Reader Profile.
Karen Cumming’s Mission to Mars

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.

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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

The Interview

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.

 

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mars rendering by Mission concept artist, bryan versteeg of Canada

 

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.

Karen: (laughs)

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

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63 Comments

  1. Agnes says:

    I also know someone on the top 100 list, Ben Criger! Small world.

  2. Amber says:

    wow. I don’t even need a new flavor of Pringles to say Nope Nope Nope. Not gonna live in a pod shaped like a giant tooth and never see green trees or birds or even the crappy drivers in Boston again.
    Nope Nope Nope.
    Nope.

  3. Shannon says:

    This is amazing to me. I get anxious thinking about moving to the next town over let alone the next planet over! Brave girl forging headlong into space and being able to put the “how” into other people’s hands. I love it and hope she gets chosen. If she does end up going I hope you’ll keep us posted on how she’s managing. Having a friend doing interviews from Mars sure won’t hurt your blogger rating

    • Karen says:

      Shannon… No doubt about it. I will have to twist Karen’s arm (metaphorically speaking), and get her to agree to regular reports from Mars. Maybe we could even do some DIY projects up there… What do you say?

  4. Mindy says:

    That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Not your friend, but the whole concept. I took one look at that rendering of it and damn near had an anxiety attack just THINKING about not being around plants. It looks like Arizona on steroids. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I’ll stay in Oregon where it’s green, thank you very much. But I’d totally watch the show. LOL

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Mindy! We’ll be growing our own food in hydroponic gardens on Mars… So there will be some green stuff up there. Nothing as green and lush as Oregon, mind you… but hey – a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. 😉 Cheers!

  5. Auntiepatch says:

    Ummm….no…..thanks –

  6. Paula says:

    Wow, it is incredible to me that anyone would even consider doing that! I wouldn’t do – they probably wouldn’t let me bring my chickens…

  7. maggie van sickle says:

    Not sure what to think about this journey Karen!!

    • Karen says:

      I’ve found it’s best not to think, Maggie…Just go with your heart and how it feels! 😉 It’s not for everyone, but it feels right for me. <3

  8. Stephanie says:

    Wow, jaw on floor. I love “hit me in a deeper place”…yeah, I bet! I admire the conviction, the outside our realm thinking…rather mind blowing when you marinade on it. Personally I don’t think I could be pulled away from my sweet little farm life, but can appreciate the magnitude of Karen’s choice for the possible improvement & education of all mankind. Quite selfless.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Oh wait, one question…why never to return?

    • AmyB says:

      I was wondering that too! At first I assumed everyone was going all at once, so maybe the funder simply couldn’t promise that a return trip would be possible. But if they’re sending people in stages, why couldn’t someone come back if they got there and couldn’t handle it? And while I admire the sense of adventure, I don’t think the reference to Star Trek is quite accurate (sorry, mini-Trekki, here.) Those characters DID return to Earth, or whatever their home plant was, on a regular basis. It wasn’t an exile. On a different topic, tho, what’s happening over the next ten years? Will the funder be doing any research on Mars to ensure the physical and mental health of participants (growing food, refining living quarters, emergency plans, etc?) before actually sending a bunch of ordinary people? And will non-ordinary, highly trained expert type people be there as well? I’m really intrigued by how this is all meant to work!

      • Karen says:

        From what I understand Amy, ordinary people will be trained to do the things they need to do. The will be growing their own food immediately in greenhouses etc. The selection of the people I imagine would be based on their various skills and abilities. Karen for instance, would be an excellent choice for documenting everything, being a journalist. ~ karen!

    • Heather says:

      I believe it may have to do with the fact that they can’t carry enough fuel/energy to get back off the surface of Mars and make the return trip?

  10. RadioRedHead says:

    I thought you two might know each other! I met and chatted with Karen at last year’s Blissdom conference after seeing her speak. Can’t believe I might know someone going to Mars! She seems like a perfect candidate and someone super passionate about going to space! When I heard the news about her making the top 100 I was so happy for her! Congrats Karen!!!

