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Winnipeg woman passes first hurdle for one-way trip to the red planet

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Julie Perreault says she has reservations about leaving her family and boyfriend behind if the mission gets off the ground, but she's prepared for the 'sacrifices and risks.'

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Julie Perreault says she has reservations about leaving her family and boyfriend behind if the mission gets off the ground, but she's prepared for the 'sacrifices and risks.' Photo Store

There were three questions on Julie Perreault's application to go to Mars.

Why would you want to go?

Why are you suited to go?

And describe your sense of humour.

For the record, the answer to the last question is "dark and a little sarcastic."

But it's the first question, why, that would be the most obvious.

"For very non-altruistic reasons," said Perreault. "For adventure and getting to explore and discover places unknown. It's not often that there's that opportunity now. It grows from there, but that's what really got me interested. I don't want to let fear stop me from doing things I want to do."

Perreault, a 31-year-old medical transcriptionist from St. Genevieve, located just south of Winnipeg, is one of just 1,058 people -- 75 of them are Canadians -- to be selected by the Mars One project committee, which has the audacious goal of establishing a colony on the red planet by 2025.

Mars One is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that received more than 200,000 applications for the journey, including 8,243 from Canada. The Canadian applicants accepted include 43 women and 32 men.

Perreault, a self-confessed "lifelong" science fiction fan, submitted her online application to the committee last year. She received confirmation she was one of the chosen few on Dec. 30.

"I had to re-read it (the confirmation) at first and make sure," she said. "For 20 minutes I was feeling pretty good about myself. Like, 'Right on.' And then I started realizing what that meant. So all the questions I asked myself when I first applied I started asking myself again. Reaffirming that, 'yes,' I want to do that... make the sacrifices and risks."

The sacrifices are obvious. Mars One is being described as a "one-way mission", although it will include an infrastructure living quarters, communications systems to Earth and water supply that will be set up prior to the Earthlings' arrival, according to the committee's website.

Perreault admits her current employment in Concordia Hospital's heath records department is literally a world away from a space mission to Mars, which she called "a huge career change."

She was born in 1982 and grew up immersed in Star Wars/science fiction culture. Her other "phase" was Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones movies. A dream of space travel and adventure took hold and never let go.

Naturally, Perreault has reservations about leaving her family and her boyfriend behind if the ambitious project ever gets off the ground. Her parents and siblings -- two sisters and a brother -- have been supportive, but not really surprised.

"They don't like the possibility of never seeing me again -- at least, I hope," she chuckled. "But I think they understand this is part of who I am."

The boyfriend? "That's a whole other topic," Perreault allowed. "I don't envy his position. He doesn't want to go but he doesn't want to hold me back, either. He's as encouraging and supportive as he can be."

Actually, Perreault's biggest reservation would be the public nature of any voyage, since one of the funding streams for Mars One will be in reality-based broadcasts.

"There will be parts of this that will be televised," Perreault said. "As you might expect from a sci-fi geek I'm more of an introvert. So for me that's the biggest challenge. That might sound heartless because I'm leaving everyone and everything I know but that's the biggest thing.

"This whole experience is pushing myself probably harder than I ever will and to know that not only am I doing that but everybody gets to see what comes of it. That's kind of daunting."

As for the "one-way" aspect of the journey, Perreault replied, "It's hard to answer that question without sounding insane. But for me that's not the focus. I know that's part of it and it's not that I like thinking of that... but I think the possibilities are just too great. That's where my focus is. I don't want to get ahead of myself. There's a long way to go."

The next phase for applicants is to acquire mental and physical clearances, followed by in-person interviews with the Mars One committee. Those who are selected from that process will take part in a simulated Mars environment, spending three months in an isolated habitat in the U.S.

Ultimately, the plan is for a crew of four to depart every two years starting in 2024, with the first group arriving on Mars in 2025.

Perreault concedes that -- given the billions in funding and advances and technology that such a journey would require of the next decade -- there are no guarantees Mars One will ever become a reality.

"What would it say of me if I didn't consider that?" she conceded. "It's easy to be the skeptic in this situation, because it's such an out-there idea. But what if it can be done? What if it does happen? I don't want to regret not having tried because it might not be real."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

If you were to travel to Mars, what one thing would you take with you? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2014 A14

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Updated on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 5:32 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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