Like most people, she loves chocolate, animals, reading, writing, cooking and drawing – but Laurel Kaye is not most people.
Most people would not voluntarily sign up for a one-way trip to Mars, without any guarantee of returning to Earth.
Kaye, a senior at Duke University, is one of the remaining 100 people of the original 200,000 applicants competing for a spot aboard a Mars One spaceship that will depart in 2026 — a spaceship that might leave this planet and never come back.
“I had simply never considered the possibility of going anywhere one-way,” she said. “I thought about it for a while, and came to the conclusion that if you spend your whole life trying to achieve something great, why would you want to turn around straight away once you get there?”
When asked about her future and possibly being one of the 24 people chosen to leave Earth, Kaye said she is excited.
“I cook spaghetti with the pot handle facing out,” Kaye said. “I only use bumpers occasionally when I go bowling, and I decided I was too impoverished to immediately buy a helmet for my used bike. I guess you could say I’ve always been somewhat of a daredevil.”
At a young age, Kaye formed a habit of looking up at the sky when she was outside after dark.
“My first word was ‘moon,’” she said. “I promise, that’s completely true. For as long as I can remember, I have loved everything about space. I loved looking at it, I loved learning about it, and I loved thinking about what it might mean.”
In middle school, she asked Santa Claus for a telescope year after year, until she finally got one.
“I would stay out on cloudless weekends with my telescope, looking for ever dimmer things,” she said. “In high school, I decided that I wanted to be the first person on Mars.”
Even before applying to Mars One, Kaye wanted to do physics or human health research for NASA, and apply every year she could to become an astronaut.
“My life plan — as much as anyone has one — actually hasn’t changed much based off of this application,” she said. “It’s merely been jump-started.”
Kaye also dreams of learning to play the cello, eating an entire piece of cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory on her own, running an Iron Man race and adopting a border collie named Wiggle.
“These things would be hard to give up,” she said. “But I think that I will have new favorites and learn to appreciate other things. I also think animals will actually make their way to Mars as well, though I don’t know on what timescale.”
People always ask how she feels about never coming back to Earth.
“I tend to feel an awful lot, which is why chocolate becomes necessary,” she said. “In this case, my feelings of curiosity, excitement and passion far outweigh the apprehension.”
Just as she has found her home on Earth, Kaye said the place she is going and the group of people she will be living with will become her home. At the age of 20, she said she is also optimistic that technology for a return trip will be created in her lifetime.
“I am a huge believer in human ingenuity and progress,” she said. “After I have done some neat science, helped to build a smashing Martian village and constructed statues of all of my friends over the decades, I would enjoy returning to see my loved ones back on Earth, spread excitement for the mission and have at that cheesecake.”