  11. Tigersmom says:

    This is why it takes all kinds.

    I am the kind who has no desire to leave my creature comforts and those I love. Even if I weren’t a mom and a wife, this is not something I would ever consider.

    I do, though, think it’s great that the world is made up of all kinds. Otherwise we would really struggle to advance in so many ways.

    • Karen says:

      Love your take on it, Tigersmom… My dad used to say, “If everyone liked red paint, they’d only have to make red paint.” Ha! You are so right. It takes all kinds. That’s what makes this wacky life so interesting, eh?

  12. Rose says:

    congrats Karen. You are a very brave person. I’ve had the privilege to know you since Kindergarten, we went through school together and you’ve always been a lovely, smart, and strong person! You and Clare also had the best lunches in school.

    • Karen says:

      Wow… Don’t leave me in suspense, Rose… I remember a Rosemary from elementary school… Is that you?
      Clare B. and I had the best lunches in school? You’re kidding! My mom will think that’s wild!

  13. Beckie says:

    I am in the *no how, no WAY!!* camp, but I admire anyone who thinks they can do this.

  14. Jennie Burt says:

    “I needed a little bubble of time to savour everything that had been. ” This one line sums up every reason to explore anything after someone reaches their 50 year mark. Nothing after this event will be the same and everything will be colored by it. Karen is remarkable. With that kind of enthusiasm there is hope for the human race. Its how we progress, she is THE perfect candidate…. LLAP

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Jennie! Wow – What a lovely comment. I so appreciate it! And what a great take on it — that everything after 50 is something to be savoured. And I love “Nothing after this event will be the same and everything will be coloured by it.” Awesome. You’ve made my day!!!

  15. Jack Ledger says:

    Hey, I know somebody that knows somebody………..! There has to be some cash to be had in that……I wonder what CNN and Fox pay for interviews? I guess my greedy-needy cash driven life would never get me on that flight.

  16. Heather says:

    I cannot wrap my head around the concept. Kudos to the brave who want to try this.

  17. Donna says:

    Is she expected to reproduce, have babies I mean?? Will she choose her partner?? Does she believe conditions will be better there?? Shouldn’t there be more women than men?? Afraid I am earth bound, too scary for me.

  18. jainegayer says:

    That’s cool, not for me though but I admire her sense of adventure.

  19. Ella says:

    Wow! Amazing. I totally thought this was a joke, until I was about 75% through your post. Very cool! Thanks for educating me on this! Good luck, Karen!

  20. Louise says:

    Wow! But will they have Ben and Jerry’s Fudge Brownie there?

    Seriously, what an adventurer Karen is! What if you don’t like it once you get there? You’re stuck!
    What if you don’t like the other people? What if the equipment fails? What happens if the project runs out of money? I couldn’t even imagine doing something like this, but the world needs people like Karen; people who are willing to push forward. I’m grateful for people like her, because that’s how the human race moves forward. (If the human race counted on me, they’d still be living in caves.)

    • Karen says:

      Ha! Louise, I’ve heard a rumour that we’re going to have Haagen Daz up there… Now THAT’s a planet I can call home!!! If Ben and Jerry’s were smart, they’d come up with a new flavour… “Interstellar Strawberry”… “Rocketgirl Rocky Road”… “Lemony Live Long and Prosper”. Seriously – thanks for your lovely comments.
      😉

  21. Karol says:

    Just about everyday I say “well, that’s what makes the world go ’round”, mostly when someone thinks clearly out of the box. I can’t think of a better response for this post.

  22. Heather says:

    WOW, yet ANOTHER amazing person named Karen. Must be something with the name! What an exciting adventure… I don’t think I could leave my kids, so that would be my limiting factor. Otherwise, I’d be off! Best of luck in making the cut, Karen C.!

