By Lana Bellamy
The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.
Dental hygienist Cheryl Wilhite of Louisa wears many hats. She is a Kentuckian, a mother, an American, a wife and potentially a Martian.
The non-governmentally related, regulated or funded Mars One mission, taking thousands of applications from people across the world to install the first human colonization on Mars, has had its first round of cuts, and Wilhite is one of 297 Americans still treading water in the remaining pool of 1,058.
As part of the mission, the final 24 astronauts will be launched into a one-way journey to the red planet starting in 2025, where they will live and die as the first inter-planet human colony.
Wilhite has been invested in the project since last spring, submitting a video to pre-arranged interview questions from Mars One staff and a letter of intent explaining why she feels it is personally important to colonize Mars.
Should she make it into the 24-man crew, Wilhite has come to terms with the fact she may never physically contact her family or friends again, that is, unless they one day join her on Mars.
She said they are generally supportive of her opportunity.
“At first, they thought I was nuts. They told me it’s something that is hard to comprehend, but they support me,” she said. “… And they know it’s not goodbye. We have years to plan for it. It’s not like it’s going to happen tomorrow. My son will be 23 at the time of launch. Of course, it’s always my hope one day they may decide to be future ‘Martians’ as well.”
Despite being unable to physically hug or touch her loved ones once she leaves Earth, she will still be able to communicate with them via satellite-drive avenues, such as texts, emails, phone calls, video chats, or other similar means.
The biggest communication obstacle will still be distance. Depending on Mars’ orbit in relation to Earth, time delays could range from three to 22 minutes for each mouse-click or word spoken to travel between planets.
For now, Wilhite has to endure endless questions of why she would want to isolate herself from her friends and family on the faraway planet, she said.
In dealing with skepticism, she responds with her personal statement on the matter.
“I want to look back on my life with pride and few regrets, to accomplish something meaningful,” she said. “I want these memories to be endearing and make my friends, family and community proud of me. I’m part of something much bigger than myself … It’s not about my personal journey, but part of the historical movement of colonizing Mars.”
Wilhite believes humans today are better prepared to permanently settle Mars than Christopher Columbus was when he began exploring the Americas.
“If you look at the advancements we have compared to Columbus, he had no idea what was out there — it was beyond what he could visually see with his own eyes. We’ve seen Mars. We know what to expect, we know the environment,” she said.
With that being said, she thinks expanding occupation to Mars is a natural progression into the next stages of human history.
“We have lost the gumption Columbus had to just go out and explore,” Wilhite said. “We’re humans. We want to go where our feet will take us. We’re explorers by nature. It’s time to broaden our horizons and this is how we plan to do it.”
The next round of cuts is slated to take place around April or May, which will narrow potential astronauts down to 40.
In order to break through the second round, which is currently ongoing, each of the remaining applicants will be personally interviewed by members of the Mars One staff.
Mars One is a non-profit mission spearheaded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp. It is a privately financed mission operating off corporate and individuals funds.
In order to help promote funding for the mission, which is estimated to require around $6 billion, Wilhite said those left in Round 3 will be subject to a worldwide “reality show,” by which viewers will select the first crew of four to pioneer the Mars civilization.
Astronauts will be sent to Mars in crews of four, due to space limitations on the transportation shuttle making the six-to-eight-month journey. The last of the 24 colonists should arrive on Mars by 2026.
Until becoming official Mars One employees in the fourth and final round of the application process, Wilhite said she has to rely on personal finances to pay for medical tests and travel costs to interviews and testing sites.
To donate to Cheryl Wilhite’s mission, go to: gofundme.com/647ACW
To donate to the Mars One mission, go to: indiegogo.com.
To learn more information about Mars One, go to: mars-one.com.