Blog

Conquering Fear

One of the challenges of having big dreams and visions is that it can sometimes be difficult to quiet the mind when it’s time to sleep. Such was the case last night. Fortunately I was able to sleep in this morning and don’t have to work until this afternoon. The question that kept turning over in my mind last night primarily dealt with how to engage Rick Tumlinson, founding partner of Space Fund, as a collaborator in this project. Rick gave a stirring presentation in the Mars Society conference two weeks ago, and he was recommended to me as the person who could help arrange the financing to go to Mars. I emailed Rick about a week ago, but have yet to hear back from him.

I think that one of the things that I struggle with most in this journey is fear. That’s probably a common issue for most people, and fear keeps so many dreams from ever seeing the light of day. One of the things that occupies the most time for me on a daily basis is just working on being in a winning frame of mind and conquering fear. Some may suggest that there are more important things that I should be doing with my time, but I believe that shifting my paradigm is the most critical aspect of what I’m doing. Can I really go to Mars if I’m full of fear and doubt? The primary manifestation of fear for me seems to be that people are going to reject my ideas, particularly the people whose support I need. It seems kind of silly to me that I don’t really have any fear about the prospect of being launched on a rocket full of highly combustible fuel, spending two and a half years in solitude in the the most hostile conditions ever encountered by man, with the very real likelihood of never returning home, and yet I’m afraid to talk to people. Go figure.

Fortunately I have a couple things going for me in the struggle to overcome fear. First is a pretty solid history of success. Most recently I was really worried about opening this blog to the public, but I took the leap just a few days ago and linked it to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The traffic on the site has been steadily increasing over the last few days, and I haven’t been bombarded with ridicule from people who are a lot smarter than I am. I’d like to just say thank you to everyone who has visited and taken time to check out what I’m doing. Whether you think it’s madness or genius (or mad genius), I really appreciate your interest. I would love to get some feedback on what people think of the Mars NOW project. In particular, I’m getting ready to do a post that addresses some arguments that I’ve heard, and I need your objective perspectives. So far I think the big concerns that I want to consider are: “Doing a solo mission is too risky”, “Why do we need to have people on Mars when we can just send rovers?”, “Aren’t you a little old to be doing this?”, “SpaceX already has plans to go to Mars. Why not just leave it to the experts?”, and “But you don’t have the technical expertise to go to Mars.” These and other probing questions (lay ‘em on me!) to be answered soon. Stay tuned!

The other big thing that I think that I have going for me in overcoming my apprehensions is some great information about success principles. I’ve shared before about the influence that the Life Leadership organization has had on my journey. At a recent conference I was speaking to one of my wife’s mentors and he suggested that utilizing a training program called Power Sales University might help me find and enlist the aid of some particular individuals. I wasn’t quite sure how this was supposed to help me. I never considered myself much of a salesman and had never really aspired to that particular occupation, but I decided to take his word for it and check it out. The Power Sales University program really helped me think about how to communicate with people focusing more on what I can do for them rather than what they can do for me. I think that sales sometimes gets a bad rap (not always undeserved), but we all try to influence others to consider things from our perspective on a regular basis, and this program just teaches how to do that more effectively. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m trying to sell anyone on the Mars NOW project, but I’m trying to share the vision and enlist collaborators.

Speaking of Mars NOW, when I shared this blog on my Facebook page I had a spark of curiosity about where else I could promote it. I started to search for the term “mars now” and discovered that it’s in common (or at least not uncommon) usage. I also found that someone had filed a trademark application for “#marsnow” a couple years ago, but it didn’t appear that the application had gone through. Just to clarify, I was previously unaware of these references and I’m not trying to infringe on anyone else’s intellectual property. If anyone takes issue with me using the totally awesome name “Mars NOW”, please let me now and I’ll devote all my mental effort into coming up with something even more amazing. That being said, I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to trademark the term, just to avoid potential conflict down the road. I have no intention of being like the Wright brothers and spending years of my life my considerable fortune embattled in litigation against people who used my ideas, but I figure that might prevent people from accusing me of stealing their ideas.

That’s all the time I have for writing today, but I’ll have more soon. Thank you again for joining me on this adventure, and please share this blog. Dream big, and keep your eyes on the stars!

Proof of Life Paradox

I was talking to my first officer this week during one of our flights, and as I explained to him what I’m working on we got onto the subject of planetary protection. At the Mars Society conference they spent a fair amount of time discussing this particular topic (as they usually do), and it occurs to me that there are some important aspects to the discussion that are frequently overlooked.

