UW grad vying for a seat on mission to Mars

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Ben Criger, UW alum, is one of 100 names still in the running to become a Mars One astronaut. As one of six Canadians left in the pool of applicants, Criger hopes to be in the final four selected for a one-way trip to Mars.&nbsp;</p>

The 100 prospects were narrowed down from 660 after being interviewed by Norbert Kraft, the chief medical officer of Mars One, a not-for-profit based in the Netherlands. Criger said he was surprised to make it past the interview round which involved questions about family support, his experience being part of a small team, and a few technical questions. They also asked him about the prospect of leaving Mars once the team is settled there. Criger said there’s no chance of that. 

“I wasn’t really surprised to see that I’d gotten through the application phase and the medical exam, but I thought I actually did pretty poorly in the interview, so it was exciting to see that I’d actually made it,” Criger said.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this, to explore, discover new things,” Criger said, adding that he’s had space exploration on his mind since childhood.  

“I’ve been fascinated by stuff like this for a long time, so when the call for applications went out, it was a really natural decision.”

The Mars One crew is slated to leave Earth in 2024 and never return, making it a pretty big commitment for the potential astronauts. 

“The people in my life have been really supportive … Friends and acquaintances that I haven’t seen or heard from in a long time reached out to me, which means a lot,” Criger said. 

According to Mars One, the next stage of weeding out candidates will focus on teamwork skills. The narrowing down of 100 to four candidates will be documented in a reality show. The mission itself will be broadcast as a reality show as well. Selling the broadcast rights is one way Mars One is raising money for the mission. 

The 100 contenders will get a chance to train in a replica of the Mars outpost while Mars One works to compose a suitable team of four that will be able to face the challenges that come with creating human settlement on the red planet.  Criger is confident in his chances. 

Currently, Criger is in Germany completing a post-doctoral fellowship at RWTH Aachen University. “In my fellowship, I work on implementing quantum error-correcting codes using the kind of experimental devices that are possible in the next few years,” Criger said. 

“It takes a little bit of quantum mechanics, a little bit of computer science, and a little bit of abstract math in order to get things done, but I stay focused by keeping my eye on the long-term goal of making a reliable, usable quantum computer,” he said. 

Mars One’s search for candidates began in April 2013 — they initially received 202,586 applications. 

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