Meet the space cadets: 5 Bay Area residents selected to compete for one-way Mars voyage 

click to enlarge This rendering shows what a possible site of the Mars One mission may look like on the red planet. An unmanned spacecraft is expected to be sent to Mars in 2018 for a demonstration and delivery mission. - COURTESY COURTESY BRYAN VERSTEEG AND MARS ONE
  • Courtesy Courtesy Bryan Versteeg and Mars One
  • This rendering shows what a possible site of the Mars One mission may look like on the red planet. An unmanned spacecraft is expected to be sent to Mars in 2018 for a demonstration and delivery mission.

World-traveled, sociable, yearning for a new planet.

That seems to be the typical résumé for those vying to be included on a one-way trip to Mars. Add "Bay Area resident" into the mix and it would seem your chances of becoming one of the first explorers on another planet will improve exponentially.

On Monday, the Mars One project announced that five Bay Area residents are among the 100 finalists for a privately funded space voyage that has the lofty goal of, beginning in 10 years, sending 24 humans from Earth to the red planet annually in groups of four. The catch is that they will never return.

The local finalists are Kenya Armbrister of Oakland, Megan Kane of San Francisco, Yvonne Young of Berkeley, Xuan Linh Vu of San Francisco and Peter Felgentreff of Montara.

More than 200,000 people from around the world applied by August 2013 for the interplanetary exploration project created by two men from the Netherlands, entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp and physicist Arno Wielders. Since then, Mars One trimmed the number of candidates to 1,058 and then to 100, with medical examinations disqualifying more than 300 applicants in between.

The medical examinations ensured that the remaining candidates were in good health and disease free, with stellar vision and a proper amount of body fat.

The next phase required astronaut hopefuls to focus on the mission itself, with interviewers testing the group on Martian-survival questions. Mars One provided the candidates with a study guide that included answers to questions such as, "How much radiation is an astronaut exposed to during spaceflight?"

When contacted by The San Francisco Examiner this week, all five Bay Area contestants were thrilled with the possibility that they would going to Mars.


The 36-year-old Oakland resident said she has traveled to 179 cities in 30 countries since first leaving her hometown of Fresno for Germany at 18 years old. She speaks three languages and has two master's degrees. But until recently, she had never prepared for a dust storm on Mars.

click to enlarge KENYA ARMBRISTER

"I'm going to miss the Pacific Ocean," Armbrister said. "There's no ocean on Mars, or Muir Woods, or hanging out in Dolores Park like I do every weekend."

Armbrister has dedicated her life to social-justice causes, traveling the world for work with Amnesty International and Congress, she said.

The Mars One hopeful is unfazed by the idea of never returning to Earth, and in fact seems quite excited by the idea.

"It's the possibility of living on a different world and creating a new society on another planet," Armbrister said. "We have all the technology now."

Armbrister, a graduate of San Francisco State University with a degree in history, attributed her candidacy to her collaborations with diverse groups of people across the world and in the melting pot that is the Bay Area.

"There's so many different types of personalities here," she said. "You see them on BART or the Muni train or at Dolores Park."

Armbrister said if she is chosen for the journey, she will "probably cry."

"I'll probably thank all my friends and family for all their support," she said. "Even to get this far, it's so humbling and exciting and overwhelming for me."


When Kane was 16 years old, she watched a documentary in school on a now-defunct plan to travel to the red planet in 2020. At the time, she told her teacher: "I'm going to be on that flight."

click to enlarge MEGAN KANE

The 29-year-old has since dedicated her life to that goal, earning a bachelor's degree from Millikin University in physics, math and computer science — her final project was a study of human survival tactics on Mars — and a master's in space management at the International Space University in France. Kane now works for a satellite startup that observes the sounds of the Earth from space.

Before that, she spent more than two years in the Peace Corps on a farm studying permaculture, or the mimicking of a natural climate like a rainforest, to one day grow food on Mars.

"I've always found space interesting," Kane said. "I thought I was going to be a farmer before going to Mars, and then I decided I was going to be a farmer on Mars."

The mission will involve an entirely different planet, but she hopes the project will benefit Earth.

"When I go to Mars, I want to make sure I can make it a place that people can come and visit, that we have a safe place outside of Earth, that we can have everybody come and do all those wonderful [science experiments]," said Kane, who described herself as a skilled generalist rather than expert. "But I don't want to do them myself, I want to make sure other people can."

As for the one-way ticket, Kane said she would rather get there and wait for a possible return trip instead of wait on Earth for round-trip capabilities to emerge.

"I have confidence that we will be able to figure out how to allow for a return journey within 10 to 20 years," Kane said, estimating that she will discover how to craft fuel once there. "Kind of like when people came to the New World, you just make do with what you have, and if you want to, you just figure out a way to send people back."