    • Karen says:

      I like to think of us as “Karen Squared”… 😉 Thanks for your good wishes, Heather!!! Hmmm… Maybe it DOES have something to do with the name. Over to you, Karen. B…. 😉

  23. Terry says:

    I think the flying Dutchman should also be one of the 4 going to Mars, seems to me he is pretty free with expending other peoples lives on this one way venture.
    Your friend explains she is not a scientist, but a teacher. She better start studying up on the planet and find out more about what she is getting into. NASA has spent Billions in getting space travel where it is today. They have carefully mapped out the steps along the way starting with Allen shepard in the first Mercury flight to the eventual landing on the moon. This entrepreneur from Holland has no where near the capital or the knowledge to pull this off. Just think about the things we make use of every day here on earth most of which will be required on Mars. Not withstanding the many specialty things that will be required to survive in that hostile environment. I am sure something important will be forgotten. So remember there will be no Walmart over the hill to swing by and pick up an item of two or three. This adventure is not like the one the pilgrams made to N. America. They could go home. There were resources available here to survive. Mars not so much. They will be sending limited amounts of equipment on the voyage. Lets hope it works when it arrives and it does not break down. Good luck to all who get the call.

    • Edith says:

      Thank you for this comment! I think you are totally right about the flying Dutchman and NASA. How can you trust a guy like that? If NASA was organising this trip, they would choose the best scientists, handymen and doctors they could find and prepare them for it very thoroughly. There is a reason why it is so hard to become an astronaut.

  24. Manisha says:

    Wow. When I first read about the reality show option, I got creeped out but then I realized this is not like any other reality show. This is not about a competition but the survival of all 24 people selected to go. It will require cooperation, patience and kindness. In that light, I can’t wait to see what they will do!

  25. judy says:

    I have to believe the effort and sacrifice are no more daunting than the expedition by Columbus to find the Indies. Those sailors were probably illiterate. They believed there were Dragons in the Sea and believing the World was flat they were pretty sure when a ship ventured too far it fell off the Earth into ?????????. I keep thinking they may find elements that will make it easier to survive and there will be such a Hoopla about the brave fearless Space Explorers that a return vessel will eventually be built. Our venture into Space has to begin with but a single step, perhaps this is it.

    • Pam says:

      Well said, Judy. Though this type of exploration isn’t something most (me included!) people would do I am grateful for those that are willing to jump in and see what is waiting to be discovered OUT there. Ultimately we can all benefit from these brave people. Karen, best of luck on making the next cut!

    • Vanessa says:

      Except for the part where they knew the world was round about 3 BC. I don’t know why schools can’t get that right. Columbus wasn’t the first to think it round, he just thought it much smaller than it is. So in his mind going West to reach the East would work.

      But other than that (sorry it just drives me nuts that I was, and my kids are, taught such a crock!) I totally agree with you! They will be the first of many!

  26. Pam B says:

    Hiya Karen!!! And Karen!!!

    OH MY GOSH!!! I’ve never heard of this before, or else I might just have applied too. It sounds FANTASTIC!!! Right up my alley. Yep, I’m a bit envious. And elated. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut. It was my dream when I was little. I was born in 1957, so I am a space-age baby. Many congratulations to you, and much luck. Will be continuing to follow the story now. Blessed be, hugs!!! Pam
    pamspretties57 at gmail dot com

  27. Diana says:

    Crazy as hell!!! Never ever!!!

  28. Liz says:

    this is wild, actually wild. Kids 30 yrs from now will think that space life is just totally normal. Are there going to be baby quotas up there? Like… some of the 24 are going to be good producers lol! Or are they mandating birth control for everyone?…

  29. Jan in Waterdown says:

    My husband used to work with KC back in the day. So when we heard that amazing news, all he wanted to know was ” do you think Mars can handle that famous Karen Cumming laugh?!”

  30. Wow, wow, wow! So amazing! My dad is a space nut, so I remember hearing about the project when they first announced it, but hadn’t kept up on it. It sounds so interesting, though! Congrats on making the top 100. Please keep us posted on what happens.

