FARMINGTON – Mars is never far away from Ken Sullivan’s thoughts.
The Farmington resident is still in the running for a planned mission to Mars, headed by the privately-funded group Mars One. The organization recently trimmed 1,058 potential participants hoping to join one of the one-way flights, bringing the number down to 705.
“They mirrored the European Space Agency’s general health requirements,” said Sullivan, explaining the criteria they used to eliminate candidates. “The FAA’s rules are similar, and I have a pilot’s license and yearly medical evaluations for what I do for work. It’s not something that was a challenge.”
Sullivan refers to the recent trims as “the midpoint of round two,” an elimination process that will continue with interviews planned for later this year. Mars One has stated that it plans to winnow the group down to 24 people, who the organization plans to send up to Mars in groups of four people staggered every few years. The first expedition is expected to take place in 2025, depending on financing and technology.
Though the interviews have yet to be scheduled, Sullivan said they’ll likely be held in a select group of cities all around the world. The current round of applicants come from nearly every continent, and the process of speaking to them all in person is expected to take months.
The question of what those interviews will consist of, however, remains a mystery.
“I assume it’s going to be heavily based on psychological stability,” said Sullivan. “You’re going to be alone with these people on a different planet for a few years before the next few show up. It’s very important that they all play well together.”
There is some uncertainty about the next stage of the process, which will trim the applicant pool down to a group of about 40 who will all then be employed by Mars One.
“That’s when it’s going to get really interesting,” said Sullivan. “A lot of us (candidates) are talking about how they’ll structure it.”
One possibility is that the organization will use the interviews to whittle the group down to the final 40. Another possibility is that there will be a series of physical challenges following the interviews, simulating problems the applicants might face as part of a Mars colony. After the final 40 have been selected, a competition-style reality TV show has been discussed.
“We’ve all been kind of wondering as well,” he said. “We don’t know.”
While he waits to find out, Sullivan’s imagination regularly travels to the red planet. He recently took an engineering class co-sponsored by NASA that worked out some details for a simulated Mars mission, and he volunteers for the Mars Society and other planetary-focused groups.
“Thinking about Mars has been kind of a daily occurrence, since they first announced they were looking for applicants,” he said. “It just pops up in my mind.”