Would you leave everything to go live on another planet? Sonia Van Meter would.
She describes herself as a «Martian wannabe» and hopes to be part of the first humans to resettle on the red planet in 10 years.
If she succeeds, she will never see her husband again.
«I don’t think you can sign up for something like this without being a little crazy,» says Van Meter in conversation with the BBC.
«But it’s the next big adventure and I’m going to do everything I can to be a part of it.»
The 35-year-old political consultant from Austin, Texas, is one of 705 shortlisted to form a human colony of between 20 and 40 people, a group chosen from 200,000 applicants who last year applied to the Dutch nonprofit organization Mars One.
«I thought ‘this sounds like fun,'» Van Meter says. «I didn’t think there was the slightest chance that I would get selected, I just wanted to be a part of it.»
Her husband Jason Stanford says Van Meter’s ambition – and the fact that he now has at least a 1 in 35 chance of leaving for good – suits her with mixed emotions.
«As a hot-blooded American male, at first I thought it was something about me. I thought, ‘You’re leaving me,'» says Stanford.
Me on Mars and you on Earth
But over time, he changed his mind. «The more he talked about it, the more I realized he’s doing it for the right reasons, to show humanity what we can all do if we work together,» she says.
«I will be the husband of Sonia Van Meter for the rest of my life, I will cut the inaugural ribbon of Sonia Van Meter College and I will tell her story here on Earth.»
For her part, the Martian aspirant says she feels lucky to have «an extraordinary family to leave behind.»
The Mars One plan is to send groups of four astronauts to Mars every two years, starting in 2024, until there is a colony of 40 people.
Funding will be obtained from a television program created by the producers of Big Brother.
Van Meter’s love of space dates back to her childhood, when the only TV series she let her watch was Star Trek, a show that for her talked about much more than space exploration.
«It was about being the best version of yourself and working together collaboratively,» he says.
Even now, as an adult, she watches the movie Apollo 13—about the 1970 space mission that nearly ended in disaster—several times a year.
«Look at the thousands of people who came together and brought those three human beings home safely,» Van Meter says.
«I don’t know how anyone can know what we’ve done in space and not be moved and excited about the future.»
Until Mars do us part
Van Meter and Stanford have been married for nearly five years, but they know the next 10 years may be their last together.
«He told me once that he would love me to the ends of the earth and beyond,» she says. «We don’t anticipate that that could include traveling to another planet.»
«I promised to support her in whatever adventure we chose. We made it clear that our lives would be an adventure, and this is what she chose as her goal,» Stanford says.
The couple has responded with humor to certain critical comments recently spread on social networks.
«I wasn’t prepared to hear that I’m a horrible wife, that I’m a horrible stepmother, that I’m selfish and arrogant,» Van Meter says.
His stepsons, Henry, 13, and Hatcher, 11, think it’s great that «their stepmother has decided to become a hero,» according to the husband.
Stanford compares the mission to Mars with those undertaken in their time by Columbus or Magellan.
«They didn’t stay home because they were married,» he says. «They scouted, and probably assumed they would face great dangers. Dangers are guaranteed here, and the fact that she wants to do it for noble reasons is something I can get over.»
But before the Mars One rockets take off, the candidates will have to spend about 10 years of preparation on Earth, which will be broadcast on TV in the format of a reality show.
One of the plans is to select the first «human ambassadors» through a public vote.
And how does this couple imagine life in space in that small group of pioneers?
According to the husband who will stay on Earth, boring.
According to the Martian aspirant, uncomfortable and claustrophobic, but with a lot to do.
«There will be so much activity needed to keep us alive that I don’t think there will be time to pay attention to the lack of fresh air and sunshine,» says Van Meter. Among other things, they will have to grow and produce their own food.
When her father found out that she was one of the 200,000 selected, he asked her how she could choose to do something like this.
«Imagine the grave of the first person to die on another planet,» she replied.
«Geez! I understand your argument,» his father told him.