The principle of planetary protection as it relates to Mars (as well as most other celestial bodies) basically asserts that we have a responsibility to protect any indigenous life forms that currently occupy the planet. There are other aspects to the concept such as preserving natural resources and preventing the possibility of introducing invasive lifeforms to Earth’s ecosystem, but most discussion currently revolves around protecting potential life that may currently exist on Mars. This is a valid concern in light of recent discovery of liquid water reservoirs on the planet that may provide suitable habitats for microbial life, and there’s a camp of scientists who argue very convincingly that it would be irresponsible for us to go to Mars until we have determined whether or not there is life there.

The problem as I see it is that this argument has one blaring fallacy- an elephant in the room that no one seems interested in acknowledging. The challenge of proving whether life exists on Mars seems pretty black and white at first glance. Either life is there or it isn’t. True, the Viking landers in the early 1970s provided (arguably) false positive indications of Martian life, but if actual life forms or their fossil remnants are actually observed (as opposed to metabolic byproducts that might be associated with biology) it will prove conclusively that there is life. If we see cellular organisms the argument is essentially over.

This is a pretty cut and dry grounds for a positive determination of life, but what how can we determine the absence of life on Mars (or any other planet for that matter)? We can look all over the planet and not find any specific indication of life, but we haven’t really proven that there’s not life- only that we haven’t found it. Even today biologists here on earth are finding microbial organisms in extreme environments that no one imagined could harbor life. These extremophiles demonstrate that life is far more tenacious than we really comprehend.

I suppose that one example from my own experience that occurs to me comes from hunting. This summer I spent several weeks hunting in the high Uintah mountains of Utah. I was fortunate to see many deer and elk during the time that I was there, but there were several days that I didn’t see anything (other than thousands of mosquitoes!). Despite not seeing these animals, I was pretty sure they were there- I just wasn’t very good at finding them. Hey, I never suggested that I’m a good hunter. Here’s the key though. Even though I didn’t see the animals I still behaved as if they were there, because I knew there was a chance that I might find one right behind the next tree.

So the question of planetary protection, in my opinion, isn’t so much about whether or not there’s life on Mars. If there is then we need to take precautions to protect that life. If we don’t find life we still need to assume that it may be present and proceed taking the same precautions to protect potential life. Either way, the end result is the same. In my opinion the argument is moot, and we should focus our energy on determining how we can progress in our exploration of Mars and other planets while still fulfilling our responsibility to protect life wherever we might find it.

Mula for Mars

I’ve been considering a few different ideas for raising money for my trip to Mars. The actual mission itself will require substantial funding from investors, but it doesn’t seem prudent to wait until I have all those ducks in a row before getting started with my preparations. When I was at the Mars Society conference two weeks ago in Los Angeles, my friend Nicolas referred me to an acquaintance of his named Taichi Yamazaki. Mr. Yamazaki is a business owner from Japan who has independently undertaken training to travel into space, and Nicolas believes he could be a valuable mentor for preparing to go to Mars. In particular, Nicolas suggested that Taichi could recommend training programs that I could enroll in to prepare myself for going to Mars.

Nicolas also suggested that I consider crowd funding as a way to pay for at least a portion of this training. He recommended a site called Patreon which specializes in crowd funding for artists and creative endeavors. I’m not sure that would be the best platform for what I’m doing, but it did get me started looking at some options. I think that the best alternative for me would be GoFundMe, which provides fundraising campaigns for a vast variety of different causes. I’m thinking that what I may do is find a specific training event to raise money for and then provide contributors with a candid account of the training. For those who contribute $100 I would have some t-shirts made, and for anyone who contributes $500 or more I would come have lunch with them and talk one on one about the Mars NOW! project.

The other fundraising option that I’m considering is doing a reality TV show. Admittedly, I’m not crazy about this idea because I’m reluctant to expose my entire life (and more importantly my family’s life) to public scrutiny. I realize however that when I go to Mars that’s going to happen anyway, so I might as well do it on my terms now and make it work to my benefit. I’ve been doing some research about a few different production companies that I’m going to reach out to. I think that a show that chronicles my efforts would be well suited to the History Channel or the Discovery Channel. I’m very cautious about this prospect, but I’ve spoken with several mentors who think it has a lot of promise.

