Maggie Lieu is gunning for a one-way ticket off this planet.
The 24-year-old is in competition for a spot on Mars One, a proposed mission to Mars sponsored by a Dutch non-profit — that also has its own reality TV show.
The competition attracted 202,586 wannabe astronauts who applied from around the world. That's now been narrowed to only 100 candidates, and Lieu recently got word she's on the short list.
Over the next decade, Lieu will join 99 competitors in trying to prove she has what it takes to populate the Red Planet. She says there will be three aspects to this decade-long training program.
First there's the group training: “We’ll be put into groups with people that we will potentially be spending the rest of our lives with and seeing how well we get on with them,” Lieu says.
Candidates will also undergo technical training, where they'll learn the practical skills needed to man a colony. That's everything from medical and dental training to learning how to grow food and repair the outpost where the astronauts would live.
But the thing Lieu feels will be the most challenging will be the personal training. Mars One plans to simulate the experience of living on Mars here on earth with “isolation simulation posts” in the desert and the Arctic.
“When we leave these simulation posts, we’ll have to put on the full Mars suit, the gear, and we’ll have to live with time delays when communicating with people on 'Earth,'” she explains.
But even with those harsh realities, Lieu has been itching to leave the planet since she was a little kid. "When you’re young and you say you want to be an astronaut, nobody really takes you very seriously," she says. But she's kept her eyes on space and is pursuing a Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Birmingham.
Lieu insists the Mars One mission isn’t as fantastical as it sounds. “I think this is inevitably going to happen,” she says. “All the technology to get to Mars is there.”
Even if the project doesn't meet its goal of sending humans to Mars by 2025, she's convinced the effort has inspired others to try. Elon Musk of SpaceX, a commercial spaceflight company, has said he'll announce plans for Mars colonization. And NASA has begun the Orion program, which promises to send people to Mars — despite long funding odds.
But there's one key difference between those other missions and Lieu’s hypothetical journey on Mars One: She'll never come home.
“Immediately, I would miss a lot of things like clothing, makeup and food — lots of little things," she admits. "But in the long term, I know I’ll miss being able to breathe the air, being able to go for a swim, being able to sunbathe in the rare summers that we get in the UK.”