Rising Star: Connor Cane Helps Plan a Mission to Mars

Connor Cane, photographed at the South Florida Science Center (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

A Boca Raton teen receives an elite opportunity to plan a mission to the Red Planet

A manned mission to Mars has been the subject of scientific proposals and speculative fiction since the 19th century. And this summer, a Boca Raton teenager will join the list of brilliant minds working to hatch a plan to bring people to Mars.

Connor Cane, 15, was selected as one of two American students among the 50 pupils in the annual United Space School (USS) program, which convenes in Houston July 21-Aug. 5. He’ll join fellow candidates from around the world at venues including the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

According to the program, Cane and his colleagues will work on a curriculum designed to provide “the structure, knowledge, resources, mentoring and appropriate settings to complete the proposed project: a Manned Mission to Mars.”

Cane, who is dual-enrolled at FAU High School with a career interest in biomolecular engineering, impressed the USS selection committee with his considerable knowledge of space flight, the makeup of Mars, and the logistics of landing a mission there. When he learned of his acceptance into the program, his immediate reaction was “ecstatic joy. I jumped around for about 20 minutes straight.”

The son of another forward-thinking tech mind, Modernizing Medicine founder Dan Cane, Connor remembers traveling with his dad to witness shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral as early as elementary school. In 2012, at age 9, he won a NASA essay contest; he could already write eloquently about the Mars rover program. His prize included the opportunity to converse live with a Japanese astronaut aboard the International Space Station. “It wasn’t the most scientific question, but I was still in elementary school,” he recalls. “I asked him how the toilets work in space.”

These days, Cane’s mind is preoccupied by deeper questions about space travel. At USS, he’ll likely be working on the rover team or the lander team. He’s most interested in the lander, because “it’s an interesting engineering problem. It will have to land the crew safely with all the supplies, and it will have to act as living quarters for the trip, and also be the return vehicle. It’s got to not only bring all their stuff to the planet, but then serve as a place for them to live while they’re on the planet, and then take them back up. It will need fuel for the way down as well as go back up, food, scientific equipment and possibly a cargo area if we want to bring back samples from Mars.”

Cane says his main goal at the USS is “to meet up, learn and interact with like-minded individuals from different cultural backgrounds. It’s not every day you’re going to find someone from Germany or Russia or Poland who’s interested in space, and be able to work with them on a common goal.”

To that point, Cane believes a venture like a Mars mission could enhance international cooperation. “Space travel is probably going to be one of our unifying forces,” he says. “Because [if] we set up a base on Mars, it’s going to have to be an international project. When it’s something that far away, and that difficult, one nation alone is not going to be able to do that.”

This story is from the July/August 2019 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.