Other funding options might include specific product endorsements or sponsorships. I’ve thought of maybe a sportswear manufacturer, maybe a hardware or tool company, or some kind of sport or energy drink. I think that those arrangements would be a little further down the road though. I’d be interested to hear recommendations that anyone else has.

2019 Mars Society Conference

I’m a bit late with this post, but it’s been a busy week. Last weekend (October 17-20) I went down to Los Angeles for the annual conference of the Mars Society. For those who are not familiar with the Mars Society, it’s a group dedicated to colonizing Mars. They welcome people of all backgrounds who are passionate about this cause, and they actively support research and educational programs that contribute to establishing human settlements on the planet. Some of these projects include habitat design competitions, rover challenges for teams of college and high students, and analog simulation missions of Mars-like conditions in austere environments (think desert and arctic locations). One of the things that I think is especially interesting about this organization is that it welcomes both neophyte enthusiasts as well as subject matter experts in a diversity of fields including astronautics, geology, botany, sociology, chemistry, physics, and many more. The conference was a great opportunity to renew some previous acquaintances and meet some great new people who share a common passion.

This year I was invited to stay with my friend Nicolas who lives just a few blocks from the USC campus where the conference was held. Nicolas is a writing coach and publisher who I met at the conference last year in Pasadena. Even before I met him though, I’d been following him on a website called Quora where he frequently answers questions about Mars and space exploration. Some of the questions are very insightful and others are just absurd, but Nicolas does a great job of providing very knowledgeable responses and explaining complex ideas in a way that is understandable without being condescending. I’d been hoping that I might run into him when I went to that conference, and when I shared my plans for going to Mars with him he became a fast friend. I really appreciate all his encouragement and feedback, and it was amazingly generous of him to open his home to me for the conference this year.

I saved a few dollars on conference admission (don’t judge me- I am trying to conduct an economical project here!) by volunteering to help out with the conference. I love doing this because it’s helping a great cause, but it’s also a wonderful way to meet conference attendees. The first day I helped out with registration, so I was able to chat with a lot of people as they came in and find out a little about their backgrounds and see who was going to be presenting. I also spent a good portion of the time introducing speakers and timing presentations to keep things running on schedule. This also gave me an opportunity to visit with the presenters a bit and introduce myself to them.

James Melton and myself

One of my favorite presentations of the weekend was given by James Melton, a leadership adviser from Palm Springs, California. His talk really resonated with me, especially because it was right in line with the leadership and success principles that I’ve been learning through Life Leadership. James was kind enough to invite me to join him and his friend Roger for dinner that evening, along with several other acquaintances from the day’s events. As I shared my plans with the group both James and Roger were very encouraging and had some great recommendations to offer. One of the first thing that James mentioned was that I need to get a website and share what I’m doing, which just confirmed what I already knew- that I need to get this blog going! For Roger’s part, he suggested that I contact a gentleman named Rick Tumlinson who is instrumental in helping fund emerging projects in space exploration. Rick spoke at the conference, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak with him personally. I did get his contact information though, and I’m trying to reach out to enlist his help in my project.

Roger, Nicolas, Neville, James, myself, and Darian

One of the presentations that was given was from Max Fagin, and aerospace engineer with Made in Space. He spoke on the challenges of planning for entry into Mars’ atmosphere, descent, and landing on the surface. Because Mars has such a thin atmosphere it’s more difficult to slow a vehicle from orbital velocities to speeds that they can safely land on the surface. It’s not as easy as just putting a parachute on a lander to slow it down because at high speeds the parachute will just shred when it opens. The problem of dissipating speed and energy is exacerbated as the mass of the vehicle increases. There are several strategies for addressing these issues, but of course they each come with their one set of concerns. Aerodynamic braking heats up the vehicles surfaces and a ablates (pronounced “melts away”) it’s structure. Using thrust to slow the vehicle is effective, but requires a significant amount of fuel. These aren’t insurmountable obstacles, but are important to consider.

Another significant consideration that Max pointed out to me is that 2022 is not an ideal year to launch to Mars. Because of the planet’s highly elliptical orbit the distance associated with Hohmann transfer windows is not always the same. As a result a higher energy transfer orbit (which equates to higher velocity requiring more fuel) is required to get between Earth and Mars. Again, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but does involve some significant restrictions. In particular it would likely limit the amount of payload that could be carried. In theory this could be addressed by refueling the transfer vehicle in low earth orbit (this is SpaceX’s plan for getting Starship to Mars), but that’s a process that hasn’t been developed… yet. I think that’s probably the best potential solution for getting to Mars in 2022 without significantly reducing the mission mass. Max said that in theory my plan was feasible, it he wouldn’t recommend it. I can work with that.

