American cosplayer Maggie Duckworth has a chance at being one of the first human beings to set foot on Mars. And, when that's done, be the first human being to cosplay on Mars.
As one of the finalists in the Mars 100 competition, Duckworth was picked from over two hundred thousand applicants. You might think a pastime and craft like cosplay has nothing to do with the selection process in such a (potentially) important endeavour. After all, any mission to Mars surely needs more doctors, electricians and engineers than it will cosplayers. But you'd be surprised just how big a part Maggie's hobby had in earning her a shot at the stars.
"I've had a love of outer-space and exploration since I was little," Duckworth tells Kotaku. "If I had to track it back to one source, I'd say that watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my parents in the 80s really made the cosmos come alive for me, and I wanted to get out there.
"That same drive is the one that pushed me into fantasy and science fiction, which led to my desire to cosplay and to later become an Electrical Engineer. When I saw that Mars One was looking for applications for those looking to get out there and start colonizing other planets, I thought it would be an incredible chance to live an adventure that I've always wanted to be a part of, and one which I had spent my life inadvertently developing skills for."
The way she's been "inadvertently developing skills" is key to Duckworth's spot in the selection process. Sure, Mars will need scientists and surveyors, but if the only people to embark on the mission were highly-trained specialists, life might get a little boring.
Maggie in a steampunk cosplay outfit (original design)
Duckworth isn't—or at least wasn't, until Mars 1000—just a casual cosplayer. Until 2013, it was part of her full-time job, as she ran a business that sold cosplay accessories. She then put her cosplay career on hold to pursue another life goal, joining the Air Force and becoming an electrical engineer, but ever since landing the spot in the Mars 100 she's had to shelve that application process and pick up a job with Metlife Auto and Home to pay the bills, all the while resuming cosplay as a hobby.
That's far from your average career path, but it's that unusual variety that Duckworth feels has gotten her this far in the process. "I think my ability to wear these many different professional 'hats' is one of the reasons I've advanced this far," she says. "A very large number of skills are going to be necessary in order to make the arduous trip through the vacuum of space and support ourselves in a hostile wilderness.
"One of the most important skills for the mission—one that surprised me—is our ability to keep ourselves entertained. We have to be able to have fun, we have to be able to collaborate on projects, and we have to be creative and productive for not only the 7-month cramped journey in the transit vehicle but also for the rest of our lives."
Despite her skills and experience with cosplay, dressing up in outer space is obviously going to be harder than it is on Earth. "Given that weight is something heavily monitored at lift-off, I sadly won't be able to bring any items that aren't pre-approved," Duckworth says, meaning she won't be able to stash a costume in her space luggage.
"However, I am sure we'll have the equipment to at least mend the clothes that we bring with us, and as long as I've got a needle and a thread I can't imagine I won't find some way to be creative with it."
It's actually something she's been putting a lot of thought towards, a practical consideration as any humans heading into space will soon run into issues with their clothing. When there are limited resources available, simple things like repairing, altering or even making new uniforms could become surprisingly difficult, so Duckworth considers her cosplay experience as something that'll allow her to help out when potential crewmates need help with their clothing.
Maggie Duckworth making a local media appearance
And hey, it's not like the dream of cosplay on Mars is dead. It might just take some time. "I might not be able to duplicate a character exactly on Mars," Duckworth says, "but I can keep in the spirit of sci-fi and fantasy designs. Who knows what else I might be able to do once we're all settled?"
"Once we're all settled." It's an optimistic sentence, but as I remind Duckworth, the fate of the Mars 100 is far from a done deal. Even if she were to progress through the years of training (eight more, if she continues to progress), there's no guarantee that any of the potential astronauts successful at the end of the process ever gets off this planet. Critics have expressed serious doubtsabout the Mars One program, pointing toward everything from its funding to its proposed technology.
"I think it's very natural to be sceptical of any endeavour with this sort of long-reaching impact," Duckworth responds. "There was scepticism involved in crossing the Atlantic Ocean, there was scepticism involved in making it to the moon, and...heck, I remember the scepticism from my parents when I went on my first road trip. Until we've actually seen something happen successfully, it seems like it is impossible...and that is because, up until the moment it happens, it IS impossible. Sending a human to mars currently has a 0% success rate. It also currently has a 0% attempt rate. We haven't tried it yet. It is super important right now that we, as a race, start making those attempts. Even if this mission by Mars One fails or seems like it might be unlikely, that isn't a reason to stop trying to make it to Mars.
"As a cosplayer, I look at it from this perspective: I've got this dream costume I want to make. But just because I don't have the skills right now to make that costume, does that mean I shouldn't cosplay?
"Of course it doesn't. It means that I have a lot of research to do, and a lot of time to put in, a lot of experiments to start and a lot of mistakes to make. I may want to have the costume done for one convention, but maybe I don't get it done until that convention comes around again next year. It can still get done. It can still happen. Maybe not in the way we imagine it will happen, maybe not when we imagine it will happen, but happening nonetheless."
Let's say, though, that everything pans out. That Duckworth is successful in the Mars 100 program, and that the Mars One itself blasts off and shoots a team of humans towards another world. What would her ideal first cosplay be on the surface of the red planet, provided she could sneak/craft the requisite materials?
"We'd have to pretend there wasn't the problem of air and pressure out on the surface, of course...but I'd put every effort into making a Shepard or Legion costume from Mass Effect," she replies. "Out on an alien surface with our robots and rovers, I can't help but remember exploring every inch of many-a-planet in the highly unstable Mako. It'd be a total blast to 'recreate' that, especially if I could outfit my fellow Marstronauts.
"When we have finally succeeded," she says, "when I am standing on Mars in that Mass Effect jacket… then I'll wonder why we ever thought it was impossible in the first place."
You can follow Maggie Duckworth's adventures through the Mars 100 process on her site, A Duck On Mars.