I don’t even know where to start with this post.
This is a reader profile, but the reader is also a friend of mine. I’ve known Karen Cumming since I started out in television, although if you ask either one of us where we actually met the answer is debatable. I say it was at our local cable television station, she says it was at our local news station. I think. Regardless, we’ve kept in touch over the years, both of us abandoning our careers in television for something else.
I left television for blogging which encompasses all of the aspects of television I loved like entertaining, writing and making videos, without any of the stuff I hated, like always getting cancelled.
Karen left television for teaching which encompasses everything she loved about television, which was learning and educating. Karen was (and still is occasionally) a news reporter.
Karen enjoys reading, yoga, meditation and crafting.
Oh. And Karen is probably going to Mars.
3 years ago Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced his plans to fund and organize The Mars One Project. It’s mission: to send a select group of (extra)ordinary people to colonize Mars. It will take 7 months of travelling to get there. It is a one way ticket. None of them will return.
The goal was to find 24 people who would leave everything they knew and everyone they loved, forever.
Think no one would ever want to do this?
200,000 people from around the world applied to take that one way trip to Mars. In the past 3 years a selection process has taken place, whittling those 200,000 applicants down to a list of 100.
My friend and Art of Doing Stuff reader, Karen Cumming, who applied in the Spring of 2013, is on that list.
This 53 year old school teacher has volunteered with Mother Theresa’s mission in Kolkata, lent a hand in Haiti after their devastating earthquake and is still looking to do more.
There is only one more selection process to take place. They’ll need a cushion of potential candidates so it’s likely they’ll actually select 40 in the final selection process.
That means there’s almost a 1 in 2 chance that Karen Cumming will be part of what could be the most remarkable event in earth’s history.
“100 Candidates” video
Me: How is this funded? Where’s the money coming from? I can’t even afford a trip to the Miraval Spa in Arizona. I imagine going to Mars would cost a lot more.
Karen: It’s headed up by Bas Lansdorp in the Netherlands. He’s an engineer and entrepreneur. He sold part of the shares in his business, a wind company Ampyx Power, to fund the start up of Mars One. He also understands the power of selling rights to the project. Reality show rights for instance.
Me: This is going to be a reality show?!
Karen: It looks that way. I have a feeling it would be produced by the same people who did the “100 candidates” promo. It’s a smart way to make money along with things like crowdfunding. (the “100 Candidates” promo is the video you see above)
Me: Tell me about when you first heard about this project and what your immediate reaction to it was.
Karen: It was spring 2013 and I was surfing the Internet. I was reading a paper online and an article all about the Mars One mission came up. It resonated with me right away. It spoke to my sense of adventure, it spoke to me as a journalist, and as an educator. I don’t know if I remember exactly what I thought but I would have said something to myself like “you’d be foolish not to”.
Me: So you applied almost immediately.
Karen: I did.
Me: What did applying involve?
Karen: Candidates had to write an essay and answer a series of questions that answered your motivation for wanting to go. You also had to make a video, 30-60 seconds, that answered 3 questions. Why are you the perfect choice, one other that I can’t remember (laughs) and tell us about your sense of humour. So at the end of my application video I directed them to a YouTube link to find out about my sense of humour.
Me: I LOVE that video, lol. What are the chances you’d ever be using that ridiculous and hilarious video to help guarantee your place in history.
Karen: I still email with Gilbert Gottfried’s wife occasionally, I’ll have to let her know!
Me: I’m sure you realize most people think you’re nuts. They just can’t wrap your head around the whole concept of starting a civilization on Mars and never returning to Earth. I know I can’t.
Karen: It is hard to wrap your head around! I get that. But look at the millions of people who adore Star Trek. They love everything about it. They’re obsessed with it. So, how is it that millions of people could love that concept but so few of them would actually step into the shoes?
(note: this interview was done before the death of Leonard Nemoy, otherwise he probably would have been referenced in the answer)
Me: Does your family think you’re nuts?
