To send 24 explorers to Mars to set up a human colony.

One their website they say: "Mars One will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Crews of four will depart every two years, starting in 2024."

They plan to launch their first unmanned mission in 2018 to begin preparing for the 'settlers'.

They have already put the call out to "join the Global Mars One Community and participate in our mission to Mars."

But there is a catch, this will be a one way trip. The spacecraft has not yet been built, but it is very unlikely it will have to capability to make it back home.

Despite the drawbacks, Hannah Earnshaw remains excited by the challenge ahead.

"I am optimistic about the mission in general," says Hannah, "which is to establish a home on another planet. And the candidates that go there will make a home for themselves, and life for themselves.

"It's not some kind of exile. It's a new start."

You can watch Richard Wilson's report below.

Images are courtesy of Mars One and the European Space Agency.