Los Osos native's mission: To live on Mars

Mission Prep graduate has made it to the second round in process of selecting people for space trip

nwilson@thetribunenews.comJanuary 29, 2014 

In the 1990s Christopher Guest comedy “Waiting for Guffman,” a group of amateur community theater actors perform the song “Nothing Ever Happens on Mars.”

The joke is that the red planet with vast landscapes of rocky terrain is “boring, boring.”

But, for 21-year-old Los Osos native Spencer Harris, plenty fascinates him about Mars.

In fact, Harris is hoping to make history by joining three others to become the first people to set foot on another planet in 2024. The plan is for the crew to travel over the course of seven months to arrive and land on Mars, where they’d live for the rest of their lives.

Harris, who now attends Northern Arizona University, is among 1,058 people who recently qualified for the second round of the Mars One application process.

Harris, a Mission Prep graduate, is drawn to the venture because of the opportunities for exploration, including geological study, spectral imaging and mapping.

“My big interest, other than being among the first to go to another planet, is the science,” Harris said. “I want to learn firsthand about the history of Mars and its geology. I want to go on as many scientific excursions … as possible.”

More than 200,000 people worldwide initially applied to take part in the Mars One voyage, a process that included a written application and a video pitch.

Mars One is a nonprofit composed of an international team of coordinators and technical advisers.

The group hopes to raise $6 billion to fund the one-way mission to Mars through sources such as crowdfunding, sponsorships, sales of broadcast rights and revenues from intellectual property. In 2026, the team hopes to send four more people to join the first crew at an estimated additional cost of $4 billion.

As of Dec. 31, the organization had raised about $206,000, according to its website.

Harris came across the Mars project while conducting research for the U.S. Geological Survey as part of a NASA grant.

He was intrigued by the opportunity, believing that living on another planet would suit him.

“I am a very level-headed person and am eager to approach obstacles with care as well as determination,” Harris says in his Mars One online profile. “I have real-world research and work experience that gives me the skills and confidence to achieve whatever I set my mind to.”

Harris said he has friends and that he’s by no means “a hermit.” But he’s comfortable spending time alone.

He hasn’t fully come to grips with the emotional part of leaving his family, which he knows would be difficult if he’s accepted.

“My mom told me, ‘Why don’t they send inmates up there?’ ” Harris said.

The selection process will include a medical examination in the second round to determine fitness for living on another planet.

“The astronauts must be intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy,” the Mars One website explains.

The third round involves putting the applicants through a set of challenges to determine their suitability for living on Mars, with the possibility of televising those activities.

A fourth round would involve joining groups of four together in extreme living conditions.

Prior to the crew’s launch, Mars One plans unmanned voyages to establish a settlement location and set up the life support units to generate energy, water and breathable air.

If selected, Harris said he would have some of the conveniences of life on Earth.

He envisions having books to read, wearing jeans and T-shirts in his living unit (and a space suit outside the unit), being able to follow the news on Earth from afar, and having long-distance communications back home with delays of several minutes.

Harris foresees the role of the journey as similar to that of a pioneer in the early days of North America’s settlement.

“I picture it as if I was to move away from home in the 1700s,” Harris said. “Things like mail would take a long time. And typically, they moved and didn’t go back.”

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