Space odyssey

A Reno woman sets her sights on Mars

Kay Radzik Warren is a finalist for the Mars One mission.

Kay Radzik Warren is a finalist for the Mars One mission.

Photo/Ashley Hennefer

To learn more about Mars One, visit

Kay Radzik Warren, Reno’s new ambassador to outer space, is a petite woman, poised and articulate, with long hair and glasses. Picturing her in a spacesuit is strange—not for her lack of knowledge, ambition or passion, but because it means picturing her far away on Mars, never to return to Earth.

Warren is one of 100 global finalists selected for the Mars One project: a one-way trip to Mars to establish a settlement and conduct research. Mars One is a private non-profit organization based in the Netherlands and funded by donations and investors.

Warren is 54 years old. If chosen as one of the final 24, she’ll spend the next eight years as an employee of Mars One participating in rigorous training exercises. If—and it’s a big if—the trip is a go, she’d be setting off for Mars in approximately 10 years, when she’s 64.

“The plan is to launch in the 2024 window,” Warren says. “The window for traveling to Mars is every 26 months. No one is going to Mars or anywhere unless all the technology is in place. Long duration space flight, also called LDSF, is something that has never been studied in-depth.”

It’s an ambitious project, not without its critics. Many say that the endeavor is a waste of time and money, which is the usual criticism of any sort of space effort. NASA and SpaceX receive similar feedback regularly. And there’s been a slew of articles speaking out against the project after the final 100 were announced.

A study by MIT used the Mars One mission architecture as a theoretical study, and in its abstract claimed that any settlers on Mars participating in that mission would last a maximum of 68 days on the planet.

The study abstract lent itself easily to headlines. However, the report also provides some suggestions for the trip. Not long after the report was released, Buzzfeed published an article called “Mars missions are a scam.” The Buzzfeed article was just one of dozens that emerged criticizing Mars One. Much of the criticism comes from a lack of concrete research. No scientist—yet—really seems to know the answer to the questions “What will happen to humans on another planet?” And “Is it worth it find out?

And it’s true that space travel is complex and costly. There’s a fine line between progressive idealism and unwavering pessimism. Space travel is polarizing, but Warren welcomes the criticism.

“The MIT abstract is pretty frightening, but if you keep reading, they have some good solutions,” she says. “There’s a balance of ideology and practicality going into this whole endeavor.”

The more research, she says, the better.

“Humans will travel to other planets,” she says. She says the project “represents the inevitability,” not the possibility, of planetary travel. “It’s in our future. It’s what humans do. That’s what really intrigued me about Mars One. I applied because I thought I would be perfect for this endeavor. I am trained in architecture, and I’ve been a Jack-of-all-trades, master of none, my whole life.” Warren attended Cal Poly, where she took courses on structural engineering and geology, among others that she thinks would be helpful for the mission.

Better off red

Mars One's application process began in spring 2013. After a global call for applicants, more than 200,000 people applied.

“I heard about it soon after that on Facebook, of all things,” says Warren. “On one hand, I was, ’Really?’ and on the other hand, I was like, ’Yeah!’ So being the person I was, I looked into it, and about a nanosecond later I said, ’Yes, I’ll apply.’”

Warren made it through the next few rounds—around a thousand people were selected, then 700, then 600, until the final 100. Now it gets more intense. She’ll spend the summer being observed in training exercises in unknown locations, and bonding with the other participants.

Warren says she’s always had a fascination with science and space. She’s an avid reader of science fiction and science fact, citing authors like Neal Stephenson, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Isaac Asimov among her favorites. This passion for reading started in her childhood, and Warren says her mother “was probably in love with Carl Sagan,” and that her mother’s love for innovation was inspiring. She’s been introducing the Mars One mission to her parents in small doses since they don’t have the internet, and her mother is fascinated by the concept art of the Mars settlement.

Warren is married, and has stepchildren. She says her family has been very supportive from the get-go. Warren married her husband, Greg, when she was 48.

“When you marry late in life, you have a different understanding of what a relationship is,” she says.

“It’s really great—she’s always been really passionate about it and she’s always been a true nerd,” Greg says, mentioning her passion for science fiction. “She loves science and loves learning things. Frankly, we didn’t think she’d get this far. Kay and I came together later in life, and we’re kind of independent already. And if she goes, it won’t be for another 10 years or so, at least.”

Warren is in good shape physically, which is partly what got her this far in the process, since the physical requirements ruled out many applicants. The finalists span all ages—the youngest is 18. Warren imagines being part of the settlement process, and helping to establish a sustainable outpost for future travelers. She’s aware of the dangers that come with traveling to Mars, but speaks calmly about it. In the event that she’s not selected, she plans to continue publicly supporting space research.

“I will always be a proponent of human settlement on Mars,” she says. “If I can inspire one kid to follow their heart, study their math and become an astrophysicist, I’ve done my job.”

If she has the choice to go and bring an item with her, she’d bring a guitar or a sketchbook (which she notes would be a finite resource). But she thinks these choices are indicative of a larger human experience—what do we leave behind when the call to explore is relentless?

“I think that’s the key factor in any migration,” she says. “Think about this—this about the Cro-Magnons who emigrated out of Africa and into Europe, the caveman who stepped out of his cave and went north never to come back. Look at Europe, look at Asia, look at the Asians who journeyed across the Bering Strait, never to come back. And a multitude of them died.

“Every phase of human migration, mass exodus, you look at the why and the what. And you think, perhaps, settling on anther planet might be what we’re made of. We do these things naturally. If it works out, that’d be great. I look at things in the big picture.”