One-way trip to Mars opens new horizons

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 5, 2014 

Beardsley

Ann M. Beardsley wants to take a one-way trip to Mars.

She is one of 200,000 people on Earth who expressed interest in going, and one of 705 still in the running for a trip proposed for 2025 by a Netherlands nonprofit foundation called Mars One.

"When I tell people about it, they react in two distinct ways," she told me. "They either say, 'Cool! When can I sign up?' or 'Are you nuts?' "

Beardsley does not seem nuts.

She is a 62-year-old, happily married mother of two daughters, now young adults.

She works as a manuscript editor from her home in Townsend, Ga., 45 minutes south of Savannah. Her husband is an optometrist whose main hobby is flying.

Beardsley has many down-to-Earth pursuits, such as quilting, running, gardening, kayaking and writing. She runs in the annual Dopey Challenge long-distance races at Walt Disney World.

"I am so normal, it's kind of boring," she said.

But Beardsley thinks she may have an "explorer's gene," like those who sailed over the horizon to the New World or loaded into wagons to see what lay beyond the Mississippi River.

But Mars?

"It's pretty daunting when you think about it," Beardsley said.

She admits that she and her family may not have thought this all the way through. It all seems so distant. Like Scarlett O'Hara, Beardsley is going to think about some of it tomorrow.

But she asks: "What better legacy could I leave than to show that, even at this age, you can still dream and do whatever you want when you put your mind to it?"

'WE DID IT'

Putting people on Mars isn't as spaced-out as it seems.

Last month, the National Research Council said in a congressionally mandated report that the expense and risks of human space travel can only be justified by putting humans in other worlds.

It set the ultimate goal as boots on Mars, which fits with NASA's long-term vision.

"This is affirmation that a mission to Mars is a go," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and former space-shuttle flier. "But as the report points out, we'll have to give NASA sufficient resources to get this done."

Mars One says it can establish permanent human life on Mars with existing technology, sending teams of four "aspiring Martians" at a time to settle the Red Planet.

"The first footprint on Mars and lives of the crew thereon will captivate and inspire generations," says a Mars One news release. "It is this public interest that will help finance this human mission to Mars."

Beardsley has not been asked to raise money for Mars One, but she has been encouraged to spread the word.

"I would like everyone to be aware of this program and others like it," she said. "As a country, as a globe, we need to support this sort of exploration."

She was a teenager when astronaut Neil Armstrong took "one small step for man" on the face of the moon.

"It was exciting," Beardsley said. "It opened new worlds. We had a common purpose to get to the moon and, wow, we did it."

Today, she said, "We seem so bent, as a people, on finding our differences instead of our commonality."

NEW HORIZONS

Beardsley has never been a stargazer.

She never thought about Mars until she plunked down $29 for an application to live there.

If she should make it through two more phases of winnowing out the would-be "settlers," and if she should ever take that one-way trip to Mars, Beardsley is confident she would still be able to communicate by Internet with her Earthling family.

"It makes you think about things," she said.

She is pushing herself in new ways, setting new horizons right here on Earth.

She has a college degree and business degree, but is enrolling in online courses in space systems management, astronomy and mechanical engineering.

Last month, she ran in the 5.5-mile JCB Mud Run in Savannah, slogging, sliding and crawling over obstacles.

"If I can't do mildly challenging stuff, how can I dream of going to Mars?"

She talks of coming up in an era when women became teachers, nurses, secretaries or housewives.

She remembers thinking at one point that if she had it to do over again, she would become an astronaut.

And she thinks about that feeling that came over her when she finished her first marathon in her mid-50s.

"Wow, I can do anything."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content:

Mars One

National Research Council news release on manned-space-flight study

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