MONTREAL – Dozens of star-struck Canadians are surprised, excited and brimming with confidence after reaching the next round of selections for a planned one-way mission to Mars.
They are now one step closer to the possibility of being among the first humans to ever set foot on the red planet.
The plan is for a crew of four to depart every two years starting in 2024, with the first group arriving in 2025.
Some family members who may never see their loved ones again appear to have mixed feelings, however, if any Canadians are among those chosen to set up a human colony on Martian soil.
Mars One, a non-profit organization based in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, said it had a worldwide applicant pool of more than 200,000, with 8,243 applications from Canadians. The average age of all applicants was around 35.
On Dec. 30, it slashed the pool by 99.5 per cent — leaving only 1,058 candidates to enter the second round of the selection progress. Seventy-five Canadians made the cut, including 43 women and 32 men.
Claude Gauthier, a University of Moncton math and physics professor, admits he doesn’t know why he was chosen.
Gauthier, 60, says the reaction from his wife and two daughters, aged 15 and 19, was mixed.
“Half of the family agrees that I should go on the trip, the other half is under negotiations,” the resident of Dieppe, N.B., said in an interview.
“My wife reserves the right of veto and she’ll have the last word.”
Gauthier, who applied unsuccessfully three times to become a Canadian astronaut, pointed out that his younger daughter even helped him prepare the video used to present his candidacy.
Alex Marion, of Surrey, B.C., one of about a half-dozen British Columbians selected, says it was his father who first told him about the one-way Mars mission.
“I’m not sure if he’s regretting the decision at this point,” the 26-year-old university graduate said in an interview, adding that his mother and a sister, have been “mostly” very supportive.
Marion pointed out that an infrastructure that includes living quarters, communications systems and a water supply will be set up before the first humans arrive on the desolate planet.
“There’s absolutely no concern for me that they can get us there safely and they’re not going to send us unless the colony is ready to go,” he stressed.
Marion is also confident he won’t die if he ends up being among the first settlers on Mars.
“I have absolutely no concerns that it’s a suicide mission at all,” he added.
Quebecer Audrey Roy, a 19-year-old technical engineering student, jumped at the chance to go to Mars, saying it’s been her dream to travel into space for as long as she can remember.
“I’ve always said that if such a trip would happen in my lifetime, I would do everything it takes to be part of it,” she said from her home in Saint-Ephrem-de-Beauce.
Roy said there was happiness — but also sadness — among family and friends when they found out she could be taking a one-way space trip.
“Most of them weren’t happy about it because if I’m selected, they’re not going to see me again and that makes them sad and that makes me sad too,” she said.
“It breaks my heart to actually leave them, but I’ve had a talk with them and they understand it is my dream since I was young.”
Roy also pointed out she would have Internet access and be able to send videos and voice messages back home.
Christy Foley is on a list of 40 selected Canadians who have agreed to go public — the other 35 did not want their names released. The list was provided to The Canadian Press by Mars One.
The 32 year-old Alberta government employee and her 33-year-old husband, who have no children, both sent in applications.
She was selected; he wasn’t.
“We were both incredibly surprised about my making it — not so much of him not making it,” she said in a phone interview from Edmonton.
“We both had hopes, but there was no expectation there, so it was quite incredible to get the email.”
Foley was one of the eight Albertans whose names were made public. Sixteen Ontarians were chosen, six people from British Columbia and five from Quebec.
While her parents support her in her dream, they’re also worried about staying in touch if their daughter ends up leaving.
“They don’t want to lose me obviously and they don’t buy the fact that I’ll still be able to communicate with them,” Foley said.
Torontonian Stephen Fenech, who’s single, says he may be overqualified for the Mars mission.
The 45 year-old, who works as a director in the Toronto television industry, has travelled extensively around the world, including four months spent living in isolation in the Arctic where temperatures hovered around -40 C.
“It seems like the next natural step,” he said in an interview. “I’m not just going to another country, I’m going to another planet.”
Fenech, who figures he is about five years away from retirement, is looking forward to the possibility of telling people he’ll be retiring to Mars.
And although he’s a bit fearful, he’s ready to see it through.
“If it means my death at the end, so be it,” Fenech added. “I’m going to die anyway (and) it’ll be a more interesting way to go — that’s for sure.”
Canada, with its 75 candidates, had the second largest number selected after the United States, where 297 candidates were chosen. India placed third behind Canada with 62 candidates moving on to the second round. Applications came from more than 100 countries.
All candidates now have until mid-March to provide a health certificate from a doctor. After that’s done, regional selections will be made during a third round which should follow later this year.
Dr. Norbert Kraft, Mars One’s medical director, says he first wants confirmation candidates don’t have any serious physical illnesses or are not addicted to drugs or alcohol.
“We want to make sure they are healthy enough to join the program,” he said in an interview from San Jose, Calif.
Then, those who are picked during a fourth round of selections will take part in a simulated Mars mission, spending three months in an isolated habitat — “somewhere in the United States.”
Kraft added he’s hopeful the simulation would also be broadcast.
He also said he expects to start training the first 24 Martian-bound astronauts “at the beginning or the middle” of 2015.