One renewed acquaintance from last year’s conference was Susan Ip-Jewell, a medical doctor who works with the Mars Academy. I really enjoy visiting with Susan. She’s very passionate about her work and has a great energy that she spreads to everyone. Susan is working with the Mars Academy to organize a series of expeditions to Mt. Everest. The plan is to conduct research on medical factors associated with prolonged exposure to high altitudes and reduced pressure. She invited me to join the team and I was sorely tempted, but unfortunately I have other commitments that conflict with the itinerary. I think that it’s a wonderful opportunity, and hope that I might be able to participate later. The Mars Academy does offer some other training programs that I may take advantage of in the nearer future though.

Myself with Susan and James

Perhaps the highlight of the Mars Society conference was a talk at the Saturday night banquet by Paul Wooster who is in charge of Mars planning for SpaceX. He related all of the progress that SpaceX is making in the development of the Starship rocket and described their vision for how it will be utilized. Some of the information was already familiar, but the new stuff was pretty fascinating. In particular he described how the vehicle doesn’t really have wings it uses aerodynamic flaps to adjust the orientation of the fuselage which acts as a lifting body. In effect, it behaves more like a falling skydiver as opposed to an airplane. I had an opportunity to speak with Paul after his presentation, and asked if SpaceX would be open to the idea of using a Falcon Heavy rocket as a platform for a manned mission to Mars. His response was that they are in the business of selling rockets, and if I wanted to buy one they would sell it to me. That was very encouraging!

All in all I felt like this was a great conference. I learned a lot and made some wonderful friends. I’ll elaborate more in later posts on some specific actions that I’m taking to follow up on lessons from this event. Stay tuned!

Life Intrudes

Well, much as I anticipated in my most recent post (almost six months ago!), my transition training to the ERJ distracted me from writing. The good news is that the training went very well and I’ve been flying the aircraft now for several months. The ERJ is much more automated than the CRJ that I had been flying for approximately eight years. The automation is great when everything is working normally, as long as the pilots understand the logic that underlies its operation. Unfortunately that’s not always a given (normal operation or understanding the logic), and it’s really important to maintain constant situational awareness of both what the aircraft is currently doing and what it intends to do next.

Embraer 175

This particular topic is really relevant to my plan for going to Mars because as a single crew member I will have to rely heavily on automated systems to manage my workload and provide a degree of safety that would otherwise be provided by the monitoring of another crew member. In my airline we’re taught that the protection provided by these automated systems is kind of a safety net as a last line of defense against error, not a replacement for the protection of following procedures and maintaining adequate vigilance. There’s a fragile balance between managing workload to maintain an optimal level of pilot engagement and automating crew duties to the point that crew members become complacent and disengaged from system operations. These are concerns that can be addressed by specific procedures and monitoring duties.

The other big time suck for me this summer (apart from work) was preparing for an archery elk hunt that I went on in the Uintah mountains of Utah. To a degree this may seem like a significant distraction from my preparations for going to Mars, but I believe that it aligns very closely with my goals. To scout my hunting area I spent several weekends backpacking 7-12 miles a day over rough terrain at approximately 10,000 feet elevation, generally in complete solitude. During the actual hunt I packed in approximately 7 miles with 40 pounds on my back and stayed for 3-5 days at a time, subsisting on dehydrated food. It many ways it was uncomfortable and miserable (the mosquitoes were unbearable!), but when my feet were sore and blistered and when I longed to have someone to share the beautiful views with I just reminded myself that these are the same concerns I’m going to deal with on Mars.

Home away from home

Those of you who are animal lovers can rest easy with the assurance that my hunt was unsuccessful with regard to shooting an elk. I was disappointed because I put a lot of time into preparing for the hunt, but I also really wanted to pack the meat out to prove to myself that I could. A mature male elk would have yielded approximately 200 pounds of meat, and it would have taken at least three round trips (7 miles each way) to pack it out. I’m a glutton for punishment, but as I told my daughter during a similar hunt a few years ago, we choose to do hard things so that we know we can handle hard things that are imposed on us. In spite of not shooting anything I still consider the hunt a success in terms of the experience gained and lessons learned. I was able to have some beautiful scenery all to myself, and actually saw quite a few elk and deer (just not close enough to shoot with my bow).

