Sue Ann Pien (邊思恩) has dreamed of becoming an astronaut since childhood.
The 34-year-old American of Taiwanese descent now stands a good chance of realizing her dream, as she has passed the first stage of a selection process for a one-way ticket to Mars.
Pien is among 1,058 candidates selected by Mars One, a Dutch not-for-profit foundation that hopes to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.
More than 200,000 people from around the world applied to be the first humans to have a chance to live — and die — on the Red Planet.
The hopefuls are to be shortlisted into a group of 40 before training starts in 2018. Finally, 24 elite hopefuls would be sent to Mars to settle permanently in six batches by 2025.
Pien, from Erwin in southern California who works in the field of education, said she feels very lucky to have made it through the first round, which had a qualifying rate of lower than 1 percent.
Her parents, who come from Taiwan, both pursued aerospace careers. On learning of the Mars One project, Pien decided she also wanted to pursue a future involving outer space.
Pien said that she often attended aerospace camps as a child and said she has read many books on the subject.
“I know that the trip to Mars could be very dangerous, because it remains unknown whether humans can survive on the Red Planet,” Pien said.
However, she likened the scenario to the first journeys by Asian and European immigrants to the US.
Responding to suggestions of the Mars mission’s probable failure, she said many skeptics had also ridiculed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas at the time.
“I have a strong curiosity about Mars and outer space and I believe in the feasibility of establishing a colony on Mars in the future,” Pien said.
Mars One offers only a one-way ticket because its goal is to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.
“My family fully supports my emigration plan,” Pien said, adding that she still has 10 years with her family, even if she manages to make the shortlist of candidates for the coveted space flight.
All of the selected 1,058 hopefuls are to undergo training and tests in the coming two years, starting with a series of interviews by experts in a variety of fields.
Pien said training is to focus on fostering teamwork, with the hopefuls forming four-member crews.
Pien said she is confident of being picked as a finalist.
“I can speak fluent Chinese, Spanish and English. This could be an advantage in the second stage of the competition, which stresses teamwork,” Pien explained.
On Mars, Pien said she plans to explore the source of life. As Mars is known to have water, it should also have living beings, she said.
“My mother has told me that if I win the chance of traveling to Mars, I should not forget to bring a Tatung rice cooker with me because I will need to eat rice,” Pien joked.
The Taiwan-made rice cooker has long been considered an iconic must-have for Taiwanese studying or living overseas.