FORT BLISS, Texas – Many children know what they want to be when they grow up. Some wish to become a doctor or veterinarian, while others want to be a pirate or princess. Yet, since the first person went into space, many children have dreams of donning a spacesuit and going to other planets.
One of those children was Craig Adam Veilleux, who found the opportunity of a lifetime when the Dutch non-profit organization, Mars One, recently began accepting applications from anyone willing to give up life on Earth and become a colonist in a one-way trip to Mars.
“I have wanted to go to Mars since I was a little kid,” said Veilleux, now 25 and a first lieutenant with 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade here. “Yeah, it’s a crazy dream and doesn’t earn as much money as other dreams, but it has kept me going. At first, I wanted to go to the moon, but Mars has an atmosphere.”
Veilleux, a Peachtree City, Ga., native, said he’s been looking into space exploration and colonization programs for about seven years, and first learned about Mars One on a humor website long before they were seeking applicants.
“I was looking through the memes when I saw one called ‘Hey, let’s go to Mars,’” said Veilleux, a launcher platoon leader. “I read more about Mars One and sent an email asking them to please send me.”
That was when he learned that the Mars One program was not yet accepting applications.
“It was kind of embarrassing,” said Veilleux.
Undaunted, Veilleux continued to research everything about colonizing Mars. He read everything on the Mars One website, books about colonizing Mars and the Mars Direct plan which was first suggested in 1990 as a cost-effective, manned-mission to Mars using current technology.
Once the Mars One program officially opened their doors, Veilleux was ready and immediately submitted his application, which required a motivational letter on why he wanted to go to Mars and answering questions about how he handles teamwork or stress.
“He would definitely bring a different view on everything because even though he is super smart, he is not just technical, he is fun to work with, too,” said Pfc. Chelsea Benbrook, one of Veilleux’s Soldiers.
Once the applications are evaluated and the applicants notified, there will be televised competitions where the contestants will have to prove their worth to move on to the next round, and, similar to shows like American Idol, the audience will decide who succeeds.
From his time in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at North Georgia University, Dahlonega, Ga., and Army leadership courses, Veilleux explained that in competitions, people with the most abilities tend to team up and push everyone else down, but when you remove the need to compete, everyone tries to emphasize what each other can do instead of exclude.
“Good teams put the best person in charge of a task and at the same time make sure everyone else is picking it up,” said Veilleux.
The future Mars colony is also planned to be broadcast so the world will see how the colonists are living. Although they might become TV stars, the applicants will have to be serious about the program; on Mars, they will spend most of their time on chores like growing food and conducting experiments for Earth-bound scientists.
“I was planning on heading to Mars myself, but these guys are going, so I’ll hang with them,” said Veilleux jokingly. “(Mars One candidates) generally don’t care for fame. We want to go to another planet, and that’s pretty much it. If being famous were the goal, it would not last long.”
For the very few who make it, they will become employees of Mars One to be trained for almost seven years, in four-person teams, on everything they will need to know to colonize Mars.
The teams, consisting of people from four different countries, will have to learn to overcome any differences to handle the training challenges thrown at them. A clogged toilet in a sealed habitat creates enough stress without arguing with your teammates at the same time. Veilleux’s possible future team will be training to survive together in a habitat millions of miles from Earth. The only outside help will come through communications delayed by the six to 40 minutes it takes for a message to travel between Earth and Mars.
With 2022 planned for the first launch date to send the first Mars One team, it will take approximately 210 days for the four colonists to travel through the near-empty gulf of space between Earth and Mars. The team, who will be constantly bombarded by dangerous solar and cosmic radiation, will only have their ship to protect them.
Once at Mars, the team will have to survive the atmosphere entry and descent, which NASA calls ‘the seven minutes of terror,’ and land near a pre-configured habitat that would be set up and tested by specially designed Mars rovers before the colonists left Earth. Landing on Mars will just be the beginning of the rest of their life: there is no plan or even capability for the Mars One team to return to Earth.
“Each of us wants to go to Mars and we are very aware there is no trip back,” said Veilleux about the Mars One applicants.
Mars is one-third Earth’s size and has lower gravity, so while future travelers may have fun bouncing around like Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, the red planet is still dangerous; the air is mostly carbon dioxide and too thin to breathe, the average temperature is 60 degrees below freezing, and the soil is toxic. The colonists will find protection in their specially-designed Mars suits and their habitat, which will keep them warm and provide just enough room for them to grow food and produce water and air to breathe from the small amounts of water frozen in the Martian soil.
In spite of the danger and difficulties, Veilleux and the other Mars One applicants are determined to take the trip and, like the settlers of the American West, make a life in an unknown land.
“If I didn’t try, then I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror,” said Veilleux.