If Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey have taught us anything, it’s that outer space, while magnificent, can also be unpredictable and terrifying. Even when you’re exploring it with George Clooney and Anne Hathaway (respectively).
That hasn’t dampened the spirits of non-profit organization Mars One, which is seeking to colonize the extremely inimical planet. And by inimical we mean basically uninhabitable—liquid water cannot exist on its surface, and the average temperature is a balmy minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. According to their business plan, Mars One hopes to establish a human settlement in as little as 10 years using a $6 billion budget, which has not yet been amassed; CEO and cofounder Bas Landorp plans to get funding from sponsors, donations, and an entertainment company willing to turn the whole thing into a reality TV show starring two dozen lucky earthlings. We reached out to NASA to get their thoughts on the plan’s feasibility, but they declined to comment beyond saying, “We have no involvement or insight into the Mars One activity.”
John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., was a bit more frank: “It looks like a scam,” he told BuzzFeed News.
When the ambitious Mars One plan was initially announced, more than 200,000 people from all over the world applied to win one of 24 one-way tickets to the red planet. In February, the pool was whittled down to 100 people, now dubbed the “Mars 100.” One of those 100 is Mead McCormick, an East Hollywood filmmaker with her eyes on the starry prize. Here the potential future Martian talks project logistics, sexy times in space, and leaving her family and friends—and brisket quesadillas—behind.
Do you realize how bananas this project sounds?
I think that’s part of the reason why I applied. It doesn’t sound crazy to me at all. It’s not like we’re leaving tomorrow. It’s been a two-year process so far, and it’s a 10-year training process. That leaves a lot of room for innovation and a lot of technology changes, so to me, the ability to make it happen wasn’t crazy, and the opportunity it provides is once in—not a lifetime, but once in the history of humanity. So for me I was like, that’s amazing.
I read on your Mars 100 profile that you’ve always been interested in Biosphere 2. A lot of people are fascinated by the idea of visiting space, but living there is another story. What makes you want to spend the rest of your life on Mars?
I’ve always loved space narratives; science fiction movies or TVs show set in space or even set on earth—even really terrible ‘70s shows like Logan’s Run. The Biosphere made it real for me. In that experiment, you’re cut off from everyone that you know, and there are problems with fundamental things like oxygen and food and clean water and recycling resources. To me, those people were so heroic and interesting to say, Yeah, let’s shut ourselves inside of this geodesic dome for two years and see if it works! That’s the right place to start: outside Tuscon, not on a different planet.
What part of life on Mars sounds most exciting?
I think a lot of other people in the 100 would say it’s about scientific discovery, which is exciting to me, but I’m a filmmaker. The idea of [documenting] this permanent settlement, of seeing the human stories that might happen and seeing what it looks like when a society is just starting, I’m really excited about that. And I think that’s part of the reason why they like me.
What scares you the most?
A lot of things. Never seeing my friends and family ever again. I think dust storms are really scary, actually. It’s not like they’d blow you over, but they’d be so long lasting that a lot of dirt and surface material would build up on the solar panels, which are responsible for all of the power in the habitat. So if you had a storm that lasted long enough, it could endanger the whole settlement.
Is Mars One thinking about those kinds of things?
Of course. We had to do interviews prior to the cut from 1,058 down to 100, and they gave us a thorough study packet. The interviews were with Dr. Norbert Kraft, who is the Chief Medical Officer of Mars One, and who also worked for NASA and the Russian and Japanese Space Agencies. He’s also published works about the psychological and physiological effects of being in space. Most of the questions in the interview were based on survival—dust storms and radiation and things like that. Things that could really knock us out.
What are some of the psychological and physiological effects you can expect to deal with?
I’ll mention one: the trip from Earth to Mars would take between six and eight months. There will be a point during that trip when you wouldn’t be able to see Earth anymore, and you wouldn’t be able to see Mars yet. You’d just be out in the open thinking, Hopefully we’re going in the right direction…? You could be lost in space or you could be on your way. It’s really scary.
How does your family feel about all this?
They’re very proud of me, but they don’t want me to go. They’re like, “This is great! Please say no!” And I have a boyfriend who was like, “Congratulations, that’s amazing, but please don’t go!” The only person who really wants me to go is my best friend, Summer. I was weighing that, because I met my boyfriend after I had applied for the mission. Summer said, “everybody falls in love. That’s not a rare thing. How can you even think about giving up this opportunity for something as common as love? You have to do it, it’s your destiny.”
Speaking of love, if you’re not sexually attracted to any of the 12 men who travel to Mars with you, does it make you sad to think you might never have sex or get married or have children, like—ever?
The idea of never having kids definitely is kind of sad. That’s their only advice: don’t have kids when there are only four people and no medical facilities. But they don’t say you can’t have sex. There are plenty of opportunities for various kinds of sex that don’t result in pregnancy. But I’m just one of the 100. It will eventually get down to four people who go in the first team. And even if that’s me, I would still have another ten years before leaving, so there’s plenty of time for getting stuff done here on earth [laughs]. By the time I left I’d be in my late 30s, so it would be a different question at that point.
The Mars One site says it would be your job to “colonize” the planet. What does that mean for your day-to-day?
If I were on the first team it would mainly be growing things on a farm, setting up a living space, and making sure everything is running smoothly before the second team to gets there. If I was with second team, then things start expanding and we’d be more focused on experiments. More than 24 people will eventually be going. The plan is that applications will reopen consistently, like a rolling admissions process.
Is Mars One trying to make sure that the people who are chosen will get along?
Definitely. In the next round of selection, we’re going to get a form that’s basically like, “who do you want your roommate to be when you move into the dorm?” Do you care about socks on the floor? Do you mind body odor? Are you a night person or a day person? We’re going to fill that out first, and then Norbert Kraft will put us in teams for challenges that take place in the third and fourth rounds.
You’re on another level than me. You’re bold. I think this sounds awful.
I had a weird childhood. My father got a job in Siberia when I was seven, so we moved there for two years. I was raised with this idea that moving to a hostile environment that’s really far away isn’t that crazy. You’re going to be fine. It’s more about survival than boldness.
What do you think you’d miss most about earth?
My friends and family. But there are lots of things. I would miss plants and animals and singing birds and breathable air and an atmosphere, like clouds, and being able to go outside for as long as you want. You couldn’t do that on Mars, even in your suit, because of the radiation. You can only really go outside for an hour per day. You’re so free on earth to do whatever you want. But at the same time it gives you an appreciation. When I made the first cut from 200,000 to 1,058, I was like, “Oh crap, now I have to really start thinking about this.” It’s not a novelty anymore.
What would you miss most about L.A.?
Just because it’s on my mind, I got this amazing brisket quesadilla from a food truck and it was delicious. I won’t miss the traffic, but I will miss all the great food.
When you first step out of the shuttle, what will your “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” history-making line be?
I don’t think anyone can compete with that line. I’m such a nerd that I’d probably make a Star Trek reference, like, “Space: the final frontier.” Bring some levity to it, you know? It should be fun and exciting! That’s a big purpose of the entire mission: unifying humanity and helping us look towards the future. I would want to give people that uplifting moment.
This interview has been edited and condensed.