COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A Colorado native says he's been preparing his whole life to travel to Mars, and he's getting closer to his dream in several ways. The only catch? If he goes, he may never return.
It's hard to imagine a more fitting metaphor to describe Max Fagin's trajectory than the Manitou Incline. The popular hike is located near Max's childhood home in Colorado Springs and follows a path nearly straight up from there.
In the past few years, the incline is one of several hikes Max and his father Barry Fagin have been working to check off their list of accomplishments.
"I'd like to get as many of them out of the way before I have to leave... either this state or this planet," Max said.
Leaving the planet is all Max has wanted to do for as long as anyone can remember.
"All his (birthday) cakes had to be space themed," Barry said, looking back at childhood photos of his son. "Here's a picture of a little spaceship that he built."
As Max began building rockets as a child, his parents embraced his passion and watched it grow.
"You know, he long surpassed me in rocket building ability when he was, I don't know, 10 or 11," Barry said.
Just picture Max here ...
Shortly after Max graduated from the Colorado Springs School, he completed a giant sun dial that he designed with other students for a high school project. It still stands as the tallest sundial in the state of Colorado.
In just a few years Max went from playing like an astronaut to studying like one as part of NASA's microgravity university in Houston.
Max pursued his dreams for space travel in by earning undergraduate degrees in physics, astronomy and mechanical engineering and then entering grad school Purdue University for aerospace engineering.
Max says he took each step with the goal of traveling to Mars.
"I'm 26 years old. I'd like to take off before I'm 35," Max said. "Thirty-five is kind of the average age of the astronaut corps. It's the point where, if you're going, it's the time to go."
Getting to Mars in less than 10 years may sound ambitious, but Max is not alone. He was one of 200,000 people who submitted a video application for MarsOne, a non-profit organization that has plans to send four people to Mars by 2023.
This spring Max learned he was among 700 finalists world wide to become the first Mars colonists. If the mission raises the necessary funds and Max is selected, he would live out the rest of his life on Mars. It's something he says he's more than ready to do.
"All throughout history people have had to leave everything they know in order to open up a new frontier," Max said.
Whether or not Mars One opens that frontier could largely depend on money. The group is relying on donors and the sale of the broadcast rights, which could make Max and other finalists, contestants in a unique reality show.
"There's nothing boring about space travel," Max said. "You don't have to create intrigue if you're making a reality tv show about space travel."
Max knows MarsOne is still a long shot, which is why he's not sitting around and waiting.
Max returned to Houston yet again this month as part of an international team of grad students competing to design a different kind of Mars mission.
A group called Inspiration Mars is planning a human fly-by mission to the Red Planet. A panel of experts, including officials from NASA and the Mars Society, hosted the student competition to find the best plan to pull off the mission by 2018.
Max and his team from Purdue and several universities in Japan took first place.
For Max, it's another step toward his dream. For Barry, it's another step that could send his son on a distant path.
"On the one hand it fulfills his dream and every parent wants his child to have his dreams fulfilled," Barry said. "On the other hand his dream means I'll never see him again. I'll never be physically present with him again, and so... that's a hard thing to take."
But he's not about to alter his son's trajectory.
"The journey to Mars is greatest and most noble feat that humanity has ever attempted, and Max wants to be a part of that. How could I say no?" Barry said.
In the meantime they'll both say yes to all the hikes they can.
"All of those things take on added significance as the possibility of this becomes more real," Barry said.
"I'll miss my dad, I'll miss my mom, I'll miss my sister, I'll miss all my family and friends, but I'm not leaving them forever... in the digital sense," Max said. "There's an app for that. Want to know where I am? Right there."
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