Student in the runnings for one-way ticket to Mars

By Madison Fantozzi
South Florida News Service

Student Astronaut published in all of Miami Herald’s Neighbors on Sunday June 30, 2013. You can also read the story online: http://sfnsonline.com/2013/06/28/mars-or-bust-fiu-student-wants-one-way-ticket/

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Patrick Ford, an aspiring astronaut and applicant of Mars One Project, walks through Florida International University’s Graham Center. Ford’s goal is to travel to space, but in the meantime he teaches other students from local elementary schools and his own university about the wonders of space exploration. Photos by Sana Ullah / South Florida News Service

Patrick Ford, 20, wears an astronaut suit to school, carries a rock from our solar system’s asteroid belt in his pocket and drives a silver 2001 Camaro that resembles a spaceship.

Unlike his peers who are searching for jobs and internships, Ford is seeking a one-way ticket to Mars as an applicant of the Mars One Project, which plans to establish a human settlement of 24 astronauts on the planet in 2023.

“My dad said I should build rockets, but it would break my heart to watch them launch without being on one,” said Ford, a sophomore physics major and astronomy minor at Florida International University.

Mars One opened its application internationally on April 22 to anyone 18 and older. The general application consists of an essay, a resume and a one-minute video.

Ford submitted his application within hours.

A month after submission, Ford’s profile reached 22nd in popularity out of 78,000.

“It is my firm belief that it’s not just the most capable astronaut that’s going to be selected for the program, but rather the astronaut who can fully communicate to the people on Earth,” Ford said in his application video.

Mars One outlines five key characteristics that it is looking for: adaptability, curiosity, creativity, trust and a “can-do” attitude.

The chosen candidates will undergo a decade’s worth of training to equip the future astronauts with technical and medical skills, psychological coaching, and simulated experience.

“No scientific degree is required,” said Norbert Kraft, 50, Mars One’s chief medical director. “Instead, the project is looking for people with a deep sense of purpose and the motivation to go.”

Elizabeth Ford, 52, Patrick’s mother, who described her son as brave, intelligent and talented, said he also has always had a passion for discovery.

“I believe there is an explorer in all of us, but only some are willing to take risks,” Ford said. “Going out into space and pushing the boundaries of what humans know would be the greatest thing I could hope to do with my life.”

Ford said he has gained international support, including people from Peru, Romania and Canada, but his largest fan base is teacher Helene Buch’s first-graders, who decorated the classroom door with paper planets strung together with paper clips and Crayola drawings of the solar system to welcome Ford.

“It’s about being a part of the inspiration process,” said the aspiring astronaut, who suits up in his NASA-embossed costume and visits the Coral Springs Elementary class once a month to teach the students about the solar system and space exploration.

Ford recently hosted the school’s “Are You Smarter Than A First-Grader?” event, in which parents versed their students in a trivia game consisting of space-related questions.

The students won 7-6 with the help of “Astronaut Patrick,” as the students call Ford.

“Astronaut Patrick knows everything,” said Summer Smith, 8. “One day, I’ll be an astronaut, too.”

Buch, 57, said the students sense Ford’s passion and excitement.

“These interactive experiences are imprinted in their minds,” Ford said. “I’ll quote [astronomer] Carl Sagan: ‘Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them.’ ”

Sagan’s quote continues: “A few trickled through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”

Ford is one of those.

“I just have this sense of exploration inside of me,” Ford said.

Ford said that if he is not selected for the Mars One Project, he plans to pursue his astrophysics degree and hopes to one day trade in his astronaut costume for the real thing.

“Ultimately, I want to be an example for people in our society to follow their dreams,” Ford said. “I’d say my mission is a success if I can inspire a few people to actively pursue what they love.

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