published Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences graduate setting her sights on Mars

  • photo
    Taylor Henninger, center, a Chattanooga native who was chosen as a candidate for a one-way ticket to Mars, is shown here with her parents, Bill Henninger and Melissa Gannon.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

By 2025, there could be a human settlement on Mars. At least that's the goal for Mars One, a Netherlands-based nonprofit organization that recently selected its first round of candidates to be considered for a one-way ticket to the red planet.

A 2004 graduate of Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences made the first cut, as did a native of Gallatin, Tenn.

Mars One picked 1,058 people in its initial application round, out of more than 200,000 people from around the world who applied.

Chattanooga native Taylor Henninger, 28, who now works in Washington, D.C., as a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, said she got the news from Mars One on Monday via email.

"I was kind of flabbergasted at first," Henninger said.

Also making the first cut was Gallatin native Erik "Zach" Sapre, also 28, who is a certified pharmacy technician.

"I thought as a little kid that maybe in my lifetime we would finally make it to Mars, but I had no idea I might be one of the first to go," Sapre told the Tennessean newspaper.

Now, Henninger and Sapre will have to make it through three more rounds of the selection process to be part of the final "astronaut corps" of 40 people. Of those 40 people, there would be four people in the initial crew that would begin a settlement on Mars by 2025 at a cost of about $6 billion.

So, the chances that Henninger would actually go to Mars are slim. And that's not to mention the enormous obstacles that Mars One faces of raising money and creating technology that would make human life on Mars possible.

Still, Henninger, who holds a bachelor's degree from New York University and a master's degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, said she's keeping the mindset that she will be living on Mars one day.

"I'm trying to operate on the assumption that I will go, because that's the only way that I can deal with it emotionally," Henninger said. "I want to make sure that I want to do this every step of the way."

If the whole thing seems far-fetched, just watch the slick Mars One promotional video, which features an engineer from Lockheed Martin and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

"This project seems to me to be a great way to fulfill dreams of mankind's expansion into space," Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Gerard 't Hooft said in the video.

The selection process for astronauts is certainly unconventional: Anyone in the world over 18 could apply, and candidates will be slowly weeded out as they complete a series of physical and psychological challenges.

The United States had more residents chosen in the first round, with 297 applicants accepted, followed by Canada, India and Russia, according to figures released by Mars One.

It may be an unusual way to find astronauts, but the selection process has all the makings of a hit reality TV show. And Mars One plans to cash in on that opportunity. Backers plan to let the audience have a vote in who should be picked.

Henninger said she isn't thrilled at the prospect of being a reality TV star, because she's a private person, but in the end, it would be worth it. The most difficult part, Henninger said, would be leaving everyone she knows and loves and never coming back. But, she thinks she could develop close, loving bonds with other astronauts on Mars.

"I think it's the most interesting thing that any of us would have the chance to do in our lifetimes," Henninger said.

Contact staff writer Mary Helen Miller at 423-757-6324 or mhmiller@timesfreepress.com.

about Mary Helen Miller...

Mary Helen Miller joined the staff at the Chattanooga Times Free Press as a multimedia reporter in 2013. She produces audio, video, and graphics for the Web, and occasionally writes stories. Before starting at the Times Free Press, Mary Helen worked as a radio reporter at WUTC, the NPR affiliate station in Chattanooga. She won an Edward R. Murrow award for a story she produced there about the anniversary of the 2011 tornadoes that hit ...

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