Ridley Scott’s latest film “The Martian” finally came to Japan last week. It’s based on a science fiction novel that follows an astronaut who is stranded on Mars and struggles to survive until a rescue mission can be launched to return him to Earth. However, if Tokyo resident Sabrina Surovec lands on Mars she will have no way home, but that’s how she likes it.
By Leslie Lee III
Sabrina is a Houston native who has lived in Japan for the past 15 years. She’s a writer, singer, translator, multi-instrumentalist, and is one of the 100 finalists selected for the Mars One mission. Mars One hopes to establish a human colony, and it will be a one-way trip for its participants.
We talked to Sabrina about why she chose to participate in this ambitious endeavor, how she’s preparing for space travel, and how “The Martian” compares to the real life mission to Mars.
Why did you apply for the Mars One Program?
I’ve always been interested in space and I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid I went to space camp, but I ended up studying music which means you’re out for NASA – you have to have a hard science background.
One day my friend sent me a really negative article about Mars One that asked, “Who wants to die on Mars?” So I read it and thought, “I kind of do, actually. That sounds kind of cool.” I went to the Mars One official website to check it out, and most of the stuff in the article was completely unfounded. So I just put in my application.
So, why do you want to die on Mars?
I don’t think of it so much as dying on Mars as living on Mars, that’s the important thing. I’ve always loved science fiction and I thought, “How amazing would it be to be one of the first people to live on another planet?” It’s just an amazing idea and the adventure that goes with it, all the interesting studies we’ll be doing there, I think it’s really worth it.
Why did Mars One choose you as one of the final 100?
I’d like to know, actually. They had a bunch of different criteria: creativity, ability to think on the fly, sense of adventure. I really think the fact that I live overseas and have for a long time had a big part to play in it, because most of the people who have been selected seem to be expats of some kind. We’re already used to living away from our friends and family, which is a very good point in our favor since we won’t be able to come back once we’re on Mars.
What are you doing to prepare?
We’re officially starting training in September of this year. We’ll have our final cut to 24 from 100. After that, they’ll choose six groups of four and those will be the main competitors for being the first group to go. We have about 10 years between now and the first launch of that group. We have a lot of training to do: medicine, dentistry, law, of course sciences, biology, geology, things like that.
To get ready before the selection process, I’ve been hitting the gym 2-3 times a week for weight training. Once we’re in space we’ll lose a lot of bone and muscle mass, so if I can put some more on now I’ll be better prepared.
Are you worried that something will change your mind about the mission between now and launch?
I don’t think there’s anything that would necessarily change my mind, but there is the possibility that we’ll get selected out because we are competing with the other teams to be the first ones to go. I think they also want to keep a certain number of teams in reserve because eventually they’re going to send more people up. After the first group goes up every two years they’re going to send four more people. I think we have a high chance of being the second group if that’s the case.
What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get to Mars?
Probably fight my crew members to be the first one out! We’ll probably agree that we’ll all go out at the exact same time so no one has to fight over who is first. We’ll be on the ship for about seven months to get there and we’re probably going to be talking the entire time about what we should say. Maybe we’ll come up with something good like, “One small step for man,” but it’ll take some thought.
What are you reading in preparation for Mars?
There’s a nonfiction book called “Packing for Mars” by Mary Roach. It talks about all the different space programs leading up to the moment, including NASA’s announcement that they want to go and build a settlement there, which was news to all of us. NASA had been really down on the Mars One program. And I think they were afraid a private company would get there before they did, but as far as the timeline goes we’ll get there before they do. They disagreed with our budget parameters.
Since you’re a musician, will you bring any instruments on the trip?
Just my voice, but I think I might bring my shamisen because it can break down into pretty small parts.
What will you study on Mars?
For one thing scientists have discovered that Mars used to have a very similar Earth-like atmosphere. Water, perhaps, trees, perhaps, life. So we want to go and find out what happened. Why is that gone now? We know for a fact there were oceans and lakes there, but why aren’t they there now? Perhaps there was some environmental cataclysm that caused it to lose its atmosphere. That kind of thing could happen to Earth so it’s important to find out why. Of course another thing is, say, an asteroid strike on Earth or some other mass extinction event happens here we’d have another outpost to survive and move on.
What do you hope to achieve with Mars One?
There are a lot of private programs to go to Mars now, but not a lot of ones to stay. I think the Mars One mission statement really appealed to me because they really want to promote unity and breakdown all the old racist and sexist barriers. I want to be more of activist towards breaking down barriers and this seems like a really good venue to do that, and it’s really inspiring. I think if people on Earth can see that we can do it and make it happen on Mars, maybe they’ll be inspired to do it here.
It’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” level thinking. It’s a tall order. We have to struggle against our own backgrounds, and the way we were raised, and all the things that we see going wrong here in society, but I’m pretty sure it can happen. Plus, it’s a small group – just four people. So if we can’t get along what hope does humanity have?
You can follow Sabrina on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SLSurovec, and listen to her music at https://soundcloud.com/s-a-b-r-i-n-a/. Her next live performance will be at Koenji Amp Café on Friday, March 7 at 6 pm.
For more information about Mars One visit: http://www.mars-one.com/