How a 24-Year-Old Aspiring Space Colonist is Preparing to Give Birth on Mars
In 2010, a Netherlands-based non-profit called Mars One was launched with the goal of being the first organization to send humans to Mars for colonization by 2025. In 2013, the company put out an open call to find anyone interested in a one-way ticket to the Red Planet. They received 200,000 applications before they cut off submissions in August.
They are now down to the final 100 applicants. Among them is 24-year-old Maggie Lieu, a astrophysics PhD candidate at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom who made headlines recently for wanting to become the first woman to give birth on Mars.
“There is a lack of research on everything from insemination to pregnancy to giving birth in low gravity environment. So the dangers involving such are unknown. What’s more the issue of the ethics of knowingly doing so is debatable. Personally I think that raising a child on Mars is no different than that on Earth. In poverty areas of rural Africa, women face huge risks of death during childbirth. Knowingly so they still give birth to children, that are raised with no access to hygiene, food, water or education. Yes giving birth on Mars could be dangerous but there is no research to say for certain. Yes the children of Mars will be in a confined space, however they won’t know any better. What’s more they will be growing up with some of the most intelligent people of Earth, they will be eating healthy foods (grown on mars as opposed to all the junk food we have access to on Earth) and they will have a largely unexplored terrain as their back garden. I couldn’t think of anything better.”
To put things in perspective on how much guts she has, let’s break everything down:
1. This is a one-way ticket to Mars. There are zero plans for the travelers to return to Earth.
2. Only 40 people will be going. Unless they successfully re-populate, the only people they’ll ever be in physical contact with for the rest of their lives is each other.
3. According to an MIT study, the first round of settlers will most likely suffocate in 68 days.
4. She’s $#@%ing going to space!
We recently had the pleasure of talking to possible future Mars settler Maggie Lieu. She talks with us about her passion for science, whether she’s afraid of death, and how she’s going to find the father of her future child.
How did you first become interested in science?
In secondary school I was in science club and we did the coolest projects, like building an automated greenhouse and making explosives. They were really fun to be a part of. Also, I think role models are really important. All the science teachers I ever had were really fun people and it looked like they enjoyed their life. I wanted to be like that.
What’s driving you to partake in such a dangerous mission?
I think the majority of it is for my love of science. This mission will be able to bring so much to our current scientific knowledge. The rovers on Mars are currently very limited in what they can do and where they can go; our flexibility and thinking will enable us to do so much more. There are also many other reasons: it is a great opportunity to inspire the future generation of scientists, I will be able to educate the public about space, and no one has ever been before so it’s a huge challenge — and I love challenges.
What do your parents think of all this? Are they supportive even though they could potentially lose you forever?
Both my parents are very supportive and extremely proud. It’s really lovely to know how much support I have from family and friends. However, I think that at the moment, just like me, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. The mission is still 10 years away, so when that time comes I can’t imagine how they will feel. All I have to reassure them is that I will still be in contact via video messages and text. I actually have family all over the world — U.S.A., the Netherlands, France, etc., so my family is already accustomed to only being able to contact through Skype and email.
If chosen, you’re going to undergo 10 years of training. Do you know the details of what sort of training you’d partake in to prepare for this trip?
There will be three main aspects to the training: group training will have us work in our teams to build our teamworking skills and technical training will entail us learning new skills that we will need on Mars. On Mars there will be no doctors, no dentists, no electricians, no farmers. On Mars we will need to be trained in all of those occupations and more. The personal training I think will be most fun to do, but also the most difficult. We will have to learn to cope in isolated, confined spaces, be able to deal with the communication delay and be able to live with the three other crew members. The isolation posts will be set up in an arctic and a desert location and will be able to replicate the situation on Mars. Seeing experiments like Mars-500 and MRDS makes me really excited about this training.
Does knowing that you’ll be spending the next decade training for a one-way trip to Mars make you averse to getting a life partner who isn’t in the program?
Not really. I’m doing an astrophysics PhD at at the University of Birmingham. It’s tough. I rarely interact with anyone outside of my field so I don’t think I will meet anyone else, especially because the next 10 years of training will be with the set of Mars One candidates. I will only interact with them and they will become my new family. If I do fall in love, it will probably be with one of them.
You made headlines recently for saying that you’d like to be the first woman to give birth on Mars. Only 40 people get to go, which doesn’t leave a very big pool of men for you to choose from. Do you ever think about that? What if you can’t fall in love with any of them?
I don’t believe in soulmates. In my parents’ generation of kids, almost everyone has gone through at least one divorce. They had the choice of who to marry and in the end there was no happy ending. My grandmother was in an arranged marriage. She married a man who when she first met she thought was ugly. But over time, she grew to love him and they stayed happily together until the end. I believe that love is something that can be learnt.
What is the first thing you’re going to do the moment you land on Mars?
I would want to be the first person to set foot on Mars or at least have it be a woman. I think it’s only fair since Neil Armstrong was the first on the moon. After that, though, we will be transported to the outpost where we will be living and given time to acclimatise to our new environment.
Does the thought that you could die when you land ever bother you? What about being secluded for the rest of your life from your friends and family back home?
It doesn’t bother me; I’m fully aware of the risks. There’s a 3-22 minute communication delay to Mars, so it’s unsurprising that most of the lander/rover missions to Mars have a high fail rate — they were unmanned. Mars One plans to launch two communication satellites to relay information back and forth from Mars. We will have internet access to communicate home just like the current astronauts on the ISS do right now. It doesn’t bother me because many people don’t see their friends anymore anyway — we just Facebook-stalk their lives. The Mars colony will be my new friends/family. I would have spent a half of my current life in training with them.
Do you see yourself backing out last minute for any reason at all should you be chosen to go?
I don’t think I will back out because I am a very determined person, but nothing is certain.
Who is someone you heavily look up to and why?
I really look up to my grandmother; she was a very strong woman who came to England from Vietnam with nothing and still managed to raise nine kids by herself. She couldn’t read or write and always stressed how fortunate I was to get an education.
In general, what does being successful in life mean to you?
Being successful in life doesn’t really mean much to me at all. I think the most important thing in life is just to be happy, and as long as you are doing what makes you happy then that is all that matters and you would have lived a fulfilled life. What makes me happy is knowing that I am progressing my knowledge in science. I love learning new things. I’m also happy when I talk to the public and kids and I am able to spark an interest in science with them. That inquisitiveness moment is priceless.
Lastly, what’s the most meaningful thing you’ll be leaving behind on Earth?
I think a lot of people rely so much on material possessions these days. There are many things that I would miss if I were to go to Mars — clothes, makeup, hair dye etc. But these things are not essential to surviving and people who say that they can’t live without their phones or the internet, etc., are wrong, because our ancestors lived without these things. For human survival and advancement, we need to colonise other planets eventually. For me, there really isn’t anything that I wouldn’t be willing to part with.