Commentary

Shaffer: Raleigh student makes the cut to 1,000 in 2024 Mars mission

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJanuary 19, 2014 

Charles Parrish II works in a simulated environment at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, an experience he hopes will bolster his chances of taking a real trip with the nonprofit Mars One group in 2024.

COURTESY OF CHARLES PARRISH II

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    See more about the project, including Charles Parrish’s application video, at www.mars-one.com.

— With a little luck and $6 billion, Charles Parrish II will be hurtling toward Mars in just 10 years, a brave colonist on the red planet, a Raleigh boy who dreamed of space.

He submitted an application to the Dutch nonprofit Mars One, which last month whittled 200,000 aspiring Martians down to a pool of 1,000, placing Parrish near the front of the line for a 60 million-mile voyage going only one way.

All that remains is for Mars One to crowdsource the cost of a rocket that can manage a seven-month space flight, plus the Rovers needed to build a pod of sealed habitats, plus the full-body suits each astronaut must wear in the wafer-thin atmosphere, plus a lifetime of food and water, plus little-green-man repellant and any other incidentals that arise on a foreign planet.

Never mind the science and technology that NASA hasn’t been able to muster.

“NASA hasn’t accomplished it because they haven’t tried it,” said Parrish, showing all the optimism of Kennedy’s Camelot generation, eyes fixed on the moon.

Parrish, 23, studies bioengineering at N.C. State. His space dreams took root in “Star Wars” movies, blossomed when he visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and flowered through the lens of a telescope. Over Christmas break, he participated in a two-week outer-space simulation in Utah hosted by The Mars Society.

(There really is such a place. Mars Desert Research Station. I looked it up.)

Since kindergarten, Parrish has repeatedly told people he wants to explore space, build robots, work as a scientist and be a fireman.

“I was a nerd,” he explained. “Still am.”

‘An ambitious project’

Mars One insists that life on the fourth planet is not only plausible but an adventure to rival the wanderings of Marco Polo. But at first, the idea of a private interplanetary voyage struck Parrish as being every bit as kooky as it sounds.

Then he learned that Mars One actually had contracts to study rocket and satellite designs.

“This is an ambitious project, and we’re already working on the mission concept study, starting with the proven design of Phoenix,” said Ed Sedivy, spacecraft manager at Lockheed Martin, in a news release. “I can tell you, landing on Mars is challenging and a thrill, and this is going to be a very exciting mission.”

If a few billionaires pass on a pile of cash, the mission’s chances grow greater. You can track the space fund’s progress on the Mars One site, where donations are logged by country. Top giver thus far: United States, $92,040. Bringing up the rear: Uruguay, $2.

If the mission fails, it fails. If Mars One manages nothing more than a pop-gun shot aimed at the sky, Parrish’s heart will go on.

But how would he feel if, a decade from now, the ship to Mars boarded without him? What if he missed a chance to float in a most peculiar way because he let doubt trump hope?

Physical and interview

There’s still a physical to pass and an interview to ace. The first crew launching in 2024 will have only four people.

But Parrish relishes the idea of living simply and deliberately on Mars, creating no waste, inhabiting an outer-space Walden Pond that Earthlings couldn’t manage.

Mars needs women. Dreamers, too.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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