By Maddie Keenlyside
Feb. 4, 2014
Trish Woodford has long dreamed of the stars, but being too short to become an astronaut has kept her firmly rooted to Earth.
Then the 29-year-old Islander discovered the Mars One project. Now she’s part of round two: one of only 1,000 in the worldwide race to pioneer the colonization of Mars.
“I’m only one centimetre taller than the minimum height requirement for Mars One. I just made it.”
But this opportunity comes at a high price. It’s a one-way mission, and she won’t be able to return to Earth. If chosen, she will have to leave everything behind.
However, everyone dreams of making some contribution that will live beyond them, she said.
“For some people it’s writing a book, for other people it’s their family lineage. This would be my contribution to humankind. I never imagined I’d be able to make a contribution on this sort of scale.”
Born and raised on Prince Edward Island, 29-year-old Woodford studied psychology and political science in Vancouver and is now a part-time law student working for the City of Toronto’s prosecutor’s office.
Woodford says the very idea of leaving Earth is literally impossible to get your head around.
“At this point our existence is essentially bounded by the Earth.”
Robert Thirsk, a Canadian astronaut who spent six months on the International Space Station in 2009, said he thinks exploration of Mars is supremely important.
And though he hopes to see human explorers on the surface of Mars within his lifetime, he said he is surprised that Mars One is thinking about colonization.
“I’m wondering if they’re running before they’re walking. I’m not convinced that we have the technology in place to support human beings on Mars in the next 10 years.”
Thirsk said the six months he spent on the International Space Station were filled with as many repair tasks as research. He also said the Mars One astronauts will be at risk of muscle atrophy, bone demineralization, radiation, and equipment failures during space travel.
“We still don’t have enough reliability and robustness in the systems to support six astronauts in Earth’s orbit. How are we going to have even more reliable systems ready in 10 years to support astronauts going to Mars and living on Mars?”
However, Thirsk said he wouldn’t want to say anything to the candidates to discourage them. Mars One’s training will add to their perspective, increase their network, and likely provide good guidance whatever their vocation, he said.
“Very few people get the chance to fly in space. It’s a dream worth pursuing. And they’re going to meet some pretty interesting people in the course of this competition.”
But Thirsk is not alone in his skepticism about Mars One.
York University astronomy professor Norbert Bartel said he believes the mission’s timeline could be feasible, but thinks there is not enough political or public support at this point in time.
Bartel said the amount of support in the 1960s, when John F. Kennedy spoke about sending a man to the moon by the end of the decade, and succeeded, was absolutely incredible.
“What’s amazing is how much effort they put into it. Money was not a question: as much money as was necessary flew into that project.”
That’s not the case with Mars One, he said. The political climate of the Cold War influenced the rush to the moon, and we don’t have the same sense of urgency.
He also said he is skeptical about the idea to turn the mission into a reality TV show, and that interest in the show – and participants – could wear off after the first month.
However, he said, it’s possible he’s wrong.
“Look at the 1400s, when America was discovered. Scientists didn’t do that. It was the entrepreneurs and the discoverers, the ‘crazy guys’ and the adventurers. They would say, ‘Well perhaps we won’t come back. So be it.’ But this is a different order of magnitude, and I don’t think that they will fly in 11 years.”
Trish Woodford said while there is legitimate criticism, the people who are involved in Mars One are serious and well respected, and have ties to companies like Lockheed Martin and SpaceX.
“People who look into it at all can see and read and understand that the mission is premised entirely based on existing technology, which is a part of why people who are signing up to go are willing to make a one-way trip.”
The trip to Mars will take seven months, in a small craft with three other people. Home on Mars will consist of 150-square-foot rooms, she said.
“But it’s our own private space for us to have and do what we want with. We have not yet been told the limits and parameters of what we’ll be able to bring with us in terms of personal effects, but I think it’s safe to assume we’re not able to bring a drum kit.”
They will be able to explore outside the area outside of their habitats too, she said.
“To actually have a human being walk around the surface of Mars and be able to turn things over, gather things, analyzing…is going to be fascinating.”
Currently, candidates are undergoing medical and psychological evaluations.
Later, the selection process will be televised in an unprecedented reality TV venture the project’s architects hope will aid in funding the mission.
Woodford says she find the idea of being filmed 24-hours a day more nerve-wracking than the mission itself.
“I value my privacy. If I were able to make it to that level, certainly, you’re going to be catapulted to the level of celebrity. And that’s not something I’ve ever desired for myself.” Considering she may be leaving Earth, she wants to spend time with loved ones, go deep-sea diving and visit every continent. New Zealand, Japan, Greece, Egypt and South Africa are all on her list, and she’s heading for a 10-day trip to Guatemala in a few weeks, she said.
At this stage, Woodford is taking it one step at a time through the process, focusing on what she needs to do to progress, she said.
“It’s like a process of mourning, essentially, but it’s one that I am serious about. I understand it, but I’m trying not to dwell on it at this time.”
Woodford said if Mars One chose her, it would never occur to her to turn it down.
“I couldn’t, because of what it means.”