Cow elk in the high Uintah mountains

So with those major distractions in the rear view I can focus on the task at hand now! Having just returned from the Mars Society annual conference last weekend, I have a renewed sense of purpose and vision, but that’s a whole other post…

Progress Report

It seems like it’s been a while since I posted a progress report. There are several things that I’ve been making really good progress on, and others not so much. One area that I’ve been making steady progress in despite being one of the most challenging areas for me is losing weight. About three months ago I was up to about 220 pounds but I really want to get down to 180 pounds, both for my health and because I consider that my optimal launch weight. I’m not sure that I’ll stay there once I get to that goal, but knowing that I can achieve it will be an important milestone for me. I usually weigh in in the morning right after I run. It’s kind of cheating because it’s the time of day when I’m at my absolute lightest, but my weight varies so much during the day as I eat that this seems to be the best time to get a consistent measure. Today I was at 198.5 pounds, so I’m about halfway to my launch weight goal! A steady diet of astronaut ice cream probably isn’t going to help me on this one.

The other area that I’ve been making slow but steady progress with is running. I don’t get out to run every day (my work schedule often doesn’t allow for it), but I try to get out whenever I’m at home. Today I ran about 8 miles with an average pace of about 9 minutes per mile. It’s not all that fast, but my goal is to increase my endurance and aerobic stamina. This will be really important when it comes to traveling to Mars.

The pressure in my transit vessel will probably be a fraction of Earth’s sea level atmospheric pressure, and the pressure on the surface of Mars is equivalent to an altitude of approximately 115,000 feet in Earth’s atmosphere. The body’s ability to absorb oxygen from the air we breathe is based on the partial pressure of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Pressure is often measured in millibars and average sea level pressure is roughly 1000 millibars (mb). Since oxygen constitutes approximately 20% of the atmosphere, the partial pressure of oxygen at sea level is about 200 mb. At an elevation of 10,000 feet on Earth the partial pressure of oxygen goes down to about 140 mb. If the oxygen concentration were increased to approximately 60% of the space capsule, habitat, and space suite atmosphere the pressure only has to be roughly 230 mb, which equates to about 24,000 feet in Earth’s atmosphere. These are my rough calculations and I’m not expert, but I think this is fairly accurate.

The reasons for reducing the pressure are primarily to reduce the demand on atmospheric regulators and decrease the pressure and stress on various structures and materials that would have to contain those pressures. From a physiological standpoint though it presents a bit of a conundrum because most people aren’t accustomed to heavy exertion at the equivalent of 10,000 feet. I live at 4,500 feet and the mountains near my home range from 8,000 to about 12,000, so I running and hiking at these elevations helps me to acclimate to these thinner atmospheres. I’m not necessarily focused on going fast (although I try to steadily improve my times), but I’m more intent on being able to function for long periods of time in these conditions.

Other aspects of my efforts have been less productive the last few weeks. In particular I haven’t been spending quite as much time as I would like studying. Excuses aren’t going to help me get where I’m going, but one of the challenges of my current occupation is that there is constant ongoing training that can occupy a lot of my spare time. Last month I was informed that I would be transitioning from the Canadair Regional Jet to the Embraer Regional Jet (built by a Brazilian company). The training for each new aircraft that we learn is very extensive, and in this case will take approximately two months to complete. To a certain degree this seems like a bit of a distraction from my pursuit of going to Mars, but at the same time I feel very strongly that the work I do really helps prepare me for this great undertaking by helping me maintain an eager learning mindset, developing analytical and problem solving skills, exercising normal and emergency procedures, and establishing sound patterns of decision making. It can be a bit of a challenge balancing it with everything else that I have on my plate, but I’m not doing any of this because it’s easy!

The other thing that has been distracting me the last few weeks is this blog. I had been struggling with putting my thoughts into words and trying to get everything perfect, but it just wasn’t happening. A few epiphanies have helped me clear that particular hurdle, and I feel like I’m making slow but steady progress with this now. I think that the big motivator for me was realizing how important this site is for communicating what I’m doing and trying to enlist the help and support of so many people, without whom I won’t be able to do this. This blog is really kind of a lynch pin in the whole thing. That understanding has helped me get over myself and just try to focus on sharing my passion. I hope it’s evident!

