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Woodbury man sets sights on Mars

Woodbury resident Jackson Kisling is one of 663 people from around the world who are semifinalists for a mission to Mars in 2024, by Netherlands-based Mars One, in hopes of establishing a colony on the Red Planet. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

A Woodbury man has a dream that is out of this world.

Woodbury resident Jackson Kisling, 38, is one of 663 people from around the world who are semifinalists for a mission to Mars in 2024, by Netherlands-based Mars One organization, in hopes of establishing a colony on the Red Planet.

“I thought it seemed like a perfect thing for me to try and get into because I believe very deeply that we need to expand our presence out into the galaxy,” said Kisling, a native of Hudson, Wis.

Other Minnesotans among the semifinalists are Daniel Bakken of Eagan, Chad Schilling of Eden Prairie, Megan Ewert of Lake Park and Paul Larson of New Hope.

Mars One

Mars One is proposing to send four people, two men and two women, to Mars every two years in order to establish a permanent human settlement on the planet.

After going through eight years of training for the mission, the first four people will leave in 2024 for a seven to eight month flight through space before landing on Mars.

Some of the new skills that the astronauts will learn in training include: how to perform physical and electrical repairs to the settlement structures, how to cultivate crops in confined spaces and how to address both routine and serious medical issues.

“You have to cram everything that a whole civilization does into four people,” Kisling said.

Additionally, the astronauts will be conditioned to live in confined quarters.

“They’ll probably be locking me in a can for a couple months at a time to make sure that I don’t snap,” Kisling said.

The Mars colonists will live in individual 150-square-foot settlements that will be powered through solar panels and includes oxygen-producing technology. All settlements will be connected and accessible to one another.

Each settlement will include inflatable compartments for bedrooms, working areas, a living room and a plant production unit where the colonists will grow greenery, according to the Mars One website. Additionally, the settlements will allow the colonists to shower as normal, prepare fresh food in the kitchen, wear regular clothes “and in essence lead typical day-to-day lives.”

However, the colonists will need to conduct routine maintenance checks of the equipment, which means that they will have to wear “Mars Suits” if and when they exit the settlement. The suits are required because of the radiation and lack of oxygen in Mars’ atmosphere, which is primarily made up of carbon dioxide.

Other characteristics of Mars include: its gravity is about 40 percent to Earth’s; changing seasons similar to that of Earth and temperatures that range from as low as 200 degrees below zero and as high as 95 degrees.

“There was a day last year where Minnesota was colder than Mars,” Kisling said. “If Minnesota is livable, Mars is livable.”

There is one caveat to the Mars One colony, though. There is no return flight, which means that the astronauts who are selected are going knowing that they will never set foot on Earth again.

“It’s really important that it be a one way mission,” Kisling said. “If you’re really going to do a colony and start a civilization, they have to cut off the return trip because if you’re there to stay, you really have to make it happen.”

The entire Mars One mission is anticipated to cost between $4 and $10 billion, which the organization is hoping to pay for through advertising and television rights for a reality show based on the travels.

Applying to be an astronaut

The application process for the Mars One mission kicked off in 2012 when nearly 200,000 applications were received for the mission. It cost $35 to apply.

According to the Mars One website, the ideal candidates must be at least 18 years old and in good physical health.

Additionally “the astronauts must be intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy.”

The website states candidates should be emotionally and psychologically stable, motivated, resilient, adaptable, curious, able to trust and creative.

Kisling, who submitted a video with his application, said he is trying to separate himself from the other applicants through his creativity.

“I’m going up against all these seriously intelligent and interesting people and I feel like I need to have some sort of angle, so I’m presenting myself as an artist,” said Kisling, who is full-time computer science student at Metro State University. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a major scientist or anything.

“In fact, I don’t even have a college degree yet, but you need someone to tell the story of the Mars colony.”

Mars One eventually cut the applications down to the 663 semifinalists, who will next go through an interview.

“I’m going to tell them that I don’t want to just be on this crew,” Kisling said, “I want to be the captain – I think I’m good at holding a team together.”

Following the interview, the next round in the selection process will have the candidates participate in group challenges that demonstrate their suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars. The challenges will be aired on television and on the Internet.

The fourth and final selection round, which will be broadcast throughout the world, will have groups of four demonstrate their ability to live in harsh living conditions while working together under difficult circumstances.

Norbert Kraft, the chief medical officer for Mars One, said there is no limit to how many people will be sent to Mars.

In addition to his leadership and management skills, Kisling said he feels that he can bring entertainment to the Mars colony through the various games he has designed over the years.

Additionally, Kisling said his computer science experience will be helpful in regards to the rovers and the equipment at the colony.

Kisling said he is excited about the possibility of going to Mars and the continued survival of the human race.

“The clock is ticking on us here,” he said. “We can’t let human beings perish from the Earth.”

Now, Kisling said, the hardest thing is going to be having to sit and wait to hear where the journey will take him.

“There’s a lot of skepticism around whether or not this can actually happen,” he said. “But whatever happens, I’m really glad to be a part of it because it’s turned my life around – it was the catalyst for me to get divorced, it was the catalyst for me to quit my job and go to school and it also motivated me to work out every single day.”

Whether or not Mars One pans out, Kisling said it is imperative that Earth continues to look to the galaxy for its future.

“I see so much potential in every celestial body out there and it’s a chance to learn something new about ourselves,” he said. “We’re the only intelligent life that we’re aware of, so essentially the entire fate of the solar system is on us.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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