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Why I want to go to Mars0:48

Karen Cumming explains why she applied to the Mars One project.

Why I want to go to Mars 0:48

Can I have that in silver? If Karen Cumming makes it to Mars, she knows she will “rock the space suit.”

She has made it through the first cut of the Mars One project and the possibility that she will leave Earth to live on another planet, for the rest of her life, is no longer a story in her imagination. She is prepared to leave friends and family behind; the beautiful Hamilton waterfront vista and her favourite breakfast smoothie  – to spend the rest of her life on Mars.

The Hamiltonian is one of 1058 candidates, and 75 Canadians, chosen from more than 200,000 applicants. Cumming, 52, is unassuming and if you walked past her on the street, you probably would not peg her as someone ready to die on a different planet than the one where she was born. But forget looks, Cumming believes she has what it takes to make it on the Red Planet.

'I’m looking forward to being with a group of like-minded people that see adventure as a norm and not the exception.'- Karen Cumming

“I am somebody who always likes to be challenged in whatever I am doing. I am not afraid to reach out for a new experience if it is something that will challenge me,” Cumming told CBC Hamilton.

“I see it as an amazing opportunity and I’m going to enjoy every day of it. It’s not for everyone.”

The Mars One project intends to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2025. Mars One co-founder, Bas Lansdorp, describes the remaining 1058 candidates as “our first tangible glimpse into what the new human settlement will truly look like.”

Cumming, a former CHCH TV reporter, now teaches in a Hamilton school. Her colleagues were the first to hear the news.

“I shared it with my colleagues before sharing it with my family. At first, they didn’t believe me. They thought I was crazy. They thought it was a joke. It took a while before they believed it was for real,” she said.

“They [Mars One] sent the email on December 30. When I opened it, I wasn’t expecting it to be what it was. I was speechless. I didn’t realize what a huge honour it was to be among the chosen few. I went back and read it and realized, wow, this is for real! Because it’s an email a part of your brain is wondering if it’s a hoax.”

When it came to breaking the news to her 93-year-old mother, Cumming says, she was very delicate.

“She was concerned because there is no return ticket. When I explained it to her, she’s been able to see that it’s an amazing opportunity,” Cumming said.

The final round of eliminations will leave only 24 candidates who will make the 210-day trip to Mars in 2024. Cummings says she’s not worried about making the cut.

“I’m living in the moment not to be upset about how it turns out. I would say if I am meant to be on Mars I will be there. And if that happens, I know I will have the strength and courage,” she said.

So what’s next for the 1058 pre-selected Mars hopefuls? According to Norbert Kraft, chief medical officer of Mars One, rigorous simulations and testing will reveal those who will thrive and withstand the stress of the adventure.

“This is where it really gets exciting for Mars One, our applicants, and the communities they’re a part of. We expect to begin understanding what is motivating our candidates to take this giant leap for humankind,” Kraft said.

The training will include a simulation. Candidates will be divided into groups and will spend several months of each training year in an analogue outpost  – living in a Mars-like environment – to prepare for their mission to Mars. The individual’s ability to deal with prolonged periods of time in a remote location and work in a group will the most important part of his or her training. They will learn to repair the habitat and rover, train in medical procedures and learn to grow their own food.

There are several risks involved in this trip, but for Cumming, after volunteering in several disaster zones around the world including Haiti, Calcutta and Africa, she feels she is prepared.

So there it is. Cumming, a woman who says she will never skydive or go bungee jumping wants to go to Mars, and the scientists, engineers and researchers behind the project think she has a shot.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s so surreal at this moment. I’m looking forward to being with a group of like-minded people that see adventure as a norm and not the exception.”

Q & A with Karen Cumming

1.      Why do you want to spend the rest of your life on Mars?

I see this as an incredible chapter in modern history.  And history, of course, needs a journalist to document the facts. I want to be that person. I want to tell the story. What an amazing story it will be. I'd also like to be the teacher who engages an entire generation of students from space. Chris Hadfield was a pioneer in that regard on board the International Space Station last year. Similarly, Mars would be an incredible remote classroom! A 24 hour a day, 7 day a week living, breathing science experiment for all the world to see. What a thrill!

2.      What will you miss about planet Earth and why?

Do you have a day or two? That's how long it would truly take me to tell you about all the things I would miss here on Earth. Of course, I'd miss the people first. My family and friends. The taste of my mother's shortbread cookies. The touch of my dog's fur. I'd also miss the incredible beauty of nature that surrounds us every day here on Earth. Golden sunrises and sunsets, ducks and swans on the water at LaSalle Park, sandy beaches, lakes in summer, oak trees. And then of course, there's chocolate and red wine and maple syrup. Oh, and foot long hotdogs from Easterbrooks. We can't forget those.

3.      Are you worried or scared at all?

Not at all. If I'm meant to go to Mars, it will happen. And if it does, I know that I'll have the courage and strength to handle any challenge that comes my way. I'll also be working with a team of incredibly gifted people who have what it takes to get the job done. What more could I ask for?

4.      Why did you sign up to be part of this project?
I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of something that will have far-reaching implications for humanity. That kind of opportunity doesn't come along every day.

5.      If you do get selected, how will you prepare for your trip to Mars?

I will throw the biggest party that Hamilton has ever seen at Hutch's on the Beach. I'll be surrounded by family and friends, and we'll drink to an adventurous new chapter in humanity's quest for knowledge and understanding. Save the date. It's going to be a blast.