For Army Lt. Heidi Beemer, space flight has always been a dream, but that dream seemed out of reach for the light chemical decontamination platoon leader at Fort Campbell, Ky., until she read about the Mars One project.
Mars One is a program unaffiliated with any government that plans to send a series of spacecraft to Mars in hopes of inhabiting the red planet by 2025. The program is already signing up volunteers.
Beemer is one of the volunteers selected by project leaders as she is one of many U.S. troops who have signed up and made the cut.
“When this opportunity opened up to me, at 24 years old, there was no looking back, no second guessing. This is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” Beemer said.
She is one of slightly more than 1,000 men and women who recently learned they made the first cut toward selecting crews to begin settling the Red Planet.
If all goes as the Mars One project plans, a series of Mars-bound spacecraft – each with a crew of four – will begin landing on the planet at two year intervals starting in 2025.
More than 200,000 people from all over the world applied to be Mars pioneers and a number of those who passed muster in the first phase are U.S. service members or veterans, according to Dr. Norbert Kraft, formerly with NASA and now chief medical officer for Mars One.
Not all the applicants have released their names and profiles to the public, but Kraft said they include a combat engineer, a CV-22 Osprey pilot, several fighter pilots, flight surgeons, a Navy SEAL, a UH-60 Blackhawk mechanical test pilot and a Navy journalist.
Military experience is not a requirement, Kraft said, but those with that background do understand the importance of teamwork.
“The key question is how do you work as a team?” he said. “You have to complement each other, depend on each other. One thing is respect, and I think you learn that in the military … and you have to know what you want and you have to be serious.”
And Mars One is serious, given that each and every person selected has to be aware there is no coming back.
“The first ones there will be [permanent] Mars settlers. Mars has only 38 percent of Earth’s gravity. There will be a point of no return, where they can’t come back. Their bones would crumble” in the heavier Earth gravity.
“It’s a hell of a thing to tell your mother,” Navy Mass Communications Specialist Glenn Brooks Slaughter said. “That was not a fun phone call. But my mom is an adventurer – she’s traveled the world. We’ve traveled together. She’s come around.”
Slaughter is currently at Syracuse University studying advance digital journalism. He has been following the Mars One project since he first learned of it a few years back. As part of the initial application he sent Mars One a brief, humorous video he produced last year aboard the USS Nimitz, pointing out that he can live and work in cramped quarters, eat anything and is very sociable.
On a more serious note, his background also includes working for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corp, traveling around the country in 15-passenger van for 10 months at a time, building homes, working with the Red Cross, engaged in emergency programs, including search and rescue.
“I’m single, I’m 36, I don’t have any kids,” he said. “I don’t own a lot of things. I’m interested in being part of something that advances the human race.”
That’s probably the philosophy that Mars One is looking for. Given the Spartan accommodations and facilities, Mars One‘s mission does not include populating the planet, and the company does not encourage any Martian pioneers from starting families there, it says.
CW4 David Woodward could leave Earth for Mars without feeling he has left his life behind.
“If I were to get selected and was on the first crew [in 2025] I’d be 54 years old when we landed,” he told Military.com in a phone call from Afghanistan, where he is deployed to the 101st Airborne as part of Task Force Lift. “So I’d have pretty much lived a full life here on Earth, and so the opportunity to spend the rest of my life doing something so unique – Not many people who reach retirement age will get to do that.”
And he’d also be very busy on Mars, he said, gardening, doing maintenance work and conducting experiments. And there will be video calls to stay in touch with people on Earth.
According to Mars One’s mission plan, it will begin sending up unmanned craft by 2018, to establish a base and communications center, followed in 2022 by unmanned craft with settler supplies and also robots to begin assembling water and oxygen processing equipment. That process will be repeated after the first crew reaches Mars in 2025; an unmanned spacecraft will deliver two years worth of supplies and food so that each group of arrivals always is well stocked, even as they cultivate their own Martian gardens.
Mars One was founded in 2011 by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders, a physicist formerly with NASA. Unaffiliated with any government, the project is raising funds through donations, including crowd funding, and sponsorships.
Mars One projects it will cost about $6 billion to get its first crew on Mars, with subsequent missions costing about $4 billion.
Beemer said her own parents were not entirely surprised when she broke the news to them that she would be volunteering to settle on Mars. Many of her choices have surprised her family, she said, such as going to a military college, Virginia Military Institute, and then going Army when they thought she would go Air Force.
“He was taken aback once again,” she said of her father. “But he’s been super supportive. By the time I got to the big, major [news] – that I wanted to leave Earth forever and go to Mars – he was, once again, speechless.”
But given her longtime interest in space, he knew this day would have to come, she said. His view is that “if somebody’s going to do this it may as well be my kid,” she said.
Correction: An early version of this article stated that Mars had 6 percent of Earth’s gravity. It is 38 percent as our readers astutely noted.