My name is Josh Richards. I’m a 29 year old Australian physicist & comedian, and an astronaut candidate to the Mars One project – aiming to be one of the first humans on Mars in 2025. I wanted to express my gratitude the huge role Zen Pencils has played so far in my journey toward living and working in space. Two years ago this month I was at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, performing my second solo festival show & my 4th year at the fringe. But I wasn’t happy. I loved making people laugh, and the reviews said I was good at it … but I never got the rush of performing other comics talked about.
Comedy was the latest in a line of marginally successful careers – studying physics and psychology at university, serving with the Aussie Army & the British Commandos, explosives engineering in the mining industry, and as a science advisor to the UK art industry – I packed it all in. But I never felt truly fulfilled by any of it. Just after the 2012 Edinburgh festival I decided to try blending science and stand-up with a comedy show about the ethics & science of sending people one-way to Mars. I’d been researching the show about five minutes before I found Mars One – an organisation planning to do exactly what I was joking about. So rather than joking about it, I applied to be one of the people to go when their astronaut applications opened in in April 2013. There’s just 705 of us worldwide still in the running now, and 24-40 will be picked in June next year to undergo 10 years of training before launching on the one-way mission in September 2024.
But I’m not sure I would have signed up to something so final (or committed as fully as I have) if a friend hadn’t introduced me to Zen Pencils, sending me Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Advice”. Hadfield may have had a clear view of what he wanted to do when he was seven, but it took me till I was 27 to work out what I really wanted.
That’s the role your work has played over the last two years for me though. I had enough close calls in the military to instinctively know nature loves courage, but it took seeing your Terence McKenna quote to kick myself into gear when I had misgivings about performing at National Science Week here in Australia instead of playing it safe with comedy in Edinburgh. I knew I had to make the leap of faith to come home and talk about space & colonising other planets.
I had to leave the girl I was madly in love with in the UK because I can do more as a science ambassador here in Australia, and it took seeing your “If you love someone, set them free” comic to remind myself how much I still love her. Without Zen Pencils, I don’t know how many more years I would have continued lost in the woods, never sure I was doing the right thing. Now I have the opportunity to be part of something truly monumental, that will forever change the way we see ourselves as a species.
I keep the Hadfield comic, Neil Armstrong’s “Giant Among Men” and Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” all framed on my office wall as reminders to push through criticism in the service of something far bigger than myself.
Even if I’m not selected as one of Mars One crew, that’s okay too because for the last year I’ve been visiting schools all over Australia to talk to kids about space & training to be an astronaut. Seeing a classroom of eyes light up when I tell them they’re growing up in the next golden age of space exploration is a far more thrilling than making hundreds laugh at some naval-gazing joke ever was. I know if someone like Andy Thomas had visited my class when I was 11 it would have changed my whole life, so right now science communication is where I belong … I just needed to try all those other things out first.
So thank you for the crucial role you’ve played. I’m meeting Chris Hadfield in Canberra this month – I’ll be getting him to sign my poster when I do
Wow, what a story. Thanks Josh, good luck in becoming one of the first humans to colonise Mars! Josh is performing his one-man show Becoming Martian in Perth this month as part of National Science Week. Chris Hadfield is touring Australia and I’m looking forward to seeing him perform in Melbourne. – Gav