The Process

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. Christmas and New Year’s were wonderful yet chaotic in the Roberts household. I apologize for not writing more, but between work, festivities, and preparing for the upcoming simulation missions, time seems to be in short supply. This particular topic is one that I’ve wanted to address for a while, though.

I want to talk a little bit about the process of preparing myself to go to Mars and what I’m actually doing on a day-to-day basis. I tend to organize my efforts into three categories: 1) personal development steps I’m taking to prepare myself, 2) logistical preparations to address the means to actually be able to get to Mars, and 3) financial preparations to fund the endeavor. In my mind, I have an ideal picture of what my daily process should look like, but it’s an expectation that is seldom realized. A lot of that disparity has to do with competing demands for time, attention, and money—as well as the fact that I’m a father and a full-time pilot. Despite the seeming compromise between competing priorities, in truth those things that compete for my time and attention also provide the greatest drive and motivation to pursue my dreams. At any rate, in terms of my daily process, I’ll describe both my ideal routine and also what that looks like right now.

Personal Development

The area that I have the most control over on a day-to-day basis seems to be my personal development. I spend the majority of my time becoming who I need to be to accomplish my goals. I categorize personal development into three aspects: physical, mental, and intellectual.

Physical Preparation

I’ve always had a love for running and that tends to be my go-to exercise for physical preparation. Right now, as I’m preparing to go to Mt. Everest Base Camp with Mars Academy USA, I’m running even more than usual. I typically try to run 6-10 miles at a time, but if conditions are bad (snowy or icy sidewalks), I’ll walk or hike with a heavy pack. One of the things I love about running and walking is that I’m able to do some of my best thinking when I get into a good rhythm. If I were all legs, running would be the perfect workout, but despite its many benefits, it’s not a full-body exercise. Ideally, I would like to spend 2-3 hours a day exercising, with an hour or so of running and another 1-2 hours in the gym and the pool. That would provide much better all-around fitness, and there are several other mental and intellectual activities I could also work on while exercising. In addition, I would love to have a trainer to help me set and work toward some specific physical goals with better focus and intention.

The other important aspect of physical preparation is nutrition. Meal planning is a particular challenge for me because I spend so much time on the road, and when I’m traveling, it’s hard to be deliberate about what I eat. My diet tends to be rather opportunistic, meaning that I eat whatever is available or convenient. More often than not, that means airport food, which is expensive and provides limited selection. Since eating can be such a challenge, it would be great to have a nutritionist to help plan my menu and even prepare my meals. For now I try to be aware of what I’m eating and be conscious of my nutrition to make sure that I’m not gaining unwanted weight.

Mental Preparation

Scene from Lawrence of Arabia

In terms of mental preparation, I am working on developing a mindset that I can actually go to Mars. This isn’t to suggest that I believe I can’t go to Mars—I absolutely know I can. However, it’s a challenge for me to get that determination to take root at a deeper level where I’m not just saying it, but I believe it to my core. My own conviction is what will convince other people that I’m really going to do it. The other night I was watching Lawrence of Arabia (Spiegel, 1962) on television. I love the scene from the clip above where Lawrence says, “I will be in Aqaba—that is written… in here (pointing at his head).” I want it to be written in my mind that I will be on Mars. That’s what the mental aspect of my preparation is focused on. To nurture this mindset, I try to start my day with prayer and reading several spiritual texts. Each day I recite a personal credo that reinforces the personal characteristics and attributes that I’m trying to develop. In addition to my credo, I have a power statement that is a short affirmation I’ve memorized, which I can recite to myself during the day to counteract negative self-talk and help keep my mindset constantly aligned with my goals and priorities.