  31. LazySusan says:

    I wish you well. You’re very, very brave. I hope the mission is a rousing success!

  32. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Our Earth..in spite of its many problem..most of which are caused by people..is a beautiful place..I can’t imagine not being able to look out my window and see the green grass..and flowers..and my beautiful willow tree that I planted when I moved here..and looking up to the mountains..I wish you the best of luck Karen..but I will keep my feet right here on Mother Earth..

  33. anne says:

    I think there are far more worthy things to do here on this planet. Unmanned missions to Mars ..fine. Estimates for surviving once there are around 68 days…I don’t think there’ll be any vegetable gardening!

  34. Laura Bee says:

    Just want to say I wish only good things for you Karen. People wil be negative, but everything we do has a risk. People can live on the space station for extended periods of time, why not on Mars? Hopefully there are good things that come out of it.
    I am sure Karen’s post about growing food in 1 foot square spaces will be handy.
    (p.s. If the Earth was going to implode in 20 years, I’d grab my family & go, but until then I’ll stay here & do my part to keep it healthy.)

  35. Kevin says:

    Exciting.

  36. Bonnie says:

    I think that Karen is very, very brave, and probably pretty darned creative, too. (I research creative people, so I know that they tend to be thrill seekers and risk takers). There is so much that is scary about going to the unknown, but we are lucky that there are people who are willing to go to the unknown–otherwise we would not have had the explorations and discoveries that we have had. I agree that the earliest people to venture to the new world probably had many of the same fears and trepidations. Many of them knew that they could never go back, and they didn’t. I wish Karen and the others in her group all the best. Bon voyage!

  37. Vanessa says:

    I hope you will keep us posted on Karen’s progress!!! So exciting!

  38. Ei Con says:

    For the nerds out there, Big Bang Theory tonight involves Sheldon signing up for one-way trip to Mars. Also good, funny book recommendation: “The Martian” by Andy Weir. Soon to be a movie.. But in reality Karen C. has within her what every previous great explorer has had. Boundless curiosity and faith! Brava!!

    • Kitten Caboodle says:

      I was also responding to recommend the book “The Martian” – I just finished it yesterday. It was so good, I’m sad I tore through it so quickly.

      Karen, it’s right up your alley – the main character is hilarious and you’d admire is his can-do attitude and ingenuity. Read it right now!

  39. Suzanne says:

    Good luck to you Karen but I can’t help but think that this is not going happen… Atleast not in 2024. We haven’t made enough advancements yet. Heck we couldn’t even accomplish this on our own planet. Look at the Biosphere 2! I think those people ended up being quacks. Someone ended up cutting off their finger 2 weeks in and has to be taken to the ER. That won’t be available on mars. I hope there’s a real good doctor in the 100, not one that will just give you a referral and a good psychologist because it’s gonna be tough. I think this will happen just not in 9 yrs. I think to send volunteers and not people who have trained their whole lives about space, and mars specifically is a mistake. I guess though since NASA and other space programs are losing funding this is the only way.
    And for those that asked, they’re won’t be a return trip because there will be no fuel to return. The most of the fuel is used in the very beginning to get the shuttle going and then they break off because they’re empty and useless at that point. Once on Mars there will be no fuel to help them get back and it seems they may have no food or water or oxygen either to spare since that would be needed for a return. Finally the math needed to get the ship to point to earth and get there is not easy. Both planets are orbiting at different rates around the sun, not to mention at different distances around the sun so they couldn’t just leave whenever. They would have to wait when the two were at their closest.
    I don’t think a random selection of people are ready especially not in 9 yrs. It’s cool though that your friend was selected.

  40. Suzanne says:

    Here’s a link to a recent article about biosphere 2 and the debacle. Atleast it’s being used for research now.
    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/booming/biosphere-2-good-science-or-bad-sense.html?referrer=&_r=0

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