With possibly only ten years left on this planet, 51-year-old Mars One candidate Etsuko Shimabukuro talked to us about why she applied, how she’ll make the most of her last days on Earth, her restaurant on Mars, and her hopes for humanity.
Standing at what felt like the end of the Earth—the southern-most point of South America, in Chile’s Isla Navarino—Etsuko Shimabukuro decided to apply for Mars One, the Dutch project aiming to colonize Mars within the next decade. And she was chosen.
Over 200,000 applied from around the globe and only 100 people, eager for this once-in-a-millennium opportunity, were chosen as candidates for the one-way journey. This fall, the 100 candidates will compete for the first four spots to colonize Mars. This will include living in space suits, only going outside every few days, and grappling with the idea of never being able to return to Earth or feel sunshine on their faces again. Which presents the question: Why would anybody want to do this, anyway?
After visiting ruins of past civilizations such as the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, the under-water pyramid Okinawa, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and Stonehenge, Etsuko always wondered what happened to these people. This question led her to apply to Mars 100. She says, “I would like to be at the forefront of human evolution and would like to take a part of building a new society and civilization…[and] have a journey that never ends.” She adds, “I hope the Mars One Project will show the people on Earth how team members from different cultural backgrounds can work together so that some day, there will be not be any more wars on Earth.”
Raised on Okinawa, Japan, Etsuko’s wanderlust inspired her to study archaeology in Tokyo, computer science in the U.S., and culinary arts all over the world (she’s worked in kitchens in Japan, Azerbaijan, and Mexico). For pleasure, she toured the globe for two years, walked 7,494 km from the north to the south of Japan, braved the seven-day, 210 km Marathon de Sables in Morocco’s near inhospitable Sahara Desert, and trekked the little-visited Upper Dolpo Region near the Nepal and Tibetan border. Etsuko’s insatiable thirst for new adventures makes her a perfect candidate to begin the planned Mars colony.
Yet Etsuko says she will miss her home country, which is her favorite place on the globe. After walking the length of the archipelago, she realized the power of the planet, marveling at how “natural disasters hit Japan every year, yet nature also gives its people many gifts such as Onsen [natural hot springs], where you can directly feel the heat and vibration from the Earth.”
When asked about the simple things she’ll miss, Etsuko says, “There is one sushi restaurant in Kanazawa where I studied Japanese gastronomy. Sushi master uses only locally caught fish—he is one of the great masters in Japan. Usually people book a year ahead, but fortunately the wife of the great master knew my face and felt pity for me every time I came to their place. She knew I was her neighbor and a student at culinary school, so she could always find me a spot somehow. [The master] is over 80 years old now. I hope I can eat his sushi once more before leaving Earth and hope to succeed their spirit of hospitality at my sushi bar on Mars.”
When she learned she was chosen for Mars 100, Etsuko “started living consciously each day.” She says, “I enjoy rainy days, sunny days, talking to the strangers on the street, having tacos at the local market, breathing fresh air and drinking water. I used to take small things for granted but they are actually special to Earth. I have only ten years to live. The countdown has already started.”
According to the Mars One website, first unmanned mission to Mars is scheduled for 2024; The first astronauts will depart for Mars in 2026.