Another thing which I find helps me to have a positive mindset is listening to personal development and leadership audios that reinforce a success-oriented attitude. There are several different sources I really like for audios. The Life Leadership organization has a lot of wonderful audios on subjects including leadership, success, personal finance, professional development, marriage, parenting, people skills, faith, and freedom. Tony Robbins is a phenomenal personal development expert who is masterful at distilling success principles down to really fundamental concepts, and he speaks with such passion and energy that it’s hard not to get fired up listening to him. I’ve also discovered a podcast by Brooke Castillo that I really enjoy. One of my favorite principles that she discusses is neutrality of circumstances—the idea that nothing is inherently good or bad until we ascribe those meanings to it. This is a really empowering concept and has totally changed my perception of many of my past experiences in life. Listening to these kinds of materials really helps me develop that positive mindset and it’s something I can do passively while I’m actively engaged in other activities.

Two things that sometimes don’t get adequate attention in my daily routine are meditating and visualizing. These are great activities because they help me focus my thoughts and defer conscious reasoning for subconscious instinct. If I have specific questions to meditate on and just let my subconscious ponder these quandaries, it tends to be very effective in helping me to find productive solutions. So many of the answers I’ve found in the development of my mission architecture have come as I’ve been meditating, or first thing in the morning after I’ve just woken up. I place tremendous value on those insights, but I need to allocate more time for meditation and visualization. Interestingly, I am able to visualize when I’m riding in the back of an airplane. As an airplane lines up for takeoff and the thrust increases, the plane starts to shake, and I like to close my eyes and imagine myself on that rocket ship preparing to lift off on my way to Mars. I also visualize being on Mars when I’m driving around in the mountains of Utah and I imagine actually being on a Martian landscape. Visualization isn’t necessarily something I have to allocate specific time for, but it is important to me to take time to visualize and to see myself actually having achieved my goal—to see it before achieving it.

Intellectual Preparation

It often feels like intellectual preparation is the aspect of personal development that gets most of my time and attention. Recently I’ve been using Kahn Academy to brush up on my academic education and learn some of the subjects that I don’t have as much background in. I have a Bachelor of Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Master of Science from Embry-Riddle University in Professional Aeronautics, so I’ve studied most of these subjects to some degree already, but I feel like it’s important for me to master them to a greater degree before I go to Mars.

Many of the academic disciplines that are relevant to Mars exploration can be arranged in a pyramid, with mathematics as the foundation for all the other subjects. Right now I’m studying pre-calculus and will review calculus when I’m done with that. I’m looking forward to working with conic sections because they directly apply to the orbital dynamics that will help me get to Mars. The second tier of the academic pyramid is chemistry, because it lays a groundwork for geology, biology, engineering and being able to develop the fuel and resources to survive on Mars. Geology would be on the next tier of the pyramid because one of the things that we really want to understand about Mars is what resources are there, how they came to be there, and the similarities and differences between geological processes on Mars and Earth. Understanding geology also helps us recognize areas that are ripe for development of life and biology, the next step on the pyramid. Answering the big question on everyone’s minds—”Is there life on Mars?”—depends on a solid understanding of biology. I regard physics and engineering as the capstone of our academic pyramid. Physics is critical to understanding orbital dynamics and rocketry, so that’s another subject I’m studying.

Ideally, I would be fully immersed in studying those topics at a collegiate level, but currently my daily routine consists of working with Kahn Academy to learn math, chemistry, biology, and physics. I’m also working on developing practical applications and research in areas such as power development—what is it going to look like to develop electricity on Mars? Will I use solar power? Wind power? Geothermal power? Nuclear power? All those different questions involve math, chemistry, physics, and geology. What is transportation going to look like? That requires chemistry, physics, and math to answer. What will my habitat look like? How will I use in situ resources to develop the materials that I need to survive? These questions serve as a catalyst for studying all of the subjects in the academic pyramid.

Right now that’s what I do on a daily basis to prepare myself intellectually. I try to put in a little bit here and a little bit there, and keep moving in the direction of my goals. It’s kind of like eating a whale—I just have to take it one bite at a time, but one of the things that I feel very fortunate about is having so much joy in this journey. It’s not just about the destination, it’s not just about reaching Mars—it’s about who I become during the course of that journey. And that’s the best part of it.

