FactCheck Social Media

Mars astronaut memes boldly go beyond what’s actually happened

2021-06-01 13:31:11

The Statement

Multiple posts on social media claim a young American woman is preparing to become the first human on Mars, and that she will never return to Earth, get married or have children.

One example, a Facebook post by an Australian user from May 21, shows a photo of a woman in a blue jumpsuit above text that reads: “Meet Alyssa Carson. She can’t get married, She can’t have kids. She is preparing to become the first human on Mars and She will never return to Earth.”

The post had been shared more than 250 times and attracted more than 850 reactions at the time of writing. Similar posts on Facebook and Instagram have been shared or liked thousands of times.

A Facebook post
 A post claims a US woman is preparing to become the first person on Mars but won’t return to Earth. 

The Analysis

Alyssa Carson is a 20-year-old woman from Louisiana in the United States who has a long-running ambition to become an astronaut and go to Mars – a role she says she has been in preparation for during much of her life.

However, she is not part of an official training program or mission with a space agency such as NASA – nor do any of her plans necessarily involve a one-way trip to the Red Planet.

Ms Carson’s website says she first told her father at three years of age that she wanted to be an astronaut and go to Mars. Since then, she has attended the US Space and Rocket Center’s Space Camp multiple times and completed the Advanced PoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut space academy training program at Florida Institute of Technology, according to her bio.

She has been featured in multiple media stories but has not presented herself as being an astronaut or selected for a Mars mission. She has frequently been called an “astronaut in training” or similar.

When contacted by AAP FactCheck, NASA spokeswoman Brandi K. Dean said: “Alyssa Carson is not a NASA astronaut. There are some activities that we offer to students or provide to the public that it’s possible Alyssa may have taken part in. However I can confirm that she is not in astronaut training.”

A full list of current and past NASA astronauts is featured on the agency’s website.

The 20-year-old, who is studying at university for a bachelor of science according to her LinkedIn profile, is not yet able to meet NASA’s educational requirements which include at least a master’s degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field among other possible qualifications.

The average age of successful astronaut candidates is 34, according to NASA.

Social media posts also often claim that because of her plans to go to Mars, Ms Carson can’t get married or have children – and that she will never return to Earth. Many astronauts have been married and had children.

NASA is also not planning its eventual Mars missions to be one-way, Ms Dean confirmed.

“No mission assignments have been made for future crewed NASA missions to Mars at this time but we absolutely plan for it to be a round trip when we do begin sending astronauts to Mars,” she said.

NASA currently operates unmanned exploration missions on Mars and has said it is developing capabilities to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. A trip to Mars has been estimated to take a minimum of six months each way.

A privately funded project to colonise Mars, Mars One, was declared bankrupt in 2019. Ms Carson was listed as an ambassador for that project. Its organisers claimed a one-way trip to the planet was the only option for a manned mission in the next 20 years.

In an Uproxx video about Ms Carson from 2016, a friend recalls the aspiring astronaut talking about going to space and “how she can’t get married and she can’t have kids” (video mark 4min 32sec), but Ms Carson has clarified the topic in other interviews.

“There are a lot of interviews that talk about me as if I were against marriage, having children, and that makes me uncomfortable,” she told the Spanish-language website Economía Y Negocios in 2018.

“If there was a boyfriend, I’m sure we could come to an agreement … I admit that sometimes I don’t speak clearly enough.”

Ms Carson told the Daily Mirror in 2019 that she was ruling out a relationship until she was back from Mars, but she also said: “I have enough time to settle down and have children on my return.”

Her father Bert Carson, who is listed as her media contact, told AAP FactCheck some of the claims in the viral posts weren’t accurate, noting that Mars missions were not intended to be one way.

“It is the intention to bring people back from Mars. However, there is an option to not return and if that is the only way then Alyssa would still go,” he said in an email.

Mr Carson said his daughter was working as an intern with the Jacobs Engineering Group at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in addition to her studies.

“Alyssa is in touch with every space agency in the world with her job with Jacobs,” he said.

“With so many agencies and private companies working on this, we do not know exactly what the plan will be.”

While his daughter is not yet an astronaut, Mr Carson said her goal “has always been to be one of the first to Mars and she has (been) working on making such a unique resume that she will be selected for the mission”.

NASA illustration of a spacecraft approaching Mars
 NASA has been running unmanned missions to Mars. 

The Verdict

Alyssa Carson has a long-stated ambition to become an astronaut and be the first person on Mars, and she says she has been in preparation for the role since she was a child. However, she has not been selected as an astronaut or trainee in any space program.

Mars missions are not necessarily one way; NASA says its Mars missions are planned to be return trips. A mission to Mars would also not preclude Ms Carson from returning to Earth, and she has been reported as saying she may have children on her return.

Partly False – Content that has some factual inaccuracies.

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