Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Eddy Challita: A Lebanese Astro-nut? (Beirut/NTSC EXCLUSIVE).

After the Lebanese Rocket Club movie came out, there was a lot more interest among the Lebanese to think of other planets, “put a Lebanese on the moon” as one stencil said, and – the Lebanese people of my generation – as nothing but avid fans of Goldorak (the Japanese anime starring the Gundam robot) and the protagonist who wanted to go back to “Fleed”, his planet of birth.
But whereas so far this has been in the realm of the theoretical, when the Mars One project was initiated, there were three applications from Lebanon. Yes, the project is about a one-way ticket to establish a colony on Mars. Already there are three entries labeled Lebanon in terms of applicants, one is Tarek, the other is Chady and the third is Edward.
Among the three, it was Eddy’s that stood out to my eyes. He describes himself as “results-driven professional with ten years of intelligence analysis, cyber counterintelligence, and network telecommunications experience including all-source collection management and reporting, in-theater operations support, field services; systems planning, Cyber Forensics, installation, operation, troubleshooting and maintenance. Over 5 years of project management, sales engineering and account management experience as well. Possess excellent team leadership.”
The reason Eddy’s application was interesting is simple, having delved into the link he offered, I discovered that Eddy Challita was not only a technical person, he was also an actor, language coach, having a very versatile background and lifestyle. The kind of human one would want to go to Mars and represent, not just the entirety of the human race, but the Lebanese as well.
In his application Eddy lists his interests in the following words: “Discover the galaxy by starting its Mars. Born in March which is Mars in French, my previous country, as a well traveled person who lived in various countries I am interested in continuing the human race into the cosmos. I speak French, English and Arabic. I also am an actor, www.echallita.com.”
Beirut/NTSC intrigued by the character decided to delve into the man behind it, what’s with him living near Washington DC it was not easy to get a Skype interview right, but interview we did indeed after a lot of fine tuning regarding the difference in time.
My first reflex was wondering how come he would want to apply to Mars, wasn’t the world not enough for him to quote that James Bond title. “The world is OK for me but i wanted to try to be part of one of the most interesting mission and thought to give it a try. I always liked science fiction movies and being in outer space is very exciting”.
Well, call me a traditionalist, but frankly, one would not travel to outer space before covering home base, which made me ask Eddy as to how many countries on Earth did he visit so far. It seems quite a few judging by his answer: “I grew up as a child in Beirut Lebanon, then moved to Paris France, being half French it was the best option when we had to escape the Lebanese civil war. Working opportunities led me to go to the United States over 15 years ago and this is where I am currently settled. I did visit many countries on vacation, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Cyprus, Russia Canada, Mexico...I like travelling a lot and discovering new places”.
Not to dampen his inter-galactic enthusiasm, but for Beirut/NTSC it is logical to keep discovering new countries before setting out to go to another planet.
Eddy seems to have a philosophical outtake on this one: “Being an overpopulated planet, our Earth, it seems good to know we are trying to find solutions or a "second" option in case some global cataclysm happened. I am still exploring earth but living in conditions of war and seeing all the nasty things in other places makes me sometimes think maybe in another world things can be better.”
 He continues at length elaborating: “I know Mars with the no return option is a big challenge but someone has to take that challenge. Being also part of the humanity plus group, I do read on what scientists are planning and have in mind on making humanity better.”
By that time, Beirut/NTSC was still ambivalent as to the whole endeavor, so I asked if a one-way ticket to Mars is something optimistic or suicidal. Eddy, it turns out can be humorous as to the situation as well: “Theoretically it is a one-way ticket, not to the moon but to Mars… Hmm, sounds like the Eruption (editor’s note: originally by Neil Sedaka) song from back in the disco days! One way ticket to the moon ... Funny but somehow true. The idea is that there will a shuttle every two years, I hope they have exceptions in case someone really wanted to be back. Suicidal? Well, living in Beirut during a tough civil war was suicidal but we did manage somehow... So Mars sort of pales by comparison.”