Astronaut Coach Needed- Inquire Within

Two days ago I had an appointment for my flight physical with Dr. James “Pops” Stewart. Pops has been a close friend of mine for several years since we met through our common involvement in the Civil Air Patrol. As an airline pilot I’m required to subject myself to a thorough medical examination every six months, and as an Aviation Medical Examiner there’s no one who I trust more to help me stay in peak flying condition than Pops.

With a background as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and a specialist in hyperbaric (relating to extremes in atmospheric pressure) medicine, I expected that Pops would have a good deal of insight into the medical requirements for space flight. At the same time, I was reluctant to call my sanity into question with the one person who has veto authority over my ability to pursue my livelihood. I’m sorry I ever doubted you Pops!

Following our regular examination and discussion about my health I asked Pops if he saw anything that would prevent me from traveling into space. “Just seat availability”, he responded with a quizzical look. I shared my plan with him, and was humbled by not just his receptiveness but encouragement and enthusiasm for what I’m doing. What’s more, he offered to help try to connect me to some of his contacts who may be able to help me in this endeavor.

In particular Pops mentioned Joe Kittenger, the former U.S. Air Force Colonel who in 1960 jumped from a balloon at an altitude of 102,800 feet (approximately 20 miles) reaching speeds of over 600 mph in free fall- a record that stood for 52 years. Pops said that he is good friends with Colonel Kittenger, and he might be just the person to help me make some of the connections that I need to be able to go to Mars. That would be leaping a huge hurdle in the progress of this project!

I feel like one of the biggest challenges that I face is reaching a critical mass of support from people who can help me get to my goals. I think I’m working pretty hard right now, but I know that I could be doing more. As I was reading Grit by Angela Duckworth it occurred to me that I really need a coach to help me know where to focus my efforts, challenge my limitations, and to help me be accountable for my progress. I’ve been looking for individuals who would be aptly suited to this function. My first choice right now is Anousheh Ansari who was the first woman to visit the International Space Station as a private citizen. She was also the first Iranian-born astronaut, and as an entrepreneur I believe that she has the mindset, knowledge, and experience to help guide me in my efforts. Another person who I think could help a lot is Chris Hadfield, a retired Canadian astronaut. In the last few years he has developed a reputation as an advocate for STEM education with emphasis on astronautics. He has an abundance of experience and having read his book I really like his attitude about preparing for the opportunities that life leads you to.

I did reach out to Anousheh Ansari a couple weeks ago by email, but haven’t heard anything back from her. I’m not really surprised (I know that she has someone screen her mail and email for her), but I’m also undeterred. It occurred to me that if I knew that one particular person held the key to me being able to achieve my goal, there is nothing that would stop me from making that connection. Based on what I know about these individuals, I believe that’s a determination that they would share.

Duty calls, but I as I get ready to go to work I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have this dream that motivates me in all I do. I’m especially grateful for the support of so many people who have encouraged me to pursue this. People like Pops, who didn’t just nod his head and send me on my way, but offered his full support; people I work with who have asked how they can help me do this; my mentors who have inspired me to dream beyond the horizons that I can see. I’m especially grateful to you, my readers, who didn’t stop at the first paragraph but allowed curiosity to get the better of you. Thank you for your dreams! You can achieve them!

The Battle Within

I’ve been wrestling with the burden of writing the last few weeks. It’s not necessarily that I haven’t been motivated to write, or even that I didn’t know what to write. I think that what it really has come down to is a limiting belief that I’m not a very good writer. In particular I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts in a coherent way to describe the details of the Mars NOW! plan for the blog. It’s kind of confounding because when I’m talking to someone about my dreams and ambitions I’m pretty good at articulating my thoughts and spinning the vision, but when I try to put stuff down on paper I suppose I tend to start to overthink each word and second guess how stuff comes across. Ideas that are supposed to be so simple get bogged down in details and the essence of what I’m trying to convey gets lost.

I recently finished reading a book called Grit by Angela Duckworth. She specifically talked about the challenges of writing a book and how it requires countless iterations of revision and refinement. I’m trying to focus on writing without trying to make it all perfect on the first go around, and silencing that voice in my head that tells me my efforts are inadequate. The funny thing is that it took me five minutes to write that last sentence. It’s a work in progress.

