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Duke senior is finalist for Mars colony mission

Senior Laurel Kaye has been selected as one of 100 finalists competing to be a part of the astronaut team sent on a one-way trip to Mars — where the ultimate goal is a sustainable colony.

A program called Mars One has been recruiting willing and qualified people during the past two years to embark on a mission to establish a permanent human settlement on the planet. Mars One received more than 200,000 applicants and will eventually narrow it down to 24.

Kaye’s longtime dream of going to space became more real in late February as she received the news of her advancement through another round of applicant cuts. Her involvement with Mars One began from a Facebook ad.

“One of my friends posted it on my wall,” Kaye said. “She knew I’ve always had a passion for Mars and immediately thought of me when she saw it.”

Mars One has established its plan for a colony based upon solely existing technology. According to the program’s timeline, demonstration missions will begin in 2018, and the first crew will be sent in 2024.

Once on Mars, the astronauts will remain for the rest of their lives to carry out the mission.

Kaye had her doubts about the idea of not returning from Mars. But she believes following her dreams is more important.

“That was my hesitation off the bat,” she said. “But if it’s your dream to go to Mars, and you’re going to work hard for a decade for it, I don’t think a one-way mission is that bad of an idea.”

Mars One will send four astronauts every two years. Once they arrive, the astronauts will begin preparing for the next round of astronauts. The cargo necessary for the crew will land a few weeks after each crew does. The process will continue indefinitely to expand the settlement.

But some scientists are skeptical of Mars One’s plans to send people to Mars permanently, given the limitations of current technology.

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a study in October on the project’s feasibility and concluded that Mars One will need new technology to keep humans alive on Mars indefinitely.

For example, the mission is to grow all food in the compound, but researchers found that the levels of oxygen these plants produce will be unsafe. A technological method of removing excess oxygen has not yet been developed.

Gerard ‘t Hooft, a Nobel laureate and Mars One ambassador, told U.K.-based The Guardian that he doesn’t think a 2024 launch is possible.

Still, for the final 100 applicants, the excitement of settling on Mars is all that matters. The process began with a series of essay questions and an introduction video.

“The first three questions were, tell them about why you wanted to go to Mars, what your sense of humor was like and what would make you the optimal candidate,” Kaye said.

N.C. State University senior Charles Parrish, who made it through several rounds of cuts but was not a finalist, said he remains hopeful about eventually exploring space.

“Although I may not be realizing my childhood dream of exploring space through Mars One, my dream is very much still alive,” he said.

Kaye knows that challenges are ahead — that a Mars mission carries more risks and unknowns than certainties. But she believes she’s ready.

“Even as a kid I’ve always been so interested in space,” she said. “For me it wasn’t that out of the realms of normalcy.”

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