Category Archives: Op-Ed

What Makes You An Astronaut

Just think for a moment about our first ASTRONAUTS. What did it take to make them qualify to be called an astronaut, and how did they differ from those of us in the 705 that have qualified to be known as the Mars One Astronaut applicants.

We all know about the first 7 U.S. astronauts. They were all military trained jet pilots with combat experience. They had faced life and death situations and survived. They had what was called the “RIGHT STUFF”.

When Donald K. Slayton, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Jr., Walter Schirra, Jr., Alan Shepard, Jr., and Virgil Grissom were selected to become our first astronauts, we (the people) had no idea if we could survive being launched into space, let alone live in a zero-g environment. They were being asked to risk their lives to find a way to do all these things so that America could be the first country to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.

Now there are 705 of us that think we have the “RIGHT STUFF”, but I doubt that many of us have jet fighter pilot experience.  But do we really need that to make us qualified to risk our lives to travel to another planet and survive all the elements to make it our new home? I say NO!

Because of all the effort, training, experience, and knowledge gained by those HEROES that have gone before us, we will be able to go to Mars and make it our new home. Let us take a quick look at what they had to do to train for their missions into space and then look at what we can expect to learn before we can go to MARS!

PRE APOLLO ASTRONAUT TRAINING: These guys (there were no women selected into the space program for almost 2 decades later) were all test pilots. Every one of them were Type “A” individuals, competing with each other for every slot to go into space.

Their training was almost all technical about the equipment, the missions, research, etc. When it came to working together on a mission it was understood at the beginning of each flight training period who was going to be the “boss”, the commander of the mission. There was never a question about whether or not they could get along, they were military men and they knew how to take orders as well as give them. They were trained how to fly their spacecrafts and didn’t have to rely on just computers like we will, even for our landing.

When you take into consideration that every flight was actually a very short period of time, the NASA HEADS didn’t think about how they got along. That is not the way it will be for us going to MARS. When I was up for selection as one of NASA’s astronauts, they changed the game. They didn’t want the “Jet Jock” type with the full-steam-ahead-no-matter-what attitude, they wanted a Ph.D. Scientist, and so even though I had trained and could do the job, I wasn’t selected. Then after I got my first Doctorate and reapplied they said that I was too old.

MARS ONE ASTRONAUT TRAINING: Those of us that make it into Round 3 and start training will find it an entirely different experience than the one Apollo astronauts had. We will have times where we are right back in college training in a specialty, like medicine, dental, geology, astronomy, biology, horticulture, and just about any subject you can think of that would help us survive on Mars. We will have to train in how to live together in a very limited space.

Studies have shown that after about 6 weeks of confinement under very stressful situations, all sorts of psychological problems start to come out. When you think about the fact that we will spend seven to seven and a half months stuck in a very small ship, it is going to take a lot of “give and take” to get along over that journey. Then after we land on Mars the work really begins. We will have to rely on each other to stay alive. The work load will be tremendous and we will not be able to go off the deep end. That is why we will spend 3 months out of each year in a simulated habit like we will be living in on Mars.

Let’s face it, life on Mars to start with will be every bit as difficult and challenging as some of our forefathers had to face when they moved WEST and started homesteading a small piece of ground they called home. Mars will be our home or our cemetery! Life will get better each time we have a new team of 4 arrive. The work load may get lighter in some areas and even heavier in others, but ultimately we will have our HOME on MARS!

So, as we approach the training period for us Martians-to-be, we should keep in mind that we are very much in every way REAL ASTRONAUTS with a different kind of mission. What we accomplish will be in books and history for all mankind and will last forever. Let’s face it with enthusiasm, excitement and determination. LET’S GO TO MARS!


The One and Only Ken Johnston

Aspiring Martians is thrilled to announce that starting this month we will begin posting articles featuring insight from none other than Ken Johnston. He is a man whose knowledge and many accomplishments in the U.S. space program give us much pride and excitement in the opportunity to provide to you his thoughts and experience on the Mars One Program and everything space exploration related. As a brief introduction, we have selected an article written by Oklahoma City University about Ken back in 1978 which chronicles his early fascination with space as well as the beginning of his journey into achieving his dream of going there.

Brothers Ken, second from left, and A.R., right, Johnson visit with OCU President Dolphus Whitten, Jr. during Homecoming. Joining them was Ken's daughter.

Brothers Ken, second from left, and A.R., right, Johnston visit with OCU President Dolphus Whitten, Jr. during Homecoming. Joining them was Ken’s daughter.

Imagine two young boys living on a west Texas farm.  It’s a warm summer day and they are playing on some rusted old farm equipment making all kinds of strange sounds and talking a strange kind of language.

If you were a science fiction buff you would soon realize these boys with the active imaginations were using this setting to pretend they were Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon making imaginary flights into outer space.

Boys grow into men and Ken Johnston and his brother, A.R., never let their dreams of a real adventure in outer space die.  As adults both have pursued careers in the space industry with the goal of becoming astronauts.

Ken Johnston joined the Marine Corps at the same time that his older brother, A.R., joined NASA in 1962. During this time he visited his brother at Cape Canaveral where he witnessed a launching. The space bug bit and he too decided the space industry was for him.

From the Marine Corps he went to work as a test engineer for crew systems and test operations as a liaison for the Grumman Aerospace Corporation.  In this job he assisted in the designing of the crew compartment of the Lunar Module (LEM) which included developing procedures for testing the LEM and instructing the astronauts in how to fly the craft.

However, during the late ‘60s the space program suffered a general setback with the cutting back of federal funds.  It was during this general slowdown that A.R. decided the excitement of the program was about over and it was time to seek another career.  Giving up his dreams of becoming an astronaut, he went back to school and obtained his law degree and became a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas.

However, not one to be disillusioned, Ken decided to go back with the space program, following a brief stint in other business activities, and kept his hopes alive of one day becoming an astronaut.  Although he was not among the 40 selected in January [1978] for the first phase of the Space Shuttle program, he plans to try again. And, it appears his chances are pretty good.

Ken is qualified both as a pilot and engineer.  He has flown simulations in the lunar module for over 3,000 hours sitting with an astronaut each time to explain the spacecraft’s functions. During all these hours he kept a spacecraft log book which each of the astronauts initialed.

“We used to joke that that [book] and 10 cents would buy me a cup of coffee,” he said.  However, he has now been told it may be worth a lot more.

During a discussion with one of the astronauts involved in the selection of new astronauts, Ken was told his experience in the module might be the key to his selection next time.  Meanwhile, he plans to complete work on his doctoral degree, get more advanced flying experience, and continue to exercise on a regular basis to keep in top physical condition.

The average age of the astronauts, not counting those announced in January, is 43 and within the next few years many will be retiring or getting out of the space program.  The 40 selected in January will not be enough to take their places and within the next three years another group will be selected.

Ken feels that his prior experience (only a few astronauts have more time in a spacecraft than he) plus his background in the Space Shuttle program should put him near the top of the list.  He hopes to be among the next group and eventually fly on a Space Shuttle. Who knows, maybe those pretend trips of 25 to 30 years ago will turn into real trips, even to Mars.