2 Tenn. soldiers make first cut for Mars mission

12:10 AM, Jan 4, 2014   |    comments
Heidi Beemer, a first lieutenant with Fort Campbell’s 63rd Chemical Company, showed off some of her memorabilia of a life spent chasing the dream of going to Mars. (Photo: Philip Grey, The Clarksville, Tenn., Leaf-Chronicle)
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By Philip Grey
The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle

CLARKSVILLE, TENN. - Out of a pool of 200,000 worldwide applicants from 140 countries, 1,058 were selected to go forward with interviews and medical screenings for a possible privately funded manned Mars mission.

Fort Campbell is home to two of them.

Heidi Beemer, a 25-year-old first lieutenant with Fort Campbell's 63rd Chemical Company, has been waiting for the opportunity to become a "Martian" since she was 8 years old and saw a newspaper article about a Mars Rover mission.

The second Fort Campbell candidate, Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Thomas Woodward, was in transit to Afghanistan with his unit, C Company, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade "Wings of Thunder."

It is the fifth deployment for Woodward, a UH-60 Maintenance Test Pilot, including three deployments in Iraq and a previous tour in Afghanistan.

In an e-mail notifying The Leaf-Chronicle of his acceptance, Woodward stated, "I have been interested in Mars and even more so since reading Robert Zubrin's 'The Case for Mars' years ago."

The book is also among fellow candidate Beemer's favorites.

Regarding qualifications and experience, Woodward wrote, "I have two BAs in psych (psychology) and philosophy. I also have my MBA. Prior to PCSing (permanent change of station) to Campbell, I was stationed at Redstone Arsenal in the Utility Helicopter Project Office for two years, working several programs for the future of Army Aviation to include the H-60 Digitization program.

"I was formerly a PSYOP (psychological operations) specialist active duty and a Power Generation Equipment Repairer in the Reserves."

For round one of the application process, Beemer believes that the psychological aspect was the major factor.

"I think the biggest deciding factor was weeding out people who were serious versus not serious," the Hampton, Va., native said.

"I think a lot of people who applied were not taking the actual full weight of the decision into consideration, so there was a lot of 'celebrity-ism" and wanting to be part of a movement.

Mars One

Mars One is a privately funded nonprofit corporation that is actively seeking to put a permanent human presence on Mars by 2025. The project has planned several unmanned preparatory missions, beginning in 2018 and the manned mission is being planned using existing technologies.

In early December, Mars One announced that it had contracted Lockheed Martin and SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.) to develop concept studies for a 2018 launch of a robotic lander and communications satellite.

According to the acceptance email, candidates for the manned mission are to receive further information about the Round Two selection process on Jan. 6.

The e-mail announcement to candidates also stated, "helping generate interest and funding in the Mars One mission is your first assignment. Among other criteria, finalists for the mission will be judged on their ability to be evangelists for this project."

The international effort, which has gained respected supporters in the scientific community, is a far cry from the cautious methodology of government programs like NASA, and the $6 billion budget for the one-way flight and initial settlement of the first four crewmembers is much less than NASA once said it would need - $100 billion - for a temporary visit-and-return mission.

Other scientists have gone on record stating that Mars' gravity and exposure to solar radiation preclude the possibility of permanent or even extended human habitation.

Aspiring 'Martians' have been told that they will be residing on Mars permanently. According to Mars One, crews of four are to be sent to increase the size of the colony every two years initially.

Besides private investment, the program is using "crowd-funding" via sites such as Indiegogo, though the main source of funding is expected to come from contracting the rights for a reality TV series.

Part of the acceptance e-mail reads: "...tell everyone you know, including friends, family, and media that you need their help. You are now a key part of the group of people around the world we're counting on, and helping generate interest and funding in the Mars One mission is your first assignment. Among other criteria, finalists for the mission will be judged on their ability to be evangelists for this project."

The remaining applicants are also instructed that if they haven't already done so, they need to discuss their dream of leaving the planet Earth forever with their families and friends.

"Passing the first round of selection is a major step closer to going down in history as one of the chosen few who will experience and live something that has never been done before," the email states. "You'll need your family and friends' support as we begin the next stage of the selection process."

That isn't a problem for Beemer, as everyone who has known her since the third grade knows what her dream has been and knows what she is doing to achieve it now.

That includes her chain of command and fellow soldiers at Fort Campbell, who Beemer said have been extremely supportive from the start.

"They're so excited," she said. "My first sergeant called me yesterday and said he was so thrilled to share this moment with me and told me if I needed to take a day or two off to deal with everything and get my name out there, to do it.

"He said, 'We can put all this Army stuff on hold for now. This is about you going forward to change the world.'"

The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle

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