Mars has gotten the Hollywood treatment plenty of times over the years (see Matt Damon’s upcoming The Martian), but a new documentary web series is exploring the real-life possibility of journeying to the Red Planet. Citizen Mars, an AOL original series that premiered on Engadget.com earlier this month, is following five people who hope to be among the first set of humans to not only visit, but actually live on the planet.
It all started when Mars One, a Netherlands-based nonprofit organization, announced its goal of landing four people on Mars by 2027, in order to start a permanent colony there. The organization has $6 billion in funding and plans to use all available technology to kick off the mission.
Needless to say, the ambitious project has attracted lots of attention and stirred up plenty of controversy. A group of MIT graduates students published a study questioning the feasibility of the mission last year. Plus, as the first episode of Citizen Mars chronicles, many experts in the field have called the project unsafe, unrealistic, and even downright crazy.
Still, the doubts haven’t deterred thousands of people from volunteering for the mission. Of the 200,000 people that initially applied to take the trip, 100 finalists are still in the running – including the five that are profiled in Citizen Mars.
As the docu-series shows, the five contenders range in age from 19 to 35 and come from very diverse backgrounds. But all share the same hope: to embark on a revolutionary, if dangerous, mission.
So what spurs one to volunteer for a one-way trip to Mars? We talked to the show’s only American finalist, Sue Ann Pien, to find out. As it turns out, the 35-year-old, LA-based tech employee and avid rock climber has a long history of seeking out adventure.
Cheat Sheet: What is the “Cheat Sheet” to your story and your interest in this mission to Mars ?
Sue Ann Pien: I come from a family of rocket scientists – my dad was an aerospace engineer who also worked for the U.S. military’s R&D, my grand uncle was a chief rocket design consultant, and my mom worked in aerospace as well. Space is an inevitability in my life. I’ve seen the way my dad problem solved “impossible” issues and invent new technology.
Mars is a natural obvious choice for us to colonize because it’s not that different from Earth relatively speaking – near 24 hour days, 1/3 gravity, CHNOPS (building blocks of life), and if we put some effort in we can possibly terraform it in a few hundred years. One day people will be able to walk on its surface without a suit in their t-shirts.
CS: Which experiences were the most influential in your life and led to you taking the path less traveled?
SP: I had a near-death experience at 18 that removed my fear of dying. After that, I explored fearlessly, questioned conventions that were based on tradition rather than functionality and found myself to be altruistically inclined, like many others who have a NDE.
CS: Is there another person who has inspired you or challenged you to volunteer for this mission?
SP: Definitely my dad, he’s been telling me about wormholes in space and time traveling through a black hole since I was a little kid. He is the embodiment of science and imagination – a little kid who’s a genius. Once, at the edge of Western China, after I took a 7-day horse trek up to a glacier mountain, I had the opportunity to keep pushing in to Tibet or come home. He emailed me telling me to go on…
CS: How have your family, friends, and loved ones reacted to your decision to get involved in Mars One’s plan?
SP: My best friend Kim Tran, who is the wind beneath my wings, and lived on a 27′ sailboat with me before (we didn’t have an on board working toilet so we peed in cups sometimes late at night) has said Mars One looks like such an obvious choice for me but she, like most of my family and friends, would miss me terribly if I went.
CS: What is one thing that you always make time to do? Or that you’re making time for now, ahead of this possible trip to space?
SP: I meditate daily.
CS: What’s one piece of unconventional wisdom that has stuck with you over the years? Where did you hear it?
SP: What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger (and stranger). The last part came from a cool cartoon I loved called Aeon Flux.
CS: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
SP: “You can’t.”
CS: Is there anything in particular that you hope to accomplish, now that you know you could be going to space?
SP: I have an entire bucket list of expeditions on Earth I’m fulfilling – I climbed an active volcano last year, tried climbing Angkor Wat in Cambodia on that trip as well, and wish to go to India next, along with adventures in Patagonia. I’d also like to sail around the Greek Islands, and go on a treasure hunting dive. My initiative The Living Library Project aims to protect as much wildlife and ecosystems as possible as we’re in the midst of a manmade sixth mass extinction.
CS: Do you have three “cheats” that you live by?
SP: 1. Pause when agitated or doubtful
2. Strive to have the best possible relationship with everyone
3. When faced with a hard decision, always make your choice from love, rather than fear
Learn more about Pien by watching Citizen Mars here.