This woman might be one of the first humans on Mars. Photo CourtEsy Karen CUMMING

From Ryerson to Mars

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A mission by a not-for-profit orgainization, Mars One, plans to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. One hundred candidates, 50 men and 50 women, have been chosen out of 200,000 applicants around the world to move onto the third phase. Of the current chosen 100 candidates, 24 will be selected for one-way trips to Mars beginning in 2024 – with groups of four departing every two years.

To determine who will be sent in these groups, the finalists will be tested emotionally and physically.

This selection process will be filmed and made into a reality show – The Mars 100 – that will rely on the help of the audience to select the candidates in the final rounds. Karen Cumming is one of the 100 candidates. Cumming, 53, from Burlington, Ont., is a journalist, teacher and Ryerson radio and television arts graduate of ’84. Eyeopener reporter Mansoor Tanweer spoke with the could-be Mars settler.

Q: Why do you want to go to Mars?

A: I want to go to Mars because as a journalist I see this as an incredible opportunity. It is the story of the century and the assignment of a lifetime to be the person who documents this for the rest of humanity here on Earth. It speaks to me on so many levels, it appeals to my sense of adventure, it appeals to me as a writer and a journalist and it appeals to me as an educator, as someone who wants to teach people of all ages about space from space, so as far as I am concerned this mission fits me like a glove.

Q: Why not look for adventure on Earth?

A: I’m 53 years old. I have done a heck of a lot … Have I seen everything? Of course not. Would I like to see more? Who wouldn’t? But if I had to leave for Mars tomorrow, I think that I would feel satisfied that I had explored a pretty big percentage of planet Earth and I would feel good about leaving.

Q: Are you going to be blogging while you are on Mars?

A: Well that will be part of my job. To be communicating about everything that is going on up there with everyone that is down here on Earth.

Q: What do you expect the training will be like?

A: All I can tell you is that we look forward to eight years of training. There have been no specifics revealed to us but I think it is safe to say at least part of the training is going to be medical training, dental training and learning how to grow our own food hydroponically.

I am expecting some sort of training in mechanics to be able to make repairs and to maintain equipment. All those things are things that we are going to have to know. We get sick, we’re going to have to know how to pull your appendix out. We have a toothache? We will have to pull it out. There is going to be a lot to learn and we are going to learn to be self-reliant because there are four people. You have to be able to rely on yourself.

Q: How are you going to combat boredom?

A: Nobody’s saying we are living in a tin can up there. Once we construct the pod community it will be like living in an apartment. There will be living quarters where we will be able to relax, we will be connected with satellite link with Earth so we will have access to movies and internet. We might be a long way away but it is not as isolated as people might imagine.

Q: Is there going to be some level of comfort in Mars?

A: Once we get there, part of our job is to work together with rovers that will be there to construct the actual pod community. Those will be our living quarters and that will be where we grow our food.

Q: This is a one-way trip; your friends and family are obviously going to miss you. Were there any objections based on that alone?

A: You tend not to want someone you love to leave the planet forever. In this case the [Mars One organizers] have promoted it as, what they call, a permanent settlement which in space talk it means you are not coming home. They have to make sure that everyone who is involved is okay with never coming home. They have made it clear that, money and technology permitting, down the road if it is possible to be able to make a return trip, that could be in the cards.

Q: Are you holding out hope that you will come home some day and tell the story in person?

A: I’m not going to say I have been holding out hope. I really am okay with not coming home. If I were given the opportunity to make a return trip and then go back again, absolutely. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see their friends and their family again. As it stands now, I am fine with never coming back.

Q: What do you expect life will be like once you get up there?

A: I don’t really have any preconceived notions about what it’s going to be like. My assumption is it is going to be extremely cold, extremely desolate, extremely red and an extreme challenge.

Q: How are you going to combat the isolation and loneliness that comes with an extraterrestrial life?

A: I honestly cannot tell you. Once we get up there, sure there are going to be three other people that we will be spending our days and nights with. I’m assuming that those people are going to become our family. They are going to have our back in every situation and if you have committed yourself to living life in that way on another planet that is not Earth, any sense of loneliness that you feel is nothing that will beat you down. That’s what you’ve signed up for.

Anybody that has signed up for military duty, for example, serving in remote and desolate places.

I’m sure there is some loneliness involved in that too. But you have to have the motivation to do the job and you are willing to put up with it.

Q: What would the pay off of a mission to Mars be?

A: You’re pretty much guaranteeing yourself a place in the history books … The payoff for humanity is that you got a group of people who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to help advance the evolution of humanity.

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