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UCLA

Bruin Sue Ann Pien Hopes to Reach the Final Frontier

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By Jesy Odio '15

Published Feb 20, 2014 8:00 AM


The rock climber nailed the first big hurdle toward a one-way trip to Mars.

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In an empty field surrounded by boulders, Sue Ann Pien ‘04 sits, holding a camera with one hand. She tells the camera her name in English and then repeats it in Mandarin and Spanish “I am in Joshua Tree right now,” she continues, “because I always thought this looks like Mars.” She lifts the camera above her head and records the surreal wilderness of the Mojave Desert.

A part-time actress, Pien is no stranger to the camera, but this video is for her application for Mars One, a nonprofit organization founded by Dutch entrepreneur and engineer, Bas Lansdorp, hoping to initiate human settlement on Mars by 2024. Unlike other applicants who recorded themselves in their living rooms, Pien, a rock climber, tried a more rugged background. Turns out her shot for the extraordinary was rewarded—she was among the 1,058 applicants (out of 20,000) chosen to advance to round two of the astronaut selection.

Over the next two years, through three additional rounds, six teams of four will be selected and then the first group will launch into space for a 210-day flight to Mars. According to Mars One, the ideal astronaut possesses “emotional and psychological stability, supported by personal drive and motivation.” The training takes ten years, and the expedition offers only a one-way ticket.

The 34-year-old Pien remains committed and enthusiastic:

How did you decide to apply?

Without a second of consideration I ran home and started my application right away.

How are your family and friends reacting?

They are 100 percent supportive, probably because they know what I’ve done already, like I’ve lived on a 27-foot sailboat with my friends and traveled around the world. So they are used to my adventurous lifestyle, but a lot of my friends are like, ‘Whoa, this is a really big deal.' We’ve been having a lot of intimate talks about it. I feel like we are cherishing the moments we have together in a sweeter way. When you think about someone not being here anymore, you take more time to connect--sharing love and being more gentle and kind with each other.

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This trip to Mars has now become a global project. People around the world are responding in awe.

It’s no different than when Christopher Columbus set sail and everyone thought the world was flat. People who really love space, like Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, already know that for civilization to survive, we have to become spacefaring. We already have issues that are clogging up, like over-population, the destruction of the environment and a lot of species of animals disappearing.

Did your college experience help shape your perspective about the final frontier?

UCLA expanded my horizon to what was possible in the world. I studied International Development Studies. I learned why development doesn’t work in a profit system. I studied the economy, and became trilingual. I joined the UCLA sailing crew.

How have you been preparing for the next round?

I enrolled in an astrobiology course because if I get chosen to go to Mars One, I want to study life abroad. I’ve kept myself in amazing shape by being a rock climber for the last ten years and I have a personal passion for all things space, science, and sci-fi.

What will you miss most about Earth?

The beach, the sun—besides the obvious, like my friends, family and my girlfriend. I love nature and wildlife. There’s so much beauty here and I want people to think about preserving it.

What’s in the near future for Sue Ann Pien?

I passed my medical test so I’m pre-approved. I’ll be interviewed by a selection committee that will choose who goes on to round 3.

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