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One way trip to Mars? These Californians say 'bring it on'

A few of the Southern California candidates for a one way trip to Mars at Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory.
Sanden Totten / KPCC
A few of the Southern California candidates for a one way trip to Mars at Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory.

It's been 45 years since NASA’s Apollo 11 mission landed the first humans on the moon.

Now, a private company called Mars One is hoping to do the same for the Red Planet in 2024.

The goal is to land four carefully selected people on Mars where they will live the rest of their lives in a small enclosed colony. Their adventures will be broadcast on TV here on Earth.

Related: Curiosity rover completes one Martian year, ends primary mission

This may sound crazy, but it's the business model put forth by Netherlands-based Mars One. 

The company wants to further Mars exploration, and so far, thousands of people have applied to help them.

The initial pool of around 200,000 would-be astronauts has been narrowed to about 700, including a group from Southern California.

A diverse group of future Martians

"I believe that we are not normal… in a good way," said Elena Shateni, one of the Mars One candidates.

Shateni was born in the Republic of Georgia, lived in the former USSR before arriving in Los Angeles. She's been in more than one marriage, raised two kids by herself and gotten a medical degree.

"So, it’s enough experience and I want to go beyond," she said of her drive to leave Earth.

The group of Southern California candidates includes a NASA engineer, a geologist, a comedian and a film maker.

Teacher and writer Ren-Horng Wang says like many, he dreamed of traveling to space as a kid.

"So many people don’t follow through with that dream, and I think, why not pursue it?" he asked.

Most of the local Mars One applicants are in their 20s or 30s, though some are in their 40s and 50s. Some have science backgrounds; many don't. They are all friendly, a little odd and probably way too optimistic.

A long way from Mars

Recently, the National Research Council told Congress that even NASA probably can’t send humans to Mars by the 2030s as planned.

Mars One hopes to manage that feat in just a decade.

"The decade seems way to short to me, but I give them kudos for boldness," said Scott Hubbard, a former NASA director and editor-in-chief of the journal New Space.

Hubbard says Mars One’s $6 billion dollar budget is extremely small, especially when you consider that in today’s dollars, the Apollo mission cost close to $200 billion.

There are also many technical problems to be worked out, Hubbard said, including finding a way to  shield the crew from cosmic radiation on the seven-month spaceflight.

"And you’re going to have to find a way to live off the land if you are going to stay there permanently."

Wait and see

Scott Hubbard is taking a wait-and-see approach, as are the Mars One candidates.

Web designer Evan Dorn says he honestly doesn't think the company can pull this mission off.

"I would like to be proven wrong, and if I am proven wrong, I would like to be on the mission."

Dorn says if he is chosen, he would have to leave his partner of 10 years behind. Other Mars One candidates say leaving parents and children would be tough, but ultimately worth it.

Hospital administrator Andrew Tunks says he'd especially miss soaking up the sun and feeling a warm breeze on his skin, something he couldn't do on Mars.

But he says that potential sacrifice doesn't dissuade him.

"If you can do something absolutely incredible, then why not go for it?"