Pilot Dreams of Stamping His One-Way Ticket to Mars

By Carl Engelking | March 6, 2014 9:00 am
Nick Noreus

Nick Noreus prepares to fly an Mi-17 in Ukraine while he was embedded with the Afghan Army for a year.

There’s something rejuvenating about escaping civilization for the quiet isolation of unadulterated wilderness. But could you leave it all behind — forever? That’s the fate that awaits the men and women still in contention for a one-way ticket to the Red Planet.

Pilot, mechanic and inventor Nick Noreus, 33, from Florida, survived the first round of cuts, and he is on the shortlist for the Mars One mission.

No Fear

If Noreus is selected after making the grade over two years of physical and psychological testing, he will begin an intensive 8-year training program. Noreus and about 40 others will be periodically cut off from friends, family, and civilization while training — and, if they are chosen, for the remainder of their lifetimes on Mars.

For most people, the prospect of never seeing Earth again is an emotionally and psychologically paralyzing fear. The first question most people ask Mars One applicants: Aren’t you afraid?

“Absolutely, it scares me. It’s going to be dangerous; it’s space exploration. But that’s the price of exploration,” Noreus says. “My biggest fear isn’t catastrophe. My biggest fear is that humanity’s interest will not be enough to keep the Mars colony going.”

The Mars One mission plan consists of multiple unmanned cargo missions to Mars to build the infrastructure prior to the first manned mission, which will depart in 2024. Before humans arrive, a rover will build the life-support systems and shelter hubs for the pioneering crew. The Mars One Foundation plans to land an exploratory rover on the planet by 2018.

“Personally, I just want to be a part of such a big step for humanity. I liken it to the great explorers you read about in early history,” Noreus said. “I don’t have any doubts that humans will explore Mars. If I don’t do it, someone else will.”

Noreus’s Mars One application video.

Fulfilling a Dream

From his earliest memories, Noreus recalls gazing upon the heavens as if they were his second home. He’s now a CV-22 Osprey pilot with the United States Air Force, after earning a degree in atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences. Applying for the Mars One mission was a no-brainer for a man who always felt the tug of the cosmos.

“Space exploration has always been a low-level thought in my life. Only recently has this become a realistic opportunity,” Noreus said. “There really isn’t another aspect of science I’d be willing to sacrifice everything for.”

Noreus hasn’t strayed far from the lure of avionic adventures, even in his off hours. He recently taught himself how to fly a gyroplane, essentially a helicopter that uses wings to fly, by watching YouTube videos.

Such bold experimentation has helped put dangers of the Mars One mission in perspective. “[The Mars One trip is] no less dangerous than teaching yourself how to fly from YouTube,” Noreus said laughing. “Once you reach a certain height, a mechanical failure is just as fatal in a gyroplane as it is in a space shuttle.” 

Noreus said his propensity to tinker with and fix machines is the best skill he’ll bring to the Mars One mission, and he’s optimistic he’ll be a member of that first crew that blasts off for Mars in just about a decade’s time.

“My whole life I’ve been putting things together and taking them apart. Our lives will be sustained by how well we maintain our machines,” Noreus said.

Captivating Humanity

Mars One is a non-profit foundation founded in 2011. Roughly 200,000 people around the world applied for the mission, but Mars One narrowed the field to 1,058 interplanetary pioneers earlier this year. The mission relies financially upon crowdsourced funding, sponsorships, and broadcast deals to keep the civilization going. The foundation has already partnered with the likes of Lockheed Martin, Space Exploration Technologies, and ILC Dover.

Regular broadcasts and books of the selection process, and updates from Mars, will hopefully keep Earthlings captivated. Mars One will soon release a book about the crew selection and life on Mars. Noreus plans to blog about the selection process to keep the buzz going.

“Mission number one is to get the word out about this to the public. We need to light the imaginations of humanity,” Noreus said. “If humanity loses interest in keeping the colony going, we’re going to end up being an archeological site.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Mars, space exploration
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