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NM candidates bring experience

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Maj. Ken Johnston of Belen and James Wertz of Albuquerque also dream of Mars.

Johnston and Wertz, along with University of New Mexico graduate student Zachary Gallegos, are the only New Mexicans left on the rapidly shrinking global list of candidates vying to colonize Mars.

Johnston is 71, but sees his age as an advantage, primarily because of the experience that comes with it. (He also says he has relatives who lived well past 100 and that he is in “fantastic” physical condition.)

Johnston was one of the first four civilian astronaut consultant pilots for the Apollo moon landing program and helped train such lunar luminaries as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He also says he logged more than 3,000 hours as a spacecraft pilot. Although he applied, he never made NASA’s lunar astronauts roster.

No matter, he says. “The moon was never my goal; it has always been my dream to go to Mars.” Now he says he feels “destined” to travel to the fourth planet from the sun.

According to his Mars One profile, Johnston holds two bachelor’s degrees and two doctorates, has been with the Boy Scouts for 35 years, likes all people regardless of creed or color and is a team player who is goal-oriented.

“I love astronomy, geology, psychology, biology, archaeology, camping and adventures,” he says.

Wertz, 49, describes himself as an “experienced, dynamic senior leader with a record of excellence guiding engineering, development, manufacturing, testing, operations and sustainment programs for advanced aircraft and systems.”

Born and raised in Michigan, he is married to “the lovely Stefani Odom-Wertz” and has four sons, all living in the Albuquerque area.

He graduated, with honors, from the Air Force Academy in 1986 with a bachelor of science degree in Space Physics. He calls himself “performance-focused” after a 25-year military career. In the Air Force, he was an experimental test pilot in the F-15, F-16 and Global Hawk aircraft.

He also holds two master’s degrees, one in Strategic Studies, the other in Military Arts & Sciences. He has worked on improving and fielding manned and unmanned aircraft and has a broad background managing small and large teams. He is a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, with 3,000 flight hours under his belt.

Wertz describes himself as an “avid cyclist (and) part-time runner who prefers group activities.”

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