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Mars on a One Way Ticket

Etsuko Shimabukuro

Etsuko Shimabukuro went through to the second round of the Mars One Project screening process. She is one of 100 finalists working to colonize the Red Planet in 2024.

202,586 people applied to be a part of the Mars One Project, and now you are one of the 100 finalists. What was the screening process like? What qualifications and personal qualities are the Mars One Project leaders looking for?

The first selection process in 2013 was a paper selection. We had to write our motivation letter and a CV, and we needed to explain a situation when we felt pressure and how we dealt with the situation. A self-introduction video was submitted, too. The original 202,586 applicants were selected down to 1,058 people. Then, there was a medical screening. The medical requirement was reasonable for anyone whose life style was already healthy. In November 2014, the detail of the Round Two selection process was announced to applicants. We were told that the interview would be conducted by the chief medical officer, Dr. Norbert Kraft, and three randomly chosen technical/scientific questions from the Mars One website had been asked. The study materials were given to candidates at least one month before the interview. The Round Two selection was carried out during December and January to interview 660 applicants via Internet. Each applicant had fifteen minutes. I scheduled my interview in December. On the day I had an interview, Dr. Kraft fired the first question, “Tell me the day when you decided to settle on Mars and why?” Then, he asked the three technical/scientific questions related to the Mars One Mission. The last question was, “After three years since you landed on Mars, if you have a chance to come back to Earth, what would you do?”

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Mars One Lander Cam

Mars One is looking for five characteristics: resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust, and creativity/resourcefulness. There is no upper age limit. If you are over eighteen years old (legal age), you can apply for it. This is one of the attractions of Mars One. They try to select astronauts from a much wider population on Earth. The following link gives you more information regarding selection and preparation of astronauts: Selection and Preparation of the Astronauts.

Why did you decide to apply? What is the strongest contribution or quality that you can offer the Mars One Project?

My main reason is that I would like to be at the forefront of human evolution and would like to be part of building a new civilization. I live my life by curiosity. If I’m curious about something, I need to find it out. That’s why I “walked” 7,500km (4,600 miles) through Japan to get to know my home country. One of my strongest contributions is “resiliency.” Even though the goal seems so far away, I can get there. The large number or scale doesn't discourage me at all. The big project consists of small efforts in our daily life. Another thing I can contribute to the project is spirit; I experienced many times how rewarding it is to work as a team and to enjoy the success together.

My other strength is that I get used to various habits of people. Travelling as a backpacker and climbing mountains, I usually slept in gender mixed dormitories or mountain huts. So, I’m used to various habits of people, smelly feet, and noises. I have experienced the smells and snores of all races, nationalities, and of men and woman. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kraft asks, “Can you tolerate if someone left a pair of dirty socks on the dining table?” I don’t know, but I look forward to experiencing such thing.

The flight alone takes seven to eight months. What would your responsibilities on the flight be? What would you have with you to pass the time?

I would imagine regular system checkups such as whether the life support system is working or not, taking care of insects which could be our potential food on Mars, exercises to keep muscle strength, etc. How I would pass the time? I would take Amazon Kindle for my reading. There are so many books that I would like to read. It’s a good opportunity to catch up on some reading during the transit to Mars.

Have you been in space before?
Not yet physically, but my mind has already been there.

What kind of living space is the project building?

Mars settlers would have relatively spacious living units of fifty square meters per person. This is a luxury for a person who was grown up in a small house in Japan. I recall the biggest apartment space where I’ve ever lived in Tokyo was 46 square meters, so Mars One is very generous. The settlement habitat consists of inflatable components which contain bedrooms, working areas, a living room and a plant production unit. We can shower as normal, prepare fresh food (which we have to grow ourselves) in the kitchen, and wear regular clothes.

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Our normal day consists of regular maintenance, construction and research, and reports to share our experience with people on Earth. Regular maintenance includes checking the water and oxygen production and the recycling system. The construction and research include expansion of the settlement, examining how Mars was formed geologically, and whether Mars had life in the past or has life now. One of the most important tasks is to share our experience on Mars with the people on Earth. We would like to share the joys, hardships, and challenges that we face everyday on Mars. Don’t you want to know what it’s like living on one third of the amount of gravity that Earth has? What a dust storm is like on Mars? What we eat every day?

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You want to open the first sushi stand in Mars. What other accommodations do you and the other Mars One applicants want to create?

The Mars 100 candidates are from various backgrounds. Some are yoga instructors, musicians, comedians, etc. So there are so many things we can do to accommodate ourselves. I expect that we would have ups and downs in our life on Mars, so my Sushi Bar would be a space for the Martian crew to relax and re-energize.

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Garden plans in the Mars One colony

What challenges do you expect to face as one of the many women working to colonize Mars?

Colonizing Mars is the challenge for the entire mankind. Men and women must work together to complement each other.

You’ve been on some incredible adventures: completing a 7 day-210 km stretch of the Sahara Marathon in Morocco, walking with Mary King across Japan, travelling in the remote Patagonia region in Chile. This stands to be your greatest adventure yet. What are you most looking forward to? What are some of your fears?

I look forward to setting up my daily routine life on Mars. Eating, working, sleeping, and sharing joy and hardships with my Martian family and with the people on Earth. Also, I look forward to having a journey that never ends. The journey that requires continuous challenges until my life ends. Someday I would like to look back to see what we have discovered and what we have built on the Red Planet. Hopefully, there would not be any more wars on Earth.

My fear is not to be able to go to Mars.

The ticket to Mars is one way. How do you feel about the prospect of leaving Earth for the last time? What will you do before you go?

A one way ticket doesn’t worry me at all because I would like to settle on Mars to be at the forefront of human evolution and build a new civilization on Mars. Since I applied for the Mars One Project, I consciously live each day. I enjoy rainy day, sunny day, eating, sleeping, talking to the people on the street. I have only 3650 days (ten years) to live on Earth. The countdown has already started. Before I go to Mars, I will probably do the same things I do every other day.

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All photos are created and provided by the Mars One Project. Learn more about colonizing mars at their website,

Cover photo courtesy of GETTY

Etsuko Shimabukuro was ten years old when she got her first telescope. Every night, she was looking at Jupiter (not Mars). She studied Archaeology in Tokyo and got a scholarship to study in the US where she studied computer science. After twenty years working in the IT industry, she decided to become a chef to teach Japanese gastronomy to non-Japanese people.  Since 2011, she has lived and worked in Mexico. You can see Etsuko's Mars One application video here.

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