Growing up, MIT analyst Yari Golden-Castaño’s mother used to tell her, “Go back to the planet where you came from!” Soon, she may get to go to the chance to go an new one. She is one of 100 finalists competing for 24 spots on the Mars One mission. The expedition is sponsored by a nonprofit whose goal is to establish a permanent human settlement on the red planet by 2027.

Mars One isn’t the only group betting on a Mars colony. On Tuesday, Elon Musk detailed his own plans to establish cities on the red planet at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. “History suggests there will be some doomsday event, and I would hope you would agree that becoming a multi-planetary species would be the right way to go,” Musk said during the event.

If Golden-Castaño is selected for Mars One, she will begin an intensive 10-year training program in 2017, with tasks ranging from physical preparation to months of isolation in the desert and Antarctica. Speaking to a crowd of students on Tuesday at Thrivals 9.0, part of IdeaFestival 2016, she said that Mars is currently the only planet inhabited solely by robots–but their work can only go so far.

“We definitely need humans on Mars. We have the determination to survive,” Golden-Castaño said during her session. Human ingenuity allows us to creatively solve problems in a way that robots simply cannot at this point in time, she added.

SEE: 3D printers in space: How the maker movement made it to the final frontier

One of the largest challenges to life on Mars would be communication. Currently, it takes at least three minutes and up to an hour to send a message to Mars.

At MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, Golden-Castaño is working on an airborne and satellite laser communication project that would allow for faster data transfer rates between Earth and Mars.

“This would be good technology to bring to Mars rather than radio communication, because we can send more information at once,” she told TechRepublic after her talk. “It would be faster to communicate with our family members back home, as well as to send research and data from Mars to Earth.”

The lab recently developed a laser communication satellite. Researchers were able to send video and data to a moving target on the moon within minutes, Golden-Castaño said.

Simply getting humans to the red planet is a major technological challenge, let alone finding ways for them to survive. It will involve building rockets and life support systems that can create oxygen from the common martian elements of carbon dioxide and argon. The settlers will also need exploration surface suits that can protect from radiation and temperatures that can get down to -200 degrees Fahrenheit. The team will also have to grow their own food.

“Whatever technologies we bring to Mars to prove that humans can survive on another planet, we can easily apply here on Earth so people can have access to drinkable water and cleaner air in places where we’re lacking those resources.”

Golden-Castaño, who is also a pilot in training, said she looks forward to exploring aviation on Mars as well.

By 2017, the Mars One project plans to select its 24 settlers. The mission will send landers, rovers, life support systems, habitats, tools, and extra food ahead of the projected launch in 2026, when the first crew is set to depart on the seven month journey to the planet.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. MIT system analyst Yari Golden-Castaño is one of 100 finalists competing for a spot on the Mars One mission, to colonize the planet by 2027.
  2. At MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, Golden-Castaño is working on an airborne and satellite laser communication project, which would shorten the time it takes to send messages between Earth and Mars.
  3. The technologies that the Mars settlers will use to access food and water can ultimately be used on Earth in areas that lack such resources.