I knew when I started down this road that I would have a lot to learn, but I refining my writing abilities was not a skill that I was expecting to spend much time on. Nevertheless, I really believe that this blog is a critical piece of the puzzle for making my dream a reality. I know that there’s only so much that I can do myself, and I have to enlist the collaboration of people who can help me amplify my efforts. Maybe one of these days that will include someone who can help me with editing this blog, but for now that’s on me. I’ll tell you what’s driving me though.

It might sound like this struggle to write and express my thoughts coherently is a great burden, but there’s a bright side to it. I have this recurring thought that if this was the only thing standing between me and being able to go to Mars, I’d move heaven and earth to become a veritable Ernest Hemingway. This is a small challenge, and I am going to rise to the occasion. I sure appreciate you, my readers, being patient with me and being witnesses to this journey of becoming. Ultimately I think that what I’m doing isn’t just about going to Mars, but it’s about who I become along the way.

Breaking the Bonds

I’ve been reading Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins recently. What a phenomenal book! It’s definitely going to make my book list. I love the idea of neurolinguistic programming, that if you just change the words that you use to describe how you think about things it changes your entire perception of those things and the meaning that you ascribe to them. I’ve taken to searching for all sorts of synonyms for words to describe my attitude and feelings. A couple of my favorites are “fervid” and “enraptured”. Those ones very aptly describe my state of mind these days, especially as I was reading the Tony’s chapter on “Creating a Compelling Future”. It totally went hand in hand with the sequence of events that led me to this project.

I mentioned in my last post how I felt like I had been unleashed when my daughter Brynne gave me her blessing to go to Mars. I was thinking about that yesterday while I was in the shower (I do most of my best thinking in the bathroom), and the image came to mind of the down locks on a rocket being released during launch. This video gives a great illustration of the down locks (they’re referred to as “hold down arms”):

These down locks are really important for testing the engines prior to launch and for making sure that all systems are operating properly before liftoff during launch. However, if they don’t perform their job properly and release at the appropriate time, the rocket never lifts off. It occurred to me that many people (myself included) have been running their engines full blast but have never been able to launch because we have these down locks of limiting belief.

The other thought that came to mind was the story of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. My grandfather gave me this book for Christmas when I was really young, and I remember reading about the seafarer Gulliver who is shipwrecked and stranded on the island of Lilliput (in truth I remember the cartoon more than the book, but I did actually read it!). Gulliver awakes on the island to discover that he has been completely immobilized by the Lilliputian populace, who though only 6 inches tall have bound Gulliver with hundreds of tiny strands. He could certainly have broken any one of the strands alone, but the combined strength of so many little things frustrate his best efforts at escape. I know that for myself I’ve used so many little excuses to not live up to my potential. The good news is that once you break just a few of those strands, the others become easier to overpower.

One of the things that I want to do on this forum is provide an accounting of my progress toward my goals, in particular what I’m reading, what I’m studying, and what I’m doing to get in shape. My goal for getting in shape is to get down to 180 pounds (no small endeavor since I’m currently about 210). I know that it’s achievable and I think that it will be a healthy weight for me. In addition to just being in good health, I want to minimize the amount of weight required for launch, and reducing my body weight also reduces my daily caloric requirement and the mass of food that I would need to bring with me. I have some specific estimates for those masses, but I’ll share that another time. The point right now is that I’m trying to exercise regularly and track my meals to get down to “fighting weight”.

I’m on a trip right now, overnighting in Atlanta, Georgia. Usually I like to get out and run when I get a chance, but we’re in the downtown area here, and we got in right as the sun was setting. I did spend some time in the gym lifting weights for a few minutes and running on the elliptical machine. My workout was interrupted by the fire alarm here (there are several hundred high school kids staying in the hotel tonight for a conference- it could be a long night!), but I still managed to get in about an hour in the gym.

I usually use a few different apps to track my workouts and meals. I like My Fitness Pal by Under Armor for tracking my caloric intake and expenditure. I can look up different foods just by scanning the barcode on a package, and I can also create my own food library. For running (my preferred method of self flagellation) I like to use Runtastic to keep track of my distance and help me find my way back to the hotel when I run out of steam. Uber helps in that department too. I’m going to see if I can set up a Progress page to link to some of that information, but that’s forthcoming.

I’ll close with this quote from Awaken the Giant Within: “When we first set large goals, they may seem impossible to achieve. But the most important key to goal setting is to find a goal big enough to inspire you, something that will cause you to unleash your power. The way I usually know I’ve set the right goal is when it seems impossible but at the same time it’s giving me a sense of crazed excitement just to think about the possibility of achieving it. In order to truly find that inspiration and achieve those impossible goals, we must suspend our belief systems about what we’re capable of achieving.” Thank you Tony. That’s what I’m all about!

