Out of this World: Alumna in the running for one-way trip to Mars
When SF State alumna Kenya Armbrister was 10 years old, her father asked her if she would travel to outer space if given the opportunity. Without hesitation, she responded with a simple “yes.” Years later, a possible trip to Mars could make her childhood dream into a reality.
“I was like ‘this has to be a joke, this can’t be real,'” said Armbrister. “I might be going to another planet and it’s crazy that I’m saying that.”
Armbrister, 36, is an SF State alumna and one of the 100 candidates remaining in the Mars One project, a not-for-profit organization created by two entrepreneurs from the Netherlands in 2011 to send ordinary people from around the world to civilize the uninhabited red planet. Mars One accepted applications to be considered for the program in April 2013.
Only four people will be selected to make the trip to the Red Planet in 2024, which is estimated to cost $6 billion. The remaining 20 applicants will be used for backup in case any one of the four chosen decides to stay on Earth. Following the first trip, Mars One will send an additional four people every two years.
At the end of 2015, the application process will open up again for the next group of four candidates who will travel to Mars in 2026, according to the Mars One timeline.
The possibility of partaking in an interstellar trip like this would not be the first time Armbrister left everything behind to embark on a new journey.
A middle child, Armbrister is the only female among her siblings. Since leaving her hometown of Fresno at 18 years old, she has travelled around the world to 179 cities in 20 different countries and speaks both French and German.
“I remember my dad did not want to buy my first passport and tried to keep me in Fresno,” Armbrister said. “Since then, I’ve been taking one-way trips all around the world.”
Armbrister moved to San Francisco in 1997 but took time that same year to study in Germany. When she returned to the United States, she enrolled at SF State, where she graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in History.
In order for her to apply for Mars One, she was required to be over the age of 18, make a one-minute video profile for the website and pay a $38 application fee. Of the 202,586 people that applied, 24 percent of them were from the United States, according to a Mars One press release.
The applicants endured a full-body medical exam before a second round of cuts in spring 2014. Armbrister was one of the 1,058 candidates left by March.
She and the remaining candidates went through an extensive interview process with the Mars One Chief Medical Officer Dr. Norbert Kraft in December 2014 and January 2015. Kraft tested them on knowledge and situational-based questions from information he sent out to the group a month before.
“When we are looking at candidates, we want to know if they really know what they are getting into,” Kraft said. “Most things you can back out of like marriage, but you can’t back out of this.”
Kraft evaluated potential participants to see if they could work well with others. Those selected to partake on the journey to Mars must be creative and able to overcome difficult conflicts, Kraft said.
The candidates that make the final cut will have to endure strict conditions that include living in an enclosed environment and undergoing medical examination at least two times a week, according to Kraft. A water, nitrogen and oxygen levels checkup will be required constantly and food will be rationed for the first two years.
“The impossible can be achieved if we all work together as a team,” he said.
Mars One officials announced the final 100 candidates, 50 men and 50 women, Feb.16. Armbrister’s father, Ed Armbrister, said he is not scared for her, but rather feels excited.
“I am really proud of her and little bit jealous as well,” Ed Armbrister said. “I support her 1,000 percent because very few people get to do this.”
The remaining 100 candidates will be put to the test to see how they work as a team and if they can cope with being confined to a small space, according to Armbrister. Of the 100 candidates that are left, 24 will be chosen to get the full training needed to travel to Mars.
There are plans to send aautomated survey vehicle to Mars in 2018, according to the NASA website. Armbrister said she believes that in order to create a civilization, our society needs more than rovers.
“NASA doesn’t want to send anyone to Mars unless they have a way to bring the people home,” Armbrister said. “And in order to start a colony or society on Mars, you have to have people who are willing to stay there and create it.”
Armbrister will fill out a sheet of characteristics of likes and dislikes that will be used by Mars One this month to determine who are the best people to group based on characteristics. She will be able to select a team of about 10 to 15 candidates to determine how they work together.
For Armbrister, a trip to Mars is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even though she will not be able to be in the presence of her loved ones, she will still able to communicate with them online.
“Yeah, it’s sad, but I have friends all around the world that I communicate with Skype, email or Facebook,” Armbrister said. “I will still be able to communicate with my family. I won’t be able to touch them but I will still see them.”
Ed Armbrister said he will miss his daughter, he still hopes for the best.
“If she makes it there, hopefully I’m still alive by then,” Ed Armbrister said. “She will be my favorite martian.”