In the spring of 2013, the company Mars One
began accepting applications for a one-way trip to Mars. The plan, scheduled tentatively for 2023, was to launch four astronauts to the Red Planet where, due to technological limitations, they would have to spend the rest of their lives. More than 200,000 people applied for the job, but the company has since narrowed search to 1,058 candidates.
November 2014 issue of Popular Science, our writer explores the question, “ Who on Earth would sign up to die on Mars?” We interviewed some of the candidates who made the first cut, to find out why they’re willing to go, what they hope to achieve, and what they’ll miss most from Earth.
How do you explain your departure to your loved ones? How did early pioneers justify their expedition to the New World? Opportunity? Curiosity? Spirit? It’s no coincidence that those are the names of three Mars rovers. What won’t you miss? I don’t think I would miss mosquito bites, billboards, or resistance from those who disagree that human expansion in space is crucial to our survival as a species. If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? While it would be enough for me to know I had a small, early role in what might one day lead to the terraforming of Mars, I would also love to plant the first geocache on Mars, as a small homage to Richard Garriott de Cayeux, who did the same thing on the International Space Station! What do you hope the Mars One Mission will achieve? Thanks to Mars One, human occupation of Mars is having a significant moment in the public spotlight. Even if the Mission fails, it will have accomplished something extraordinary – narrowing the gap between science fiction and science, and elevating this conversation to a global scale. What do you personally hope to achieve? My goal is to support the democratization of space, the expansion of Earth’s economic sphere, and mankind’s ever-reaching journey in space. I’m grateful to Mars One for providing a platform to speak out about the necessity of human expansion in space.
What will you bring with you? In 1996, Carl Sagan recorded a message to future explorers on Mars. I think it’s fitting that we take it with us to remind us why we are there when the going gets tough and to remember the dreamers who worked tirelessly to get us there. **What will you miss most? ** Change. I’m always blown away by how much the world has changed even over the two decades I’ve been around. When you see how quickly we adopt new inventions into our lives, I can’t help but wonder what we’ll miss out on once on Mars… What won’t you miss? Money. For a long time, there will be no concept of wealth on Mars, as the small community will simply provide whenever anyone needs something. You’re on Mars because you have a useful skill set, you provide for the group and in turn the group provides for you. What will you do to pass the time on Mars? Bored on Mars? But there’s so much to do! For any spare leisure time, I would probably catch up with events on Earth (we will have a TV, albeit with a 20 or so minute delay) or download and read a book on an e-reader. If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? I’d like to investigate the depths of the Valles Marineris canyon system and old lava tubes, searching for evidence of past (or present) microbial life. What do you hope will change here on Earth by the time you die on Mars? Life expectancy on Earth is improving dramatically, and there’s been some promising research on stopping (or even reversing) the aging process. It would suck to be on Mars if people on Earth have an immortality pill, so hopefully you’ll ship a few over!
What will you miss most? Intimacy — the kind of intimacy that is found between a couple of old friends sharing a coffee along with a laugh or a cry together, or cooking a meal with friends before lounging on the sofa for a DVD marathon. Intimacy is part of the glue of personal resilience. What will you have for your last meal on Earth? And your first meal on Mars? The last meal on Earth will be breakfast as space missions tend to launch in the morning, so I would love it to be a mug of rich, dark hot chocolate accompanied by a plate of crumpets dripping in butter and honey. The first meal on Mars will be non-perishable rations. If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? Cross country ski on Martian snow. It ‘snows’ powdered CO2 on Mars on occasion; and although not wet enough to make snowballs out of, it could be possible that we may be able to ski on it! What do you hope the Mars One Mission will achieve? Human settlement on Mars will help us understand the origins of the solar system, of life and our place in the universe. As with the 1969 lunar landing, the Mars One mission will inspire generations to believe that all things are possible, anything can be achieved. What do you personally hope to achieve? I would like to inspire more young girls to believe that they too can do something extraordinary with their lives, and follow their dreams. I also hope that our living experiment of sustainability demonstrated by the mission will help others to find ways of living a more sustainable life.
How do you explain your departure to your loved ones? I say, “I’ll miss you very much. Very much. But this is history in the making … the bravest new world that ever was. It’s the chance of a lifetime to be a part of this story as it unfolds, and I want to be there.” What will you miss most? Earthly adventures. Being able to throw on a wet suit and goggles and snorkel in places like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s bittersweet to imagine never doing things like that again. What will you have for your last meal on Earth? And your first meal on Mars? One last Christmas dinner: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, squash, green beans — the whole nine yards. Plus a glass of good Canadian white wine. My first meal on Mars? Something tasteless from a tin can that opens with a key… and a Mars Bar for dessert, of course. What will you do to pass the time on Mars? Stare in wide-eyed wonder at the magnificence of the Universe around us and write about it. Then do the laundry. I think there’ll be a lot of laundry. What do you hope the Mars One Mission will achieve? I hope the Mars One Mission will show the world what it means to be a true pioneer. Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors left everything they knew and loved to colonize a new world. They had the courage to use their lives for the common good. We’re about to do the same thing in space.