Karen: Verna (Karen’s mom) is 94 years old. She was not impressed when I first told her. She’s coming around though. She’s developed a sense of humour about it. She’s read stories that I’ve written about it and she gets it. It’s just a fun experience that is so exciting and at the end of the day is it really gonna happen? In her mind she’s probably convinced that it’s not so that’s helping her to deal with it.
She’s in a care facility and she has a certain group of friends that she sits with at the dinner table every night. When I went in a couple of Mondays ago to tell my mom I had made the top 100, one of her dinner friends stopped me and said she heard me on the radio. She told me she said to herself, “Oh! YEAH! I know that cuckoo!” (laughs)
Me: (in typical weather obsessed Canadian fashion) What’s the weather like on Mars?
Karen: COLD. Extraordinarily cold. We’d have to be fitted with special space suits for any time spent outside of our pods. In the pods we can wear anything we want.
Me: You’ll be horribly out of fashion by the end of the first few years, you know. If you ever Skype back to Earth you’ll just look silly.
Me: Do you know any specifics about this whole thing? Like how you’d live and how you’d wash your space suit?
Karen: There’s no water on Mars but there’s ice. So basically we’re going to bake the water out of the soil in a high tech oven. Then it evaporates and condenses back into water. And we’ll drink some and use the rest for growing food and for other purposes. Maybe for washing our space suits.
Me: Why do you think you’ve made it so far into the selection process?
Karen: I’m a journalist, I’m an educator and I feel pretty passionately about the opportunity to educate people about space from space. As a journalist I want to talk about this and talk about this and talk about this.
Me: When you learned you made the final 100 cut were you excited or afraid?
Karen: My immediate reaction was, gobsmacked. Like someone slapped me across the face and my eyes were bulging out like in a cartoon. (Last year) they went from 200,000 to 660 candidates. And this time they went from 660 down to 100. I had no idea they were cutting that many people. 100 made it real REALLY fast. It hit me in a deeper place when I read the number 100.
Me: How did you find out you made the final 100?
Karen: They sent us an email in advance of the official announcement. I could have opened it on the Friday they sent it and you know what? I couldn’t do it. I needed a little bubble of time to savour everything that had been. I was exhausted from work and writing and I was tired and I didn’t want to open it in that frame of mind. So I’m getting ready to go to a, and you’ll love this Karen, a Buddhist Valentine’s Day Workshop on Love and it was at 8 in the morning and I got out my pendulum. (it’s an energy thing) Anyone familiar with energy work or anything like that knows what it is. You hold it and you ask it to show you yes. And it responds. It will either go back and forth one way or the other. Then it shows me no. At that point you ask it what you want to ask it. I asked it “Am I going to the Mars Mission?” And it said yes. Then it went WILD. Insane. Like swinging wildly. As soon as I saw that, it gave me the courage to go open the email because I knew that it was true.
Me: So what’s the next round?
Karen: They don’t get specific or give us specific timelines. They’ve said we’ll know more in the next couple of months. I imagine there will be group challenges to judge our suitability to be on the Mission to Mars. I assume we’ll all be put in a room to see how we get along. Then some kind of an extended interview.
Me: How many people are going in 2024?
Karen: 4 will go in 2024 then every 2 years 4 more will join them. They need at least 24. My guess is there will be around 40 people picked in case people die or can’t go. There’s going to be a 50/50 split of men and women
Me: How do you know that these people, who want to send you to Mars, actually know what they’re doing?
Karen: All I can do is have ultimate faith that they do know what they’re doing and that they’re not spending all this time, money and energy on a wild goose chase. I’m not a scientist so all I can really do is trust they’re smart people who have a big dream and will make it happen.
Me: What if the day before you’re supposed to leave you think … Oh hell. Nope. Don’t wanna do this ANY more. Lays just came out with a really great chip flavour, I still owe some late fees at the library … nope. NOPE, this isn NOT gonna work.
Karen: They’ve been very good during this whole process saying that there is a contingency plan to replace anyone who wants to drop out. So there’s no pressure. If you want to quit you can.
Me: Do you think you’d quit?
Karen: Not a chance.
You can read more about Karen on her website Space to Think Differently
[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”5342563″]