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2 Missouri residents on short list for Mars journey

Friday, January 10, 2014 | 4:47 p.m. CST
Maggie Duckworth visits with her dog Luna as she finishes work on a custom jacket at her Bridgeton home on Wednesday. Duckworth, 29, is among the 1,058 initial candidates for a one-way trip to Mars on the privately funded Mars One mission.

BRIDGETON, Mo. — Human settlement on Mars might still be a long way away, but two St. Louis-area residents are on the short list to be among the first settlers of the Red Planet.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 29-year-old Maggie Duckworth of Bridgeton and 26-year-old Tim Gowan of University City are among the 1,058 initial candidates chosen from a pool of 200,000 who applied for a one-way trip to Mars on the privately funded Mars One mission.

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The odds are still slim for both. Four people will be on the initial launch that Mars One hopes happens in 2024. Four more would be sent every two years thereafter. Duckworth and Gowan would have to pass a rigorous selection process, and the Mars One project itself needs to clear a number of hurdles.

Those selected for the trip would undergo years of training on things such as learning how to harvest the planet's water and nitrogen.

"We are going to grow all our food there," said Duckworth, who owns a costume design business and works as an insurance claims handler. "We are going to have to entertain ourselves. ... The most important thing is that we all get along."

Gowan, a tool engineer at Boeing, said he has been obsessed with Mars One since he heard about it a year ago.

He said he wouldn't hesitate to go if selected.

"I'm just happy to be along for the ride for now," he said.

The Mars One organization, founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, must raise an estimated $6 billion. It has plenty of skeptics, but some experts aren't willing to dismiss the idea.

Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor for the Pasadena, Calif.-based Planetary Society, said NASA and other government agencies are too risk-averse to send humans on a one-way trip to Mars. However, private organizations do not have those limitations.

"I honestly do not expect it to succeed," Lakdawalla said. "But I do think the future of space travel will look something like this."

In a telephone interview with the Post-Dispatch, Lansdorp, 36, said the Mars One team of advisers includes a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, NASA scientists, an expert on space policy and law, and other entrepreneurs.

Duckworth's mother said she reacted to her daughter's selection with a mixture of "pride and horror."

"I think it is an amazing thing to go to Mars," Becky Duckworth said. "But she's my daughter. … It's a one-way trip."


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