Martians at the Museum

Mars Candidates
Mars One mission candidates (from left) Josh Richards, Sara Director, Yari Golden-Castaño, R. Daniel Golden-Castaño, and Peter Degen-Portnoy, share a laugh as they discuss the intricacies of their potential future life on Mars at the “Moving to Mars” event at the Museum of Science Wednesday evening. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/BU News Service
Written by Landry Harlan

By Landry Harlan
BU News Service

Twenty thousand people started the application. Only 4,500 finished it. One hundred are still in the running. Four will be chosen for the move of a lifetime: A one-way trip to Mars.

“The challenge is finding four people who won’t murder each other on TV while you’re watching in HD,” said Josh Richards, a ginger Aussie comedian and one of the remaining 100 candidates, speaking to a sold-out crowd at the Museum of Science.

The Moving to Mars event brought together five aspiring Martians from across the country to tell the stories of what compelled them to apply for this interstellar adventure. One might expect them each to be science savants with a resume full of acronyms and accolades. Several do have science in their background, but it was their personalities and ingenuity that propelled them through the application’s many hoops.

“The right people are adaptive and creative”, said Peter Degen-Portnoy, a wiry software engineer and father of five from New York. “The most difficult part is understanding just what this commitment means.”

Mars One, a nonprofit foundation with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars, conceived the mission with a commitment of a lifetime, or better put, a lifetime commitment. After they disembark in April 2023, the four original settlers will remain on the planet the rest of their lives with four new inhabitants arriving every 26 months. To date, no human has made it as far as Mars.

Two of the applicants at the event actually met through the application process and live in an RV in Bedford, using the cramped space as a kind of training for the confinement of the proposed Mars settlement pods.

“We have four other roommates, two cats and two turtles,” said Yari Golden-Castano, a shy systems engineer from Somerville.

Her U.S. Army veteran husband, R. Daniel, initially didn’t make it into the top 100. Despite this, the two started dating after meeting up in Boston for New Year’s. Then, in what can only be called fate, six finalists dropped out and R. Daniel got the news that he would be a replacement. Yari and R. Daniel got married a year later.

Sara Director, a 27-year-old “starving artist but not starving” from Philadelphia, got engaged despite the possible distance from her husband. Surprisingly, she said it’s only brought them closer. The artistic possibilities are worth the journey alone, though the available materials will be atypical to say the least.

“I think I’ll make paint out of Martian dust,” she proposed.

Though all five come from wildly tangent backgrounds, what are driving them to leave the comforts of Earth are parallel forces.

“I think I have a responsibility to put myself out there and try,” Degen-Portnoy said. “Everyday would be a fascinating adventure.”

“My biggest fear is not trying,” Yari added.

Applications are closed for the first astronaut application, but Mars One says it will start new selection programs regularly. Just be prepared for 10 years of training to, as Richards puts it, “work out if you have the right stuff.”

Asked about the risks of such a pioneering journey, Director responded, “The reward is high…changing the human condition”.

Degen-Portnoy smiled and looked up at the ceiling as if gazing at Mars itself.

“I want to see the stars.”

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