TIOGA Dee Sanders is only a second generation American who finds a kindred spirit in the grandmother who left everything she knew in her native Norway behind to take some steps into the new world. Now she's set to maybe become one of the first to colonize a brand new world if a group set on sending humans to Mars by 2024 has its way.
The office manager of the Tioga Machine Shop wants to put those leadership skills as well as the intellectual curiosity evidenced by her degree in philosophy and religious studies to use in experiencing the unknown.
The founders of the Mars One program (www.Mars-One.com) came together in 2011 to hatch a plan for permanent human colonization on Mars. The first year was spent analyzing the feasibility of such a plan and included input from public space agencies and private aerospace corporations from around the world.
Dee Sanders kneels next to a map of other applicants to become the first colonists of Mars taped to her desk at Tioga Machine Shop where she works as office manager.
Once an idea from the realm of science fiction, colonizing Mars has since found its way into the "dossiers of national space agencies" and the hearts and minds of researchers and scientists, Mars One says. The research and experiments conducted in previous space missions have been built upon to go ever further and have even found more terrestrial uses when data is applied to worldly science.
"While complex, the Mars One Mission is feasible. The science and technology required to place humans on Mars exists today. Much of what was learned from Skylab, Mir and the International Space Station has resulted in vital data, experiences with systems and related know-how all of which are applicable to living on Mars," a statement on their website said.
The one technology currently out of reach of science is spacecraft capable of taking off from Mars to return to Earth. That need was scrapped because these colonists won't be coming back. They're going to Mars to stay.
"For the astronauts, Mars will be a new home, where they will live and work. While this may seem unreasonable to some, others have no greater ambition in their life. Such dedicated settlers will be chosen by Mars One as their crews," Mars One states.
And Sanders has made it all the way from over 200,000 applicants in the first round through the 1,058 left in the second round all the way to the 705 applicants selected for interviews to become the first wave to settle on Mars.
Just like her grandmother in Norway, Sanders will be making a sacrifice if selected.
"I do have a long-term boyfriend, though we're not married," she said. "We have nine children among us, seven of which are my own. My youngest is eight and so I figured that he is already going to be out of school and doing his own thing so I can be off doing my own thing."
She said she would have thought twice had her children still been too young by the 2024 mission. She also has the support of her boyfriend, though she thinks "he's kind of crossing his fingers that she won't get to go."
"He's just like, 'Well, if you do get to go I'm going to miss you,' and I'm like, 'Well, I'll miss you too. We can still talk to each other,'" she said, laughing.
She first found out about the program about a year prior to the April 2013 application date while just browsing the Internet. She started watching closely, sent in her application, and then just waited, without really having anyone else around her to share in her anxiousness.
"Unfortunately I'm the only North Dakotan," she said. "Around me there are some Canadians who are close and a few Minnesotans that are close but everywhere else there's just me in this little circle. There's another lady up in Alaska so she's kind of in the boondocks, too, with no one around her applying. I think it does take a special breed of people who do want to take this adventure. We have to be able to adapt to new environments," she said, adding that she first tested herself in this way through an exchange program to Japan while in college.
The relative isolation of having grown up in Wyoming and then living in small town North Dakota will prepare her for the isolation felt in a world where the native environment is hostile to human life. The first four and then those who come later will live in a colony of life support pods constructed and prepared by a rover sent up in 2020 that will be controlled by a communications satellite launched into Martian orbit two years prior.
The crews begin training in 2015 in environments controlled to proximate those found on Mars. Gardening, a big hobby and interest of Sanders', will be taught to Mars specifications and so will technical training like maintaining the colony technology. It will be ongoing for nearly a decade before they are fully ready.
All that isolation applicants expect, though, will first be tested in the journey to the planet which Mars One says will take anywhere from seven to eight months depending on the relative distance between Mars and Earth at launch.
The journey will put the four colonists in extremely tight quarters, with only 20 cube meters of living space between the four of them and no frills to be found. Food will be freeze-dried and showers are a non-existent luxury, instead being replaced with washing down with wet-wipes as astronauts do on the International Space Station. There will be continuous sound from the spacecraft.
After the harrowing journey they will find themselves in a modular living space on the surface of Mars specially selected by those monitoring the rover as being "far enough North for the soil to contain enough water, equatorial enough for maximum solar power and flat enough to facilitate construction of the settlement." They will have 1,000 cubed meters of total living space between them.
It will be hard living for all involved and Sanders isn't without her own reservations.
"I'm a little bit older and there's some younger ones and I fear maybe not being up to par with them. And, actually, there are some people who have some degrees in engineering and I wonder how I can compete with that," she said. "They have the knowledge but knowledge can be learned if you've got the passion."