Four fearlessly ambitious Minnesotans have an out-of-this-world dream that could potentially land them as one of the few to live on planet Mars come 2024.
Paul Larson, 45, of New Hope; Chad Schilling, 37, of Eden Prairie; Catherine Johnson, 61, of Excelsior; and Jackson Kisling, 37, of Woodbury have officially survived the first phase of an extensive application process.
Paul Larson’s story
But why leave behind family, friends, a career and established life on Mars?
Larson, a paid-on-call firefighter for West Metro Fire-Rescue District and stay-at-home dad, is one of the few Minnesotans moving on to round two of the application process.
With a wife of 24 years, a 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, his decision was not made easily.
He learned about the Mars One mission during his last year of college – Larson had returned to school several times throughout adulthood eventually earning a Master of Education degree with a focus on science education. The mission to Mars was one he simply could not pass up.
“I have this grandiose idea of changing the world,” he said.
After finishing his undergrad at St. Cloud State University, Larson was asked to run the school’s planetarium. When giving one of his last presentations to a group of young children, a four-year-old girl asked him how baby stars grow. A huge question from such a little person, but it sparked a desire in Larson that would lead him to, well, potentially Mars.
“From a beautiful, innocent, naïve little person wanting to understand the universe around her,” he said. “That is what it amounts to: I want to excite young people about math, science, astronomy, cosmology, planetology, Mars. I would like to be an ambassador for Mars. I would like to engage the public in the benefits of space exploration for individuals, for groups, for nations, for all of humanity. I would like to change the world.”
While the idea of never again seeing his loved ones face-to-face is a heartbreaking one, Larson believes the mission is one that is larger than himself or anyone for that matter.
“The impact on me, resulting from forever being away from my family, is lessened with the knowledge that humanity can work together to solve the problems facing our world,” he said. “The impact on me is lessened knowing the goals and objectives of the Mars mission will benefit generations to come long after my family and I are gone.”
Initially the thought of Larson actually leaving to live on Mars seemed highly unlikely.
“I was kind of indifferent about the whole thing,” said Alese, Larson’s wife. “My thought was the likeliness of him actually going to Mars would be right up there with winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning.”
But when Larson was chosen as one of roughly 1,000 to move on in the application process, the idea became much more real for the family.
We weren’t getting too worked up about the possibility of me actually going,” Larson said. “But, now that I am advancing to the next round … things just got real.”
Alese agrees saying the odds of Larson moving to Mars just increased significantly. The couple has since had a serious conversation with their two children regarding the possibility of Larson’s departure.
Larson now looks forward to the next round of the process.
“I know I am a perfect candidate for this mission and it is now my goal to ensure the Mars One Selection Committee sees that as well,” he said. “I think that is what makes my wife nervous; she knows I am a perfect candidate too.”
To be one of the first human beings to occupy Mars would be a dream come true for Larson.
“The world needs a change; our children are going to make that change and it is through science that change will be made,” he said.
As for his ultimate goal on Mars?
Aside from the functional tasks necessary to survive, Larson hopes to be “the coolest science teacher from out of this world.”
Chad Schilling’s story
Schilling, a quality assurance manager and bachelor, first heard about the mission through a friend on social media.
Like Larson, the decision was not one that was easily made as Schilling would be leaving behind his beloved parents, brother and many friends.
“I am not leaving to escape Earth or society as a whole,” Schilling said. “My family and friends mean the world to me. With 1,000 plus potential candidates and the magnitude of challenges that need to be overcome to even make this mission a reality, it’s difficult to entirely accept yet. However, as the candidate rounds proceed and the necessary science, technology and planning emerge, it will become more and more real.”
While it is a bit shocking and scary to have made it into the pool of candidates to move forward, Schilling is excited to see it through.
“I can’t help but feel honored and more than a little humbled by making it this far,” he said.
Schilling says the mission is one that is necessary.
“I believe such an endeavor to be essential to our growth as a species,” he said. “If there is even a remote chance for me to be a part of that, it’s worth the necessary effort and sacrifice.”
To say that being chosen would be a dream come true is an understatement for Schilling.
“It would certainly be a major shock for me,” he said. “The point when my imagination and dreams would merge with reality. The greatest adventure yet and I’d be on the frontlines; the chance to touch another world and to call it home.”
While Larson and Schilling are growing increasingly excited as they move closer to their Mars dream, there is much progress to be made before the dream can be made a reality.
Catherine Johnson was also contacted but failed to respond in time for this publication.
Selection and training
Mars One, a nonprofit created with the intent to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, was founded in 2011. After much research and study the organization launched its Astronaut Selection Program in April 2013.
The organization received an overwhelming response with 202,586 individuals coming from all walks of life and every corner of the globe.
Members of the organization had the grueling task of eliminating more than 200,000 applicants after just the first round. The group was able to narrow the list to include 1,058 candidates from 107 countries.
The candidates will endure technical, personal and group training before the finalists are selected. The mission requires that two individuals be skilled in use and repair of equipment, two will have medical training, one who will understand Mars geology and one to study the biology of alien life.
Preparations are expected to occupy all of their time between being admitted to the program and their launch to Mars.
For the four Minnesotans still in the running the next phase of the application process will include a full medical physical exam followed by face-to-face interviews with members of the organization.
If any happen to move beyond round two of the process they would then go through the regional selection round where 20-40 applicants participate in challenges to demonstrate their suitability. This round may be aired on TV and internet allowing the audience to choose one winner while the organization selects the others.
The final round would be held as an international event broadcast worldwide. Candidates will be divided into groups of four. The groups will demonstrate their ability to live in Mars’ harsh environments as well as work together in challenging circumstances.
Before sending any human beings to the red planet, the organization plans to conduct cargo missions to prepare a habitable settlement. These unmanned missions will construct the outpost where those who are chosen will live and work.
Of the 202,586 individuals who initially applied for the mission, only 24 will be given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live on Mars –for now anyway.
Six groups of four individuals will be sent to Mars in two-year intervals with the first group scheduled to leave in 2024.
The mission is costly. Mars One estimates the cost of putting the first group on Mars at $6 billion, which includes the hardware, operational costs and margins. For every manned mission afterward, they estimate the cost ringing in at $4 billion.
The trip from Earth to Mars takes roughly seven months.
Selected individuals will land on Mars and begin to form a colony. The settlement will expand and develop as individuals become familiar with their surroundings.
Their living quarters will be a unique, inflatable living section which must be air-locked each time the individual arrives or leaves the settlement.
As is the Mars atmosphere is not suitable for human life. Humans will need to wear a protective full-body suit similar to those worn by the astronauts who walked the moon.
The atmosphere is not suitable because the air is too thin, too much carbon dioxide with not enough oxygen and temperatures can drop terribly low during winter months (-160 degrees Fahrenheit has been detected).
Much like on Earth, individuals will spend time working as well as enjoying leisure time. Work will consist of construction, maintenance and research.
Individuals living on Mars will have the ability to converse with family and friends on Earth by video, voice or text messaging but the delay will range between three and 22 minutes making it impossible to conduct real time dialogue.
• Mars’ soil contains water to extract
• It is not too cold nor too hot
• There is enough sunlight to utilize solar panels
• Gravity on Mars is 38 percent that of Earth. It is believed the human body can adapt to such gravity.
• It has an atmosphere – although a thin one – that offers protection from cosmic and the Sun’s radiation
• The day and night rhythm is similar to Earth’s. A day on Mars lasts 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds.
While there are endless questions that can be asked about this ambitious adventure to Mars, it is impossible to know all the answers until humans physically touch ground on Mars.
For more information about Mars One and their mission visit mars-one.com
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]