Logistical Development

Logistical development has to do with the details of how I’ll get to Mars and how I’ll survive there. I spend a lot of time thinking about logistical details, but in truth most of those concerns will be better addressed by people with specialized knowledge. What I’m trying to do is see the big picture of how all those pieces fit together and then to develop the working relationships to actually assemble all of the pieces.

I’m really excited to be involved in the Mars Academy USA missions over the next two months because they will help me get a better idea of just how big this whale is that I’m getting ready to eat. The analog missions are designed to simulate conditions that will actually be encountered on Mars and expose problems with our current paradigms so we can address those issues proactively rather than reactively. My fellow crew members have a deep passion for space exploration and many of them have been involved in the field far longer than I have. I’m thrilled to learn from these knowledgeable individuals and hope to build some great relationships that will help all of us achieve our mutual goals.

One project that has been on my mind recently is a proof of concept simulation I want to conduct sometime in the next 12-18 months. This will be a big step for logistical development, will provide valuable research, and should bring attention to my plan for going to Mars. That’s just a little teaser to pique your interest. I’ll explain my plan for the simulation in more detail in a forthcoming post. Stay tuned!

Another aspect of logistics is reaching out to well-known figures in the aerospace community to develop relationships and connections. It’s not always easy to make contact with these individuals, because they receive so much correspondence from people that they have limited opportunity to respond to it all. I realized a while ago, however, that if I knew one particular individual held the key to getting me to Mars, there’s nothing that would keep me from getting through to that person. Too stalkerish? Maybe. I’m reaching out through mail and email to individuals such as Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis, Anousheh Ansari, Buzz Aldrin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and many others.

Here’s where you, my friends, can make a huge contribution toward getting me to Mars. Most people are somewhat familiar with the six degrees of separation principle. The idea is that each of us is separated from any other individual on the planet by a network of no more than six relationships. This is part of the power of social networking services such as Facebook and LinkedIn, because they give us access to a much broader network of contacts. I don’t know those individuals that I mentioned (yet), but I’m fairly certain I know someone whose aunt’s neighbor cuts hair for the guy who mows the lawn for Elon Musk’s secretary (or something like that). If you have access to people who have access to those individuals, please consider making that connection. And speaking of six degrees of separation, if anyone knows Kevin Bacon, it would be cool to meet him too.

Financial Development

Finance is the other area that I’m focusing on in preparation for going to Mars. I estimate that it’s going to cost approximately $1-1.5 billion for me to be able to go to Mars, and that’s a little more than I have in my bank account right now. There is no shortage of people and organizations who will be willing to invest in this project, and I have no doubt that when I get the other pieces to fit together, I’ll be able to arrange the funding. That being said, I don’t expect someone’s going to just pen me a check for that much money without holding me accountable for it. It probably wouldn’t be good to have a loan shark show up on Mars to break my kneecaps. I place a high priority on using my financial resources wisely and making the most of the resources available to me.

To that end, I’m in the process of creating a corporation associated with this project. I’m not going to share the name right now because I don’t have a trademark or internet domain name yet, but it’s in the works. I’d been thinking about doing this for a while, but came to the decision to do it now because it provides some significant tax benefits for all the expenses that I’m incurring in preparation for my trip to Mt. Everest. It also gives me more motivation to succeed, because ultimately I want this to be a thriving business that will have significant financial returns for people who invest to help me get to Mars.

Grind? What Grind?!?

I know all of this probably sounds like a lot to take care of on a daily basis—and sometimes it does seem rather daunting. There’s a great book, though, that I really love called The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson. He talks about how small but consistent effort compounded over time can achieve enormous results. The most amazing part of this journey actually isn’t the destination, but who I find I’m becoming in the process. I’m living a life of meaning and purpose, and I experience passion about what I’m doing every day. Yesterday I had to fix the garbage disposal on our kitchen sink and that mundane task was actually enjoyable because I realized it was getting me just a little closer to being ready to go to Mars (plumbers are in short supply up there). Journeying to Mars isn’t just going to change everything for humanity in the future, it changes everything for me right now.

Because of how this experience is transforming me, I hope that whatever your personal dreams are, pursuing them changes everything for you, too.

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