By Jessica Heslam
Yari Rodriguez’s love of space can be traced back to the astronaut onesie she wore as a baby. At age 4, she was already fascinated with Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
Now her dream of leaving Earth is one step closer. The 27-year-old Somerville engineer who works at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory is among the 100 finalists from around the world chosen by Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit that plans to send two dozen people on a one-way mission to Mars starting in 2024. The first trip of two men and two women will cost $6 billion.
Rodriguez said she knows the risks, but she’s not turning back. Here’s her story as told to the Herald’s Jessica Heslam and Joe Dwinell:
“Once people see that this is possible there will be a race to Mars.
The closest thing I can relate it to is being on a roller coaster. But you need to just enjoy the high speed. I want to prove this is possible.
My dad tells me he supports me and space exploration, but he said ‘You shouldn’t be the one.’ I know I’m going to be an experiment. I’m donating my life to science.
What I’m most curious about is floating, falling and walking on Mars. Going out and digging a hole to see if there are any organisms. Is there life on Mars? It will be incredible to discover.
Once we grow our own food, we’ll have vegetables and we’re also thinking about an insect diet.
Testing the water by collecting it in Martian soil and baking it to extract it will be very important.
I’ve had dreams of Mars. I had one dream I was flying while studying dust storms. In the dream I’m on a glider and I jump off a cliff.
In another dream I’m falling into a cave on Mars and being real cold and not being able to reach people.
But I’ve also dreamed I’m looking up at the stars from Mars and I can see Earth.
The hardest part will be leaving my family behind. But this is one mission I’m prepared for.
I had a boyfriend, but I’m not with him anymore. He had an opportunity to go get another job in another country and I said ‘Go!’ We broke it off. I want to go to Mars without any attachments.
The real mission is going to the planet. Everything that we do there, everything that we learn from being on Mars and surviving is going to change the way we do things back on Earth.
“I’ve always lived far away from my family but I have a really strong connection with all of them. For me, being here in Massachusetts or in Europe, or on Mars, it doesn’t separate me from my family. I have their whole support.
As long as we can still talk, even if it takes 20 minutes for our messages to get back and forth. Looking back at Earth for the first couple of weeks and then seeing the Red Planet approach — that is incredible to think about. I don’t feel fear when I think about that. I really want this. Getting married and having children has not been part of my plan at all yet.”