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Chasing Life On The Red Planet: An Interview With Mars One Candidate Laurel Kaye

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Laurel Kaye is as goal-oriented and level-headed as you would expect from someone who just earned a physics and pre-medical degree from Duke University. She approaches even her most insane goal quite logically.

"I would love to be able to bring pets to Mars," she says over dog barks in the yard of her current home in Long Island, New York. "But weight is pretty much everything when it comes to launching a rocket. I'm sure that a pet itself would not weigh a lot, but the things required to sustain it like food and water would be significant. So I hope that someday if we ever do set up a settlement or a research base that we will be able to have animals there but I'm guessing it will probably be a little while."

Kaye is one of the final 100 candidates for Mars One's first human mission. Founded in 2011, Mars One aims to take "the next giant leap for mankind" by landing four living, breathing human beings on Mars in 2027. Right now, they are working on narrowing down the applicant pool to 24 people who will be sent to Mars in groups of four every two years from 2027 on.

The nonprofit has received a hefty dose of criticism in these first few years of existence, particularly because of its extremely limited resources, but Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp doesn't think this means failure is inevitable. He recently said in an organized debate about the project's feasibility that he believes the effort "is so ambitious and – I think 'crazy' is the right word – that we might actually get a phone call from a billionaire who says, 'I want to make this happen.'"

Kaye broke down the selection process for us. It began with an online application that involved writing essays and creating a video on the Mars One site. The company claims that it received 200,000 applications from wannabe space explorers worldwide, but others suspect that the number was actually much lower.

Once she made it through that round, she was interviewed by Dr. Norbert Kraft, who has previously served as a psychological and psychiatric adviser to NASA and is now the chief medical officer at Mars One. In addition to proving her psychological stability and memory skills, Kaye had to get a clean bill of physical health from her doctor before moving on to the third round.

That's the round that Kaye and her 99 potential co-colonizers are in right now, but they still have a ways to go before Mars One chooses the final 24. So far, she has interacted with Mars One representatives over Skype, phone and email but has not met anyone from the organization in person.

"For the next round we're actually going somewhere, though we're not sure where yet, but it sounds like it's going to be somewhere desolate," she says.

What she does know is that they will be presented with a group challenge to test their physical and mental ability, as well as their teamwork skills. By the end of the round, the group will be pared down to just 40 candidates who will immediately be broken into groups of 10 and begin an isolation challenge.

Out of those who make it through 10 weeks confined in a small space with their group and no contact with the outside world, the Mars One team will then choose 30 to go on to the next round. From there, interviews and more group challenges will weed out six more candidates to get down to 24 "finalists."

"But they're going to be continually switching out candidates for others who might turn out to be even better," Kaye explains. "So even if I make it to the final 24, it is not actually the final 24 – I still have a chance of my spot getting taken."

That's fine by Kaye, however. She knows that if this Mars mission is going to work, the teams have to be made up of people who are truly prepared, both physically and mentally, to solve the problems that they encounter because they're not going to be able to get outside help and there is no turning back after the launch.

"They're going to have to live with each other and perform the research that they're assigned and also kind of build a little society for themselves, so they definitely want to spend a lot of time choosing the right people," she says. "I hope that's me, but if it's not I'd rather be selected out than be miserable with the other people on the mission."

Rumors that Mars One is a scam and is choosing finalists based on how much funds they raise for the company have been circulating over the last several months, but Kaye says this certainly hasn't been true for her. She claims that the only money she has provided for Mars One is the initial application fee. As far as Kaye is concerned, that was money well spent regardless of whether she ever sets foot on the red planet.

"Even just to say I applied to go to Mars, that's worth 25 of my dollars any day," she says.

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