Ready or Not

Okay, maybe that’s not the best title to introduce a site devoted to interplanetary exploration, but it is appropriate to the present condition of this blog. I’ve been trying to put off publishing anything until I have everything in order, but it occurred to me that that’s not really how a blog is supposed to work, right? Consider that a disclaimer that this is very much a work in progress, but so am I and that’s the point. The very purpose of this is to chronicle my efforts, education, growth, and challenges as I pursue what I consider to be the greatest endeavor in history: travelling to Mars!

Another disclaimer (there may be more than a few)- I am not a literary virtuoso. Hopefully my posts will become easier and more enjoyable to read as I get a little practice. What do I plan to write about? Well, first and foremost I plan to write about my plans to go to Mars and how they are evolving and progressing. This is also a journey of personal growth and transformation, so documenting my efforts will hopefully provide some accountability and motivation. More importantly, I hope that my story will inspire and motivate others to pursue their wild and crazy dreams!

I imagine that many people reading this might wonder what would possess me to want to go to Mars. Admittedly the first time that I really latched onto the idea I was genuinely concerned that I might be losing my mind! The genesis of the idea came from a report that I did in 2011 as part of my capstone project for my master’s degree at Embry-Riddle University. I was considering how our society’s progress in space exploration has stagnated as a result of attitudes toward safety, particularly in comparison to the early portion of the twentieth century during the infancy of aviation. Flying back in those days had an astronomical mortality rate, but the technology also advanced at an amazing pace because people were pushing the boundaries of what was possible in airplanes. The story of Charles Lindbergh‘s flight across the Atlantic ocean seemed especially relevant to the question of how we can expand our frontiers. At any rate, my treatment of the subject was entirely hypothetical. For one, I didn’t believe I had the background or training to pursue such an endeavor myself. Secondly, I felt that my obligations to my family would preclude such a monumental commitment.

For the better part of seven years the idea of going to Mars was shelved, sequestered to some dark corner of my mind, until in 2017 my wife, Hilary, got involved with a company called Life Leadership. Life is a direct sales company that teaches people how to get out of debt, develop leadership skills, and pursue their personal potential. That’s kind of underselling it, but that’s the Cliff’s Notes version. The full story is everything that follows because this program really transformed my life. I was pretty slow to drink the Kool-aid, but Hilary kept sharing what she was learning and recommended the various books that she was reading. One of the first ones that I read was a book called The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. He encourages readers to consider something that they’ve been wanting to do but felt that they couldn’t. Then he recommends making a list of reasons why they can do that, and emphasizes the importance of really believing that it is possible. I also heard a talk from one of the Life Leadership speakers that urged people to find something that they can do better than anyone else. That repressed dream of Mars suddenly popped back into my mind, and much like Pandora’s box once it was out there was no putting a lid on it.

I still had a lot of concerns about family obligations, but one day I was talking to my amazing daughter Brynne about my aspirations and she got really excited. “You should totally do it!”, she exclaimed. I love all of my children, but Brynne has a special role as my muse. With those words I felt like I had been unleashed! Ever since that day it hasn’t really been a question of whether or not I could go to Mars, but just how to make it happen.

So that’s the great question: How do I make this happen? Like learning how to fly an airplane, I compare it to trying to eat a whale. You just have to start and take it one bite at a time. To start with, I began reading a lot more. I’ve been reading a variety of different topics (check out my book list for a sampling), with a lot of emphasis on self help books and biographies to develop the mindset of success. What I see as one of the most critical challenges is trying to learn a lot in a really short period of time. I’ve been using the online Khan Academy to brush up on some rusty Algebra skills, and plan to continue on with Trigonometry, Calculus and Physics so I can get a better understanding of orbital mechanics and other technical aspects of the project. I also feel like I need to learn more of Chemistry, Biology, and Geology (at a minimum). Mmmm, whale tastes so good!

So that’s the quick and dirty intro. I’ll delve into more detail in future posts, but for now I really want to thank you for checking out my blog! This project has really had an amazing impact on my life and I love being able to share my passion and enthusiasm with others. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, and I’ll do my best to respond. Most importantly if you feel so inclined, please share this page with others. Spread the word: I’m going to Mars!