February 27, 2015

English major alum might go to Mars

Mead McCormick (A.B. ’09) is in the running to take part in the first human mission to Mars, an operation sponsored by Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit organization.  They plan to launch an unmanned orbiter to Mars as early as 2016 and to settle the first human colony by 2025. From these 100 applicants, the project’s leaders will ultimately choose 24 to make the first trip, in six separate teams of four.

McCormick first found out about the opportunity from a friend. “She knew that I was obsessed with space and space narratives,” McCormick said. “She basically told me it was my destiny to go to Mars.”

McCormick decided to apply just for fun, but didn’t expect to be chosen, as 200,000 people initially applied. But “after making the first cut,” she says, “your perspective shifts on everything. You start to appreciate more; you start to take into account what you’re actually doing with your life.”

Though interested in space, McCormick studied English and film studies at UChicago and like many of the project’s applicants, was not affiliated with NASA or other space-related work. However, the project allow and encourage applicants from all fields. The 100 finalists include physicians, engineers, political consultants, and even current students. Each of the applicants submitted a résumé, a motivational letter, and one-minute video about why they should be one of the first people to reach Mars. They had to be at least 18 years old and the project’s leaders looked for specific qualities in each of them, including curiosity, creativity, and resiliency.

McCormick has pursued a career in film, recently receiving her Master of Fine Arts in drafting from CalArts, and was involved in both Doc Films and Fire Escape Films when she attended the University. McCormick plans to continue this work even after beginning the mission. Mars One intends to broadcast the mission worldwide as a reality TV show and she hopes to be a part of this.

“I think it’s a documentarian’s dream to follow people who are involved in life and death circumstances every day of their life,” she said. “I would really like to see the interactions of humans in this situation, not as a scripted drama but more in an educational, inspirational way.”

By the end of this year, the 100 finalists will be cut to 24. The finalists will begin training for living on Mars almost immediately, so that they will have had 10 years’ worth of preparation by the time the first team departs in 2024. McCormick believes that this is the best way to make the transition, though nothing can prepare her for the change in food. “We’ll probably never have a glass of wine or a steak ever again, so I’ll really miss that,” she said.

McCormick expressed that she is incredibly excited. “There’s just so much to know that we don’t know’s going to lead to so many amazing discoveries, so I think every day will be a life-changing discovery and I just think that is so worth it,” she said.