Colorado man may be headed to Mars — for good

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Colorado Man May Be Headed to Mars

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.

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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 ...

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Photo: ESA

The image shows part of the Arabia Terra region, which is scattered with craters of varying sizes and ages. The craters in this image, caused by impacts in Mars’ past, all show different degrees of erosion. Some still have defined outer rims and clear features within them, while others are much smoother and featureless, almost seeming to run into one another or merge with their surroundings. 

This color image was taken by Mars Express’s High Resolution Stereo Camera on 19 November 2014, during orbit 13728. The image resolution is about 20 m per pixel.

(Photo by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)

MOUNT SHARP, MARS - APRIL 10, 2015: In this handout provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS A sweeping panorama combining 33 telephoto images into one Martian vista presents details of several types of terrain visible on Mount Sharp from a location along the route of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. The component images were taken by the rover's Mast Camera on April 10, 2015. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drilled into this rock target, "Cumberland," during the 279th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (May 19, 2013) and collected a powdered sample of material from the rock's interior. Analysis of the Cumberland sample using laboratory instruments inside Curiosity will check results from "John Klein," the first rock on Mars from which a sample was ever collected and analyzed. The two rocks have similar appearance and lie about nine feet (2.75 meters) apart. (NASA)
Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani. (Photo by NASA/Greg Shirah)
GALE CRATER, MARS - APRIL 10, 2015: In this handout provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover recorded this view of the sun setting at the close of the mission's 956th Martian day, or sol April 15, 2015, from the rover's location in Gale Crater, Mars. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ via Getty Images)
Twelve orbits a day provide the Mars Global Surveyor MOC wide angle cameras a global 'snapshot' of weather patterns across the planet. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 2: In this handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, and captured by NASA's Curiosity rover, a rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface that is elsewhere blanketed by reddish-brown dust, showing evidence for an ancient, flowing stream, September 2, 2012. The fractured Link outcrop has blocks of exposed, clean surfaces. Rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size are in a matrix of white material. Many gravel-sized rocks have eroded out of the outcrop onto the surface, particularly in the left portion of the frame. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. Water transport is the only process capable of producing the rounded shape of clasts of this size. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - AUGUST 8: In this handout image provided by NASA and released on August 8, 2012, the four main pieces of hardware that arrived on Mars with NASA's Curiosity rover are spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image about 24 hours after landing. The large, reduced-scale image points out the strewn hardware: the heat shield was the first piece to hit the ground, followed by the back shell attached to the parachute, then the rover itself touched down, and finally, after cables were cut, the sky crane flew away to the northwest and crashed. The relatively dark areas in all four spots are from disturbances of the bright dust on Mars, revealing the darker material below the surface dust. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - AUGUST 5: In this handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, This color thumbnail image was obtained by NASA's Curiosity rover during its descent to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT and transmitted to Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The image from Curiosity's Mars Descent Imager illustrates the roughly circular swirls of dust kicked up from the Martian surface by the rocket motor exhaust. At this point, Curiosity is about 70 feet (20 meters) above the surface. This dust cloud was generated when the Curiosity rover was being lowered to the surface while the Sky Crane hovered above. This is the first image of the direct effects of rocket motor plumes on Mars and illustrates the mobility of powder-like dust on the Martian surface. It is among the first color images Curiosity sent back from Mars. The original image from MARDI has been geometrically corrected to look flat. The MSL Rover named Curiosity is equipped with a nuclear-powered lab capable of vaporizing rocks and ingesting soil, measuring habitability, and whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbe. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
WINDJANA, MARS - APRIL/MAY 2015: In this handout composite provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this self-portrait where the rover drilled into a sandstone target called 'Windjana.' The camera is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which previously recorded portraits of Curiosity at two other important sites during the mission. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
A portion of the west rim of Endeavour crater sweeps southward in this false color view from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars' atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars. A longer caption discusses which are sources and which are sinks.(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan)
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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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