Xuan Linh Vu, SEAS '10, left Morningside Heights with dreams of Mars.
From an initial pool of almost 200,000 applicants, Vu is one of 1,058 candidates chosen to progress to the second round of the selection process for the MarsOne Project—an independent and predominantly crowdfunded initiative that plans to establish a permanent colony on Mars by 2025.
The one caveat? Whoever goes won't be coming back to Earth—a decision made to conserve fuel and resources on a journey that can take up to two years.
“I want to do big things,” Vu said. “To become an astronaut is very difficult ... so when the program came up and allowed anyone to apply for it, I said, This is something I can do.'”
The open application process, which began in 2010, encouraged applicants from all over the world to submit a letter and video explaining their credentials.
Vu, who got his master's in computer science from Columbia, said he thinks his experience as an entrepreneur and IT developer gave him an edge over the competition.
Now, he'll have to undergo several rounds of physical and psychological examination before the final four-person team is announced in 2015.
Because MarsOne is intended to be crowdsourced and crowdfunded, continuing the application process for Linh means spreading the word.
He says he hopes the Columbia community will support him in whatever way possible, “even just looking closely at [the MarsOne initiative], asking questions, criticizing, making suggestions.”
Columbia is “a think tank and a haven for science and technology,” he said. He and encouraged “professors, scientists, economists, and students” alike to analyze the program.
One such scientist is NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, SEAS '84, who has returned to Columbia to teach a course on human spaceflight this semester.
“It's quite an undertaking,” Massimino said. “They've got a lot of challenges ahead of them in terms of making it all work, not least the funding, although the fact that [the colonists] won't be coming back will probably make things easier.”
While he appreciates the entrepreneurial spirit of the MarsOne project, Massimino thinks the first permanent colony will come as a result of an international collaboration between multiple governments and corporations.
“Bringing together the best and brightest from all over the world, you need the best for a mission like this,” he said.
Massimino agreed that colonization of other planets is “the wave of the future,” but said that MarsOne's success may be “a question of timing.”
“Still,” he said, “I wish them luck.”
Vu acknowledged that the plan to colonize Mars might seem outlandish.
“Some of my friends and my family think it's crazy,” Vu said. “Most of them said they wouldn't let me go.”
Still, he believes the initiative carries meaning and the potential to benefit a lot of people.
“When you see that so many people applied, I think it's because this is something that's never been done before, something we dreamed about and watched sci-fi movies about,” Vu said. “Finally, somebody said, This is not a dream, this is achievable.'”