Six Canadians have made the short list for a chance to hitch a one-way ride to Mars. Dutch not-for-profit foundation Mars One has narrowed candidates for its mission to the red planet down to 100 from an initial pool of more than 200,000. Once the final 24 civilians are selected, Mars One will send groups to settle on Mars every two years, starting in 2024. The first flight, carrying a group of four, will cost $6-billion. Karen Cumming, a 53-year-old Burlington, Ont.-based freelance journalist and high school teacher, discussed how it feels to head into Round 3 of the selection process.
How does it feel to have made the shortlist?
Gobsmacked. When I realized they had narrowed it down so far, I nearly fell off my chair. I was shocked, which soon turned into delight. I started pacing around the room with my hand over my mouth, whispering oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
What does it take to make the cut? How were you selected?
They're not looking to bring 100 astrophysicists or aerospace engineers into this project. What they're looking for is every man. I've just been who I am, which is journalist and teacher. Somebody who would cherish the opportunity to document this story for the rest of humanity from the inside, to help people understand what it feels like to live on another planet.
What kinds of tests did you go through to prove you'd be a good candidate for this?
Initially, we had to submit an essay that detailed our motivation. We had to answer a series of questions and we had to record a 30 to 60-second video and upload it to their website. They wanted us to tell them about our sense of humour because your sense of humour is going to be a critical part of the success of this mission. Being able to break the tension when things go wrong.
What's the next step in the selection process? How many more stages before they select the final 24 people who get to go?
We're going into round 3 right now. We're going to be facing "group challenges" to demonstrate our suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars. I interpret that to mean they're likely going to put all 100 of us into the same room to see how well we work together. They've also told us there will be an extended interview involved. There will be some sort of a reality show documenting this process.
Did you have to go through any physical tests?
After the first cut, we were asked to get a physical exam and to go to the eye doctor to attest we were in good health. But other than that, we have not been asked to do anything of a physical nature.
Why do you want to go to Mars?
This is an assignment of a lifetime for someone who is a journalist, someone who's curious about the world. It also speaks to my sense of adventure. I've gone to Calcutta to volunteer with Mother Theresa's missionaries of charity, I've gone to Haiti after the earthquake, I've gone to visit a slum outside of Nairobi. I've come back home and I've written about my experiences. In much the same way that Chris Hadfield did to engage with people, to get them excited about space. That has inspired me to take on that role as well.
Have you ever met Chris Hadfield?
I did last year. He was at a Henry's camera show in May in Mississauga. I said to him, "This is my situation. What's your advice for me?" And I'll never forget what he said: "Be relentless in your questioning of the hardware." In other words, the technology. He was trying to say, be sure this isn't a giant public relations stunt. Ask the tough questions. Up until now, I haven't been in a position to be able to ask those questions.
What do you expect Mars to be like?
Very cold. Very desolate. Very red. And a very big challenge.
Would you be scared if you were selected to go?
I am going to Mars. I am not afraid. I have faith that the people who are heading this up are not wasting my time. They know what they're doing.