As it is, it’s difficult to move from one country to another, and even moving apartments can be such a drag, so when moving from one planet to another, one could be full of hopes of finding something, but there is also a whole process of giving up things as well. It seems Eddy has a more holistic view of things here as well: “As a Freemason, I think improving mankind in general is something that benefits all of humanity. Giving up of course friends and family, but for the greater cause being part of the first mission to Mars is something bigger than us.”
Whenever one speaks of Mars, there’s always this childish element of expectations, does Eddy hope to find Martians there? Does he think we would be intruding on their civilization? Hurting an already pre-established culture?
“So far from what we can find on the latest research is that only microbial signs were found. So I don’t think the intent is to harm anything that exists there. If it is there. This is something thought to broaden our horizon; it is simple: where we fit those 7+ billions people on earth? We have to come out with a solution and 1 day or another we need to take some solution. Being on mars is way better than population reduction through wars or genocide or whatever means we have thought of so far as humans.” Says Eddy.
But would you want his children to grow up on Mars? What kind of life would you wish them to have?
“If earth becomes too bad to live on than it is an option if the conditions are fit there. Also as an actor, I do adapt quickly to a new situation. I was talking to Gerard Depardieu on the movie set of Welcome to New York on how he also changed countries (Depardieu became a Russian citizen as a way to protest French tax laws), and he said we all do what’s best for ourselves. So here I think that theory should apply under the Mars circumstances as well.”
Any time one of us changes geographic circumstances – willingly – there is an element of fleeing involved, of running away from circumstances or people. Is Eddy Challita running away from anything and taking Mars as a refuge? “Not really, of course I suppose some people are, but for me, it is like I said to be part of a greater cause. I think the whole process will have many steps first before someone is picked to go, so we will see then.”
Being  humans, with a small mercantile part in all of us – especially since we are Lebanese – I was really intrigued to know if he was using his application to garner media attention for his acting career or his cyber security endeavors (since he own a company that specializes in the field).
It seems my unorthodox question bewildered Eddy, “Oh no, I see what you mean, not at all” he practically gasps and then adds after composing himself: “I enjoy all the things I do be it my IT work or my acting, which is a hobby above all else. Now of course if I can act in a Martian film or protect the Martian networks from hackers then so be it. But truly, this is so exciting that i actually am ready to drop all that to go which shows you that this isn’t the case.”
You know that silly question asked in interviews, what are the 5 things you would take with you on a deserted island? Well, what are the things you would take a deserted planet with you (Mars in your case)? “I think it would be my laptop,  books, music which is mp3 for me, of course a toothbrush and my razor so I wouldn’t grow a Martian beard and… an actual picture of planet EARTH”.
What will you miss? Who will you miss?
“I will miss of course, friends, family and my pet. What? the air I breathe outside my house, the wind blowing on my face, the birds singing on the trees, the snowflakes falling down... all this is wonderful and I hope we can all still enjoy them with the global warming and overpopulation and I hate to sound pessimistic but science indicates that the trend is not in our favor, if a miracle happens and we are all good boys and girls for the many years to come, I will do my best to come back!”
He then goes tangentially and continues, “I would also of course miss, my human intimacy but you never know there who you can end up with. True, it is like being a monk up there but maybe they have a plan for us to create a new Martian generation by teaming up few couples? For sure, it is not easy but we have to start somewhere.”
So if they assign a partner for him, he'd have a go just for the welfare of mankind?
“Yes of course I will have to procreate a lot and we will have a lot of time there on our hands” he answers lightly.
Would he consider himself the first Lebanese on Mars if you go there? Or would he think of himself representing France?
“Good question” he mutters.  “Hmm… well since I lived my life divided between three countries so I feel a bit Lebanese, French and American. I do love Lebanese food and I think it’s stuck to my DNA so I would go with Lebanon”.

And with this, Beirut/NTSC left Eddy Challita to have a mundane day in DC, because some time in the future his days might not be so mundane at all. And as for us? Let's #putacedaronmars
Image above by Beirut/NTSC - photos above via Eddy Challita.
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