The First Person to Journey to Mars

rosenthal2If you haven’t heard the news by now, you probably will soon. Though, if you’re viewing this blog, I’m assuming that you already know. Considering that the random, infrequent musings of an aerospace engineer don’t produce a high level of internet traffic, my guess is that you’re a newcomer. Well, if that’s the case, then welcome newcomer. I suspect there’s going to be an influx of attention heading my way, so allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jerilyn Rosenthal, and people tell me that I’m destined to become the first person to journey to Mars.

I realize that the sudden attention that’s been attached to my name rests solely on lofty expectations. They do call me the representative of humanity, after all. But, believe me, it’s a title I’ve accepted with a large dose of humility. It all started with a single question: “what makes you exceptional?” I must admit, it’s a question I’ve struggled with all of my life, but after an enormous amount of pondering, I managed to arrive at an answer that satisfied myself, and apparently the people at VoloGen Industries and Astronautics as well. Some people have asked me what my answer was, but I think that’s a secret I will take along with me to Mars. It wasn’t just an answer to a question that brought me to this point in my life, however. If it were that easy, I would have been selected back in 2034. No, it took a lot of hard work to be the one chosen out of a pool of 1.4 million applicants.

For the past year I’ve been carrying around a secret, and though I managed to keep that secret well guarded, I sometimes wondered if my former colleagues at Boeing have been speculating about my recent whereabouts. Even though I’ve been anticipating this announcement with a great deal of apprehension, it is relieving to finally let the cat out of the vacuum-sealed polystyrene bag. For the past eight months I’ve undergone an intense series of training programs in addition to the months of endurance testing that preceded my nomination. I suspect that a large part of my recent successes is due to my highly structured and regimented childhood.

I suppose some people will be wondering about the time I’ve spent on this planet before I leave it behind. I was born in North Platte, Nebraska but spent most of my life at the McConnell Air Force base in Wichita, Kansas. My father was a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and my mother was a pharmacist. Every afternoon after school, my father would walk me over to the Air Force training grounds and have me run the same workout routines as the pre-boot camp recruits. It was exhausting work for a young girl, but it strengthened my endurance and built my character. Every night after my workout, I would lay in the grass and stare up at the stars. I made a game out of trying to find Ursa Major as quickly as possible. After I found it, I would remain transfixed on its position in the sky, dreaming of what it would be like to travel there one day. Of course, it’s impossible to travel to a constellation, but I suppose the imagination of child doesn’t recognize those limitations. It was with my father’s training and my childhood fantasies that I find myself about to embark on humanity’s ultimate journey. I guess it’s with good reason that I ended up in this position.

There are still days that I think of my father. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. He was by no means an emotional person, and he certainly did not seek out emotion from me. In fact, I imagine he would have been somewhat disappointed by the fact that I mourned his passing. He probably would have thought that he had raised his daughter better than that. He tried his hardest to raise a daughter whose thoughts were never clouded by the burdens of pesky emotions. I like to think that the recent revelations in my life would have elicited a smile from him… or at least a solemn nod.

Sometimes I reckon that all of that time spent out in the fields could have gone towards making friends, or having the sort of fun that other children enjoyed. I’ll admit, life was lonely back then, and it still is… well, it was. Now I can’t go anywhere without feeling like I’m constantly surrounded by people. I suppose it’s one last opportunity to get reacquainted with humanity before I wave a final goodbye. It’s an odd situation to be bestowed with the title of humanity’s representative. Some have even called me humanity’s savior. Whether such nomenclatures are meant in jest or sincerity, I’m only starting to comprehend their meanings. It feels somewhat ironic that in order to save humanity it must be left behind.

At some point, the distinction of being known as humanity’s savior could have gone to Cody Winston. In some ways, I suppose it still does. The memory of his passing is still fresh in the minds of most people, as is the debacle that followed. I constantly think of the heroism he displayed on that fateful trip, knowing fully well that his situation had become irremediable. I can only hope that I will manage to display half of the courage that Winston demonstrated, regardless of the conditions that may arise.