If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? I would begin planning for the first industrial operations. The Martian regolith is rich in industrial metals, and the ability to extract them will be essential in a few decades when the colony needs to begin expanding. There is also something very poetic to me about a Martian steel mill. What will you miss most? Oceans and forests. They’ll be on Mars someday, but I won’t live to see them. What won’t you miss? Crowds. Hell is too many people. What do you hope the Mars One Mission will achieve? I hope it will serve as a reminder to people that there is something outside of Earth. I think everyone knows intellectually that Earth is a tiny part of a much larger universe, but people don’t tend to think about that in their day-to-day lives. A colony on Mars would be a reminder that was impossible to ignore. What do you personally hope to achieve? If I can die of natural causes with a bigger, more self sufficient, and more populous colony than when I started, then I will be happy with my achievements.
If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? I’ve always wanted to dunk a basketball. With the lower gravity on Mars, I bet I could dunk a basketball. What will you miss most? My husband Ron. He’s my best friend. He told me about Mars One in a email that said: “I don’t want you to but…but I’d feel like a lousy husband if I knew about this and didn’t at least send you a link.” If that isn’t true love I don’t know what is. What won’t you miss and why? Irrationality. I’d like to see a society based on the scientific method and evidence-based practice. What do you hope will change here on Earth by the time you die on Mars? When I die on Mars in 2068 at age 100, I hope Earth kids won’t know what a gasoline pump is. No matter when I die, I hope Earth will respond not by retreating back into our one-planet grave, but by envisioning the time I lived off-planet as a record to be surpassed by the next person sent to explore our solar system, and beyond.
What will you miss most? Aside from friends and family, I’ll miss the sensations, sights, sounds, and smells of Earth: the feeling of a cool breeze through my hair, the feeling of walking barefoot in the grass or at the beach– sand in between my toes, the gentle ebb and flow of the salty ocean. I’ll miss the rumbling thunder, crashing lightning, the visual lightshow in a good thunderstorm, the smell of rain, and colorful sunrises and sunsets. I’ll also miss snuggling with my dog and passion fruit iced tea from Cheesecake Factory! If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? The thing I’d most want to do on Mars is EXPLORE! I know because of temperatures and solar radiation, our time “outside” will be very limited, but I simply would want to walk, explore, observe and study geologic formations, soil composition, etc. If I could choose a completely crazy, impractical thing to do, it would be to hang glide around Mars!
What will you bring with you? I wish I could bring my cat — he always makes me happy and it will be great stress relief for the whole crew. But if serious, I would bring photos of my loved ones and a hard-drive with thousands of books and music. **What will you miss most? ** I will miss the wind playing with my hair and smell of nature. The atmosphere on Mars is deadly for humans, so if we try to get some fresh air without spacesuits, it will be the last thing we did. How do you explain your departure to your loved ones? There are many different people out there, some want to live in one city and change nothing, some conquer the highest mountains, the deepest oceans. If you have a dream, not following it would be a crime! If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be? Find rovers Curiosity or Opportunity and let them make a picture of me as a first intelligent life on Mars. But if serious I will find caves and explore them. They might hide a lot of discoveries. Maybe we will find some kind of biological life there. What do you hope will change here on Earth by the time you die on Mars? In 50 to 70 years I hope to see young people visiting Mars and going farther to explore other planets. The flight from Earth to Mars should be as easy and affordable as a flight from Moscow to New York!
Sue Ann Pien
What will you do to pass the time on Mars? I started a list for this already: Write fiction books, make awesome film clips, learn foreign languages, read a lot of books, figure out what took out the atmosphere on Mars, study radiotrophic fungi, go cave-exploring for any signs of life in the briny run-offs, invent things, and lots and lots of plant cultivating. Also, writing love letters to my friends and family on Earth. What will you bring with you? Music. Lots of Music! I learned from backpacking in Asia for many months that it was very hard for me to be without it for a long time. I ended up buying my own Walkman and cassette tapes just to have it. If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be and why? Climb Olympus Mons in 38% gravity! What do you hope to achieve? My wish is to preserve a pristine Earth with all its natural beauty for future off-planet generations of humans to visit as a living library. What do you hope will change here on Earth by the time you die on Mars? The end of all wars as we look outward towards space in the next chapter of humanity.
**What will you have for your last meal on Earth? And your first meal on Mars? ** Last meal on Earth: astronaut ice cream on the launch pad. First meal on Mars: astronaut ice cream at landing site.
What will you bring with you? A video camera to record the experience. What will you do to pass the time on Mars? Easy. Work to build the habitat and greenhouse. Make videos of everything that is going on, tweet to Earth. Write and read books, watch movies, play games with people on Earth. If you could do any one thing on Mars, what would it be and why? Go find the Viking lander. I’m a history buff.