Natalie Lawler has two daughters and a partner. But she is set to leave everything behind for the chance to live on Mars. Yes, Mars the red planet. She is part of the Mars One mission — establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars. The first unmanned mission is scheduled to leave in 2020. Crews will leave for their one-way journey starting in 2026, with the rest of the crew leaving every 26 months after that.
Natalie is one of the people going. Here she talks to Her Collective about her decision to go away for good.
What did you have to do to get to the global shortlist?
When I first read about Mars One in 2013 I thought that it may be a hoax as there was a small application fee to apply. After doing some research I found that Mars One has some prominent ambassadors and advisers and I applied. Round one involved an online written and video application. Mars One received interest from over 200,000 people across the globe and in December 2013 announced 1,058 candidates to progress to round two.
Round two required a medical statement and interview. 663 candidates were interviewed between December 2014 and January 2015. 100 applicants, dubbed the Mars 100, progressed from the interview stage to round three.
Round three and four selection process will take place at the end of 2015 which will involve international group challenges to demonstrate five key characteristics; resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust and creativity/resourcefulness. Successful candidates will be offered a full-time paid position to start training for the mission.
There are other Aussies on the shortlist, do you think having a fellow Aussie on-board will help?
Mars One’s aim is to create international teams of four to train for the mission so it is unlikely that I would be grouped with another Australian.
What motivated you to apply in the first place?
I think there are three reasons why we should go to Mars, and one reason why I want to help make it happen. We should go to Mars for the science. Is or was there life on Mars? Can Mars teach us about Earth’s history or help predict its future? What are the effects of microgravity? We should go to Mars for the challenge. We would not have evolved as a species if we weren’t natural explorers. And the next place to explore is our neighbouring planet. Thirdly, we should go to Mars for the future. Beginning humanity’s future as a multi-planetary species will inspire generations. It will also jumpstart technological advancements in recycling, solar energy etc. If we can live sustainably on Mars we can learn to live sustainably on Earth. My one reason is to ensure that the benefits of these three reasons are realised.
It’s a one-way ticket, how do you begin to prepare yourself for that, not least as you are leaving a partner and two children?
Before I submitted my round one application I committed emotionally to the mission. The main preparation was making the decision that I would actually go. In the decade of training Mars One will prepare me further. I will learn any skill they require and adapt to living in a Mars simulation outpost on Earth.
How did the conversation go with your family when you told them? What do they think?
My eldest daughter (14 years old) simply said that she would buy me a ticket. If I was asked at 14 I may have said I wanted to send my mum to Mars too! My youngest daughter (9) has just asked if I am famous will she be famous too! They both realise that they will be young adults (26 and 21) when humankind lands on Mars, or older if further delays are experienced. My partner is incredibly supportive and considered applying himself but he decided that he didn’t have the right psychological profile to stay in a small confined space with three other people for an extended period of time. Plus he loves coffee too much! My brother sent me a beautiful message “I’m so very proud of you….may all you dreams come true. Man can’t discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”. He gets it! The rest of my family have been on a journey of understanding which I am looking forward to taking the rest of the world on.
What about your friends, what do they think of this?
My colleague and good friend is my number one fan. I think he has individually told all 1,800+ students at our school of my plight. Other friends tell me that they are proud of me which I am uncomfortable about. I haven’t done anything extraordinary (yet) other than perhaps making the commitment to go. The selection rounds so far have been focused on eliminating unsuitable candidates rather than choosing the best candidates. This will come in round three and four.
Have you had moments of doubt? How do you reconcile those doubts?
I haven’t had any doubts that I want to help make this happen. As I have got to know some of the other candidates I have doubted that I will progress to the next round as they are all so remarkable!
I do receive a lot of negative criticism online from people who don’t know me or fully understand the mission. This negativity is predominantly directed at me being a mother and ‘leaving’ my children. If I was going to war and risking my life I would be branded a hero yet for this this mission I am labelled selfish and often crazy. Reading negative criticism frustrates me because people cannot see the bigger picture. I hope that I get to change these views and help people fully understand the world in which we live in.
What are you looking forward to and what scares you most about the possibility of being amongst the first humans to set foot on and live on Mars?
I’m looking forward to taking the world on a journey, particularly those who don’t see the benefit in space exploration. I’m looking forward to showing humanity that we can live sustainably on a harsh planet – growing our own food, recycling all waste and using only solar energy. Imagine if we did that on Earth!
Nothing on Earth really ‘scares’ me, except for jellyfish! The most frightening risk on Mars is if a sandstorm lasts for longer than our supplies provide for, or the life support units sustain irreparable damage.
What do you hope to accomplish when you’re finally on Mars?
The main goal of the mission is to live sustainability on Mars. We will eventually grow our own food and use in-situ resources to further develop the habitat. I hope that I play an integral part of the team work required to achieve this and keep us alive!
What will you miss the most once you leave Earth (apart from friends and family)?
We will have satellite communication (with delays ranging from three to 22 minutes) so contact will family and friends can still occur daily, including photos and video messages. Some sensory deprivation can be simulated (sounds and visuals of the ocean or rainforest) but smell and taste are hard to simulate. Food boredom is a concern, definitely during the seven month journey to Mars, so growing spices will eventually be a goal. Being outside without a spacesuit will probably be high on the list of what I will miss but then there will be a list of new and unique experiences that will (hopefully) become just as blissful.
What’s going to be your biggest challenge?
Dr Norbert Kraft, the Mars One chief medical officer, has said “My hope is that when they get to Mars, they’ll say ‘compared to what Norbert put us through, Mars is paradise!”. So I think training is going to be the biggest challenge!
I would be foolish not to acknowledge that saying goodbye to my family will be challenging. I will have trained in my team of four for over a decade. I will be an integral part of the team. They would not survive on Mars without me. My family will be safe on Earth with everything they need, still receiving my love for them daily.
How would you like to be remembered? What legacy do you hope to leave behind in doing this?
I don’t aspire to leave a legacy. This mission is not about any individual. It is about all humanity taking the next step in space exploration.
If you were given this once in a lifetime opportunity, would you do it?