SALT LAKE CITY — Kitty Kane, a Provo hairstylist, is getting closer to realizing a dream that, until recently, seemed far from possible.
“I always dreamed of living on another planet,” Kane said. “I never thought an ordinary civilian could be the first to go to Mars, but that’s what’s happening. I want to be a part of that.”
Mars One is a nonprofit organization that says it plans to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2024.
More than 200,000 people worldwide applied when the organization began calling for volunteers in April 2013. That list has been narrowed down to 1,058 candidates for one of the four final positions. Eight of those candidates are Utahns.
Kane said the opportunity offered by Mars One “was like love at first sight. It was destiny.”
And yes, she understands that the adventure is being billed as a one-way trip to the red planet.
In 2018, Mars One first plans to send an unmanned mission to Mars. The group expects 2024’s manned journey to take 210 days. Every two years thereafter, the group says four additional people will be sent to the settlement.
With a background in aviation, Ken Sullivan, of Farmington, says he is well aware of the risks and difficulties such a mission would entail such as space-flight complications and living for years with the same four people in a structure the size of a two-bedroom apartment. Even leaving behind a wife and four young kids is a challenge Sullivan says he is willing to accept in order to make his mark in history.
“I think most people think I’m crazy,” Sullivan said. “My wife is probably one of those. As much as people can’t understand why I would want to go, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want to go. It’s an incredible adventure. It makes me feel alive.”
Sullivan says he’ll be able to correspond with his family through email and videoconferencing as his kids grow up. The permanence of a one-way trip from home is nonetheless tough to cope with, he said.
“The whole process of leaving and never coming back is very difficult,” Sullivan said. “But I’m in this all the way. I have no doubt that it will happen. I hope that my children will understand, and I told them to come up to Mars with me when they get older.”
Mars One estimates the price tag for the first manned mission at $6 billion, including hardware, operational and marginal costs. The subsequent mission is estimated to cost $4 billion.
Candidate Cody Reeder, a physics student at Westminster College, said the project still has a substantial need for funding, but he remains optimistic.
“We need millions of people to help,” Reeder said. “You don’t have to give thousands of dollars. If we had 100,000 people give $1, it would be a tremendous help.”
Will Robbins said he became interested in astronomy and space exploration while working at the Clark Planetarium prior to becoming a candidate for the mission. He attributes his success thus far in the application process to healthy living.
“One of the qualifications that candidates have to have is a good health track record,” Robbins said. “I’m all about health and nutrition. I’m living to be a super-centenarian, which is 110 years old, so I think that’s one of the things that make me a good candidate.”
For now, the candidates await further selection based on physical and emotional performance in simulations and team exercises that will take place over the next two years, according to a Mars One news release issued at the end of December.
Sullivan said he believes Utah’s pioneer heritage will set the state's candidates apart from others.
“Maybe we can relate a little bit better and say that we have ancestors that came to a dangerous environment and never went back,” he said. “Maybe we’re all Martians in our own way.”
Kane has a similar philosophy.
“That’s why I have purple hair,” she said. “It’s an outward reflection of my inner Martian.”