August 17, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers student chosen for Mars mission

Photo by Michelle Klejmont |

Brian R. Robles, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, was selected from 200,000 applicants for a potential program that would send him to live on Mars permanently.

A Scarlet Knight may be represented on the Red Planet in 2025.

The Mars One project, which aims to create a colony on Mars with the first manned mission starting 2024, selected Brian R. Robles in a pool of 1,058 participants out of 200,000 applicants for the next round of selection.

If Robles proceeds through the following rounds, he could be one of 40 people to go through a seven-year training program to prepare for life on another planet.

Nonprofit Mars One, based in the Netherlands, plans to send volunteers in teams of four and use current technology to design a permanent base, according to its website.

The Jersey City resident who longed to be an astronaut said he is eager for the opportunity. Born the son of first-generation working-class Filipino immigrants, he grew up with maps of the solar system plastered on the walls of his room, and was inspired by a space exhibit at the Liberty Science Center.

“I always thought you had to be born an astronaut or go to space camp all the time, and my family didn’t have enough money,” he said.

For the competition, he filled out questions and posted a video describing himself. The project looked less at skills and more at desirable personality traits such as resiliency, creativity and flexibility.

Robles describes himself as an optimist and a dreamer.

“I do see where the flaws are, but I think they could always be fixed,” he said.  

Humans are criticized for ruining the planet, but they have made incredible accomplishments in a short time, he said.

The project appealed to his desire to do the best for others. Robles, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, began school as a pre-med student, but switched to public health because he realized it would allow him to help even more people.

By participating in Mars One, he has the opportunity to help all of humanity, he said.

For now, he is content with devoting his time to Rutgers Health Outreach, Promotion and Education program. He is a certified HIV tester and works with the theater group SHADES at the University that writes and performs health-related scenes for students.

Robles noted that the Mars One mission has plenty of difficulties. During the training program, he would learn survival skills and go through isolation training — six or seven months in a desert or remote area with other participants.

On Mars, he would have to handle the physical pressure of solar radiation and a lack of basic needs such as water and oxygen. The colony would need to innovate while coordinate as team — despite coming from vastly different backgrounds.

When asked about leaving his friends and family permanently, he wavered in his answer. After a moment of consideration, he said was still trying to figure out what he wanted.

“In the next round, it’s going to get real,” he said. “A lot of us didn’t expect for it to get this far.”

He has told his parents but not his older brother or sister and plans to wait until the results of the next round to do so.

Robles has never been in a relationship and cannot predict how that would influence his decision. If anything, he may be willing to have the longest long-distance relationship in human history.

But the future of the project is far from certain. It has yet to meet its fundraising goals of $6 billion and has no major sponsors, government or corporate.

The organization plans to make a reality show based on the training program to raise money and attention for its goals.

“If they need me to flip over a table or something, I’ll do it,” he said.

The project serves a wider goal. Robles believes space exploration was essential to the survival of the human race.

“It’s something that any sentient being would do,” he said. “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Brenda Malchuk, secretary for H.O.P.E., said Robles made others feel comfortable and serves as a dedicated student leader.

“I’ve never heard him say a negative word,” she said.

Robles lives alone in an apartment off of Douglass campus with his rescued cat, Misty Day Taylor. He loves exercising, including running, biking and hiking.

The media pressure is a little overwhelming to him. He was recently interviewed for a CNN feature and was excited to be in front of a camera and see Anderson Cooper pass by.

On Mars, his behavior would be more aggressive. He would push everyone away to be the first person to walk on the Red Planet and would be the first person to take a Mars selfie.

“Imagine if I met Martians up there,” he said. “I hope I don’t start a war.”

Elizabeth Amaya-Fernandez, a health education specialist at H.O.P.E., said Robles would be a good resource on Mars.

“If there is life on Mars, Brian can offer it mental health [services], condoms and education,” she said.

By Erin Petenko

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