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Rockwell employee shoots for Mars

Laura Smith Velazquez a finalist for mission

Cliff Jette/The Gazette

Laura Smith Velazquez, a human factors and systems engineer with Rockwell Collins in Maryland, talks to fifth and sixth graders Monday at Vernon Middle School in Marion about being one of 100 finalists for the Mars One mission to establish a colony on Mars.
Cliff Jette/The Gazette Laura Smith Velazquez, a human factors and systems engineer with Rockwell Collins in Maryland, talks to fifth and sixth graders Monday at Vernon Middle School in Marion about being one of 100 finalists for the Mars One mission to establish a colony on Mars.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Since she was a child, Laura Smith Velazquez has dreamed of going to space.

“My parents gave me a telescope when I was eight,” she said. “I could see the rings of Saturn and it opened a whole world of wonder to me.”

Now, she has a shot at seeing her dream come true, she told students at Vernon Middle School this week.

Velazquez, a human factors and systems engineer who works for Rockwell Collins in Columbia, Md., is one of 100 finalists for the Mars One Mission, which aims to establish a permanent colony on the red planet.

“It’s our next great leap,” Velazquez said.

More than 260,000 people from around the world applied for the Mars One Mission, including Velazquez and her husband. They had to submit application videos, write essays and answer psychological questions.

“We did the video in my friend’s closet,” she said. “A year letter I got an email.”

The search had been winnowed to 2,400 people. She was one of them. Her husband was not.

That means if she ultimately is one of the people to go to Mars, Velazquez will leave her husband behind, permanently. The technology does not yet exist to return a crew home. And even if it did, Velazquez said, she would stay behind.

“Everything we learn on Mars will help us back here on Earth, such as understanding why Mars no longer has an atmosphere, and could that happen here?” she said.

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Next September, the 100 finalists will be winnowed to 24 after a series of challenges and interviews. The goal is for the first mission to depart in 2026.

Luckily, Velazquez said, her husband is very understanding, and wants her to follow her dreams.

“Going to Mars takes 210 days; it’s a long journey,” she said. “So is figuring out what you want to do.”

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