Suffolk man’s Mars bid

Published 8:51 pm Saturday, March 14, 2015

The initial applicant pool for human history’s first planned mission to colonize Mars numbered 202,586.

Now the search has been reduced to a shortlist of 100, including Suffolk’s Oscar Mathews.

Since its founders developed in 2011 what they call a “strategic plan for taking humanity to Mars,” Netherlands-based Mars One has attracted its critics.

Oscar Mathews hopes to be among the first to colonize Mars. (Submitted Photo)

Oscar Mathews hopes to be among the first to colonize Mars. (Submitted Photo)

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The nonprofit aims to establish a permanent settlement on the Red Planet from 2024, when the first crew of four would depart.

Four more would make the estimated 210-day journey (as opposed to, for example, about three days and four hours to the moon for the Apollo missions) every two years.

The one-way-ticket space pioneers would come after eight unmanned missions, to demonstrate capability and transport a communications satellite, rover and other cargo.

America’s early European explorers inspire at least some of Mathews’ buoyancy against the naysayers. The Jamestown settlers knew less about the Americas than we know about Mars, he argues.

“There’s such a thing as being overcautious, over-thinking something to the point of oblivion,” the 32-year-old said.

Mathews said he first heard about Mars One from a CNN story, right when he was signing the contract on his home backing onto the Nansemond River.

“I was signing a contract and planning to leave the planet at the same time,” he said.

That was in 2012, after graduate school at the University of Tennessee. Mathews was valedictorian at his high school in Memphis, and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in aeronautical engineering, before serving five years in the Air Force, including six months in Kuwait.

Mathews was born in Spain, a nation that many famous colonial-era explorers sailed from to profoundly influence history. The naturalized U.S. citizen’s family moved here when he was 5.

Skeptics say the technology to colonize Mars doesn’t exist. Mathews suggests it would be “worth their while” to take SpaceX at its word — the leading space technology company says test launches of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which Mars One proposes utilizing, will lift off later this year.

But for those contemplating the challenges of extending humankind to Mars, technology is just one.

In an article on, putting the predicted funding requirement of $6 billion into perspective — another major hurdle — Mathews wrote about the shuttle program’s annual cost of $6 to $7 billion, the $178 billion in cash Apple has on hand and tech start-up Snapchat’s recent valuation at $10 billion, “despite not having a viable business model to speak of.”

On the Mars economy and governance, Mathews believes individual relationships and bartering would work to start with.

“The ‘majority rules’ system would probably work for a while,” he said. “At a certain point … it would probably have to transition to some sort of democratic model.”

Mathews said the colonists would be under contract as Mars One employees, “but we are not required to represent them once we land on the surface.”

Remaining productive would be important, he said, citing rover production and scientific analysis, including as contractors for research institutions on earth.

“If you get to another planet and you are bored, you aren’t sufficiently creative,” he said.

According to Mathews, Mars One discourages procreation on Mars, at least in the first few years. That’s not to say normal human interactions won’t occur, he added, “but they just can’t lead to a situation where new people are introduced into a very strictly controlled environment.”

Whether it’s safe could be answered by taking small animals along, allowing them to breed en route and observing the results, he said.

“If you want a vital, thriving and growing colony, you have to embrace the idea of human reproduction,” he added. “They would be the planet’s first true Martians.”

Citing research suggesting that one in five humans carries the “Wanderlust gene” (DRD4–7R), Mathews said our species has been steadily evolving toward populating not only one new planet, but the solar system and the cosmos.

If the project goes ahead, Mathews said he’s confident he’ll be among the “final 24” that will become the first Mars citizens.

Calling himself an “excellent candidate,” he makes a living as a test flight engineer and a nuclear engineer, and is a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering, planning to specialize in space and radiation shielding.

Among his listed hobbies are flying and 3D printing, and his private science fiction library is extensive.

The Mars One colonists would not return to earth. Mathews said his parents and brother are supportive, and he and his girlfriend have decided to take it “step by step.”

“I think we have decided that if this goes ahead, we are both adult enough to understand that we’ll both end up with different people,” he said on the prospect of a long-distance relationship.

Mathews talks about mankind’s earthbound struggles — environmental and political, for instance — and what he perceives as its need to take another giant leap.

“If we don’t prepare to become a two-planet species, eventually, something will happen that’s out of our control,” he said, also citing scenarios such as asteroid impacts and disease pandemics.

“It will happen so quickly that we won’t have enough time to coordinate a colonization effort in time.”

He hopes it never comes to that, but Mathews said he sleeps better at night knowing that Mars One is working on a serious plan now, and that he’s part of it.