Kane's family was surprised to learn that her dream might become reality within the next 10 years. When interviewed by a local reporter in Springfield, Ill., her mother jokingly said: "Oh, I've got five others [children]."


During her childhood, Young would watch "Star Trek" with her sister and dream of aiding humanity by exploring space — the "final frontier," as she put it.

click to enlarge YVONNE YOUNG

The Mars journey would pull her farther away physically from her sister and mother, who raised her on the science fiction series, but she said it might actually bring her family closer together.

"There will be plenty of ways to communicate with them while on Mars," she said of her family. "I will still get to see their smiling faces and connect with them, possibly more often than I do now."

Like Armbrister, Young said her ability to work well with others is crucial to her selection as a candidate, and essential to a seven-month journey crammed in a spacecraft and lifetime spent with few others on Mars.

"My superhuman power is the ability to bring out the silliness in others," Young said. "This is hugely important in diffusing tense situations, which I imagine will arise in such tight quarters

She was told her years spent living in rugged Montana conditions also made her an appealing candidate, she said.

"Discomfort is temporary, hard work is rewarding and self-reflection is imperative for personal growth," Young said. "I believe all of these qualities are essential for a Martian colonist."

If chosen, the 32-year-old said she would thank her mother for alerting her to the Mars One project. As for everyone else: "I would gather them up for a huge hugging party before leaving the planet. To Mars ... and beyond!"


Vu, a Vietnam native who works for a San Francisco startup, said he is just like most people on Earth — normal eyesight, normal health and a normal dream of becoming an astronaut. Where he differs is his actual chance to become what he called a "flying superman."

click to enlarge XUAN LINH VU

"If there's something different that set us apart," Vu said, "that would be our daring, our ignorance and realistic thinking. We dare to do things that very few people would think of. We ignore the noise that says, 'You're crazy.'"

Vu considers himself an explorer with an innate urge to be one of the first humans on Mars. He also calls himself a Martian, with pride.

"So as long as it's a new destination that no one has been to before, I would want to go," Vu said. "The space exploration story in the 20th century always starts with Neil Armstrong and his first steps on the Moon. We want to be the next story for the 21st century."

Still, Vu admitted, the fact that there is no return trip planned horrifies him. Though not guaranteed, he said his return back to Earth is "extremely unlikely."

"Like many explorers to the Americas, Antarctica and the Far East in the old days," Vu said, "I think their hope of being able to go back is just as slim as our hope to return to Earth from Mars."

Taking the entire process in stride, Vu said he is in no rush to prepare a final goodbye to those closest to him.

"It's not necessary to freak them out early in the process," Vu said. "I have many [words] to explain to them from now until then."


The first time Felgentreff went to space, he was strapped into a chair at the Disney World theme park, experiencing a ride created by an early hero of his, renowned aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun, and Walt Disney.

click to enlarge PETER FELGENTREFF

Felgentreff said he was fairly convinced he was in space when he flew around the moon on the Mission: Space ride while in the middle of Florida.

"You could feel it," he said. "It was the perfect combination for a kid and someone who was interested in space."

The 50-year-old is not quite sure how he made it into the top 100, but the science fiction buff who works in network- and transactional-based security has had a lifelong fascination with aviation and space.

"It was always about learning what was real," Felgentreff said.

Unlike his peers, Felgentreff said he does not want to come back to Earth if selected, equating his situation to that of the explorers who colonized the Western U.S. Moreover, he said there is no chance of coming back. It is physically impossible without a proper radiation shield and solution to bone degradation.

"Just because you move doesn't mean you want to come back," he said. "This is not a free ride, this is literally colonization of space."

Like the other Bay Area candidates, Felgentreff has traveled the world and lived in Germany for a time (he speaks German as well).

While the mission will proceed with or without him, he expressed his deep desire to spend the rest of his life on Mars, relying on intellectual stimulation to live. He said, simply, he would survive on Mars until he dies.

"The only thing that matters in life is time," Felgentreff said. "What you do with your time is what's important."


There are 50 men and 50 women from around the world who are eligible for the Martian adventure, with 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, seven from Africa and seven from Oceania, a statement from Mars One said.

In an internationally broadcasted event, the 100 remaining applicants will be divided this year into groups of four and thrust into harsh living conditions to demonstrate their ability to work together, according to the statement. Up to six groups could then be selected for full-time training for the mission.

Mars One plans to launch the first four settlers in 2024, landing on Mars seven months later in 2025. Groups of four will follow annually.

Before that, an unmanned spacecraft is expected to be sent to the red planet in 2018 for a demonstration and delivery mission. In 2020, a rover and satellite will be sent to scout for a possible site, followed two years later by a cargo load.

The Mars One project contracted with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology for the 2018 mission. The lander will be built by Lockheed Martin and accompanied by a communications satellite built by SSTL.

Support for the Martian settlers will arrive over the years, but there is currently no technology available for a return flight to Earth.

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