An Austin woman’s Mission to Mars

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Sonia Van Meter is an unapologetic space junkie. She grew up on Star Trek and loves the space exhibit at the LBJ Library in Austin, but now she’s ready to move beyond space junkie and into the realm of space traveler.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to become part of a legacy stretching from Magellan and Christopher Columbus all the way to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?” asked Van Meter.

She has made it to the second round of applicants being considered for the first manned mission to Mars.

“Space exploration and colonization is the next frontier for humanity. It’s in our nature to explore and to question and to look at our landscape and wonder what lies beyond the next hill, and that spirit is at the heart of MARS One.”

“I know that this is a long shot. It’s a 35 million-mile long shot and this is page one of a 10 year story.”

- Sonia Van Meter

MARS One is a privately-funded journey for four people to colonize the Red Planet. Last year, Van Meter submitted a video application along with 200,000 other people around the world. She was selected to move to the next round with a group of 1,057 others.  Van Meter has no traditional space or science background. She studied sociology and works at a political consulting firm, but she says this is her life’s ambition.

“My husband took me to the Air and Space Museum, and I touched a command module that had come back from space and all of the sudden it just lit up inside me that I was touching something that had been in outer space, that had orbited the moon, that had been further away from our planet than anything else that I can think of and it had come back,” she said. “Something turned on then.”

Those selected for the journey will never return to Earth.  Van Meter is a wife, a step-mother, a daughter and a friend.

KXAN:  “But you wouldn’t be coming back.”
Van Meter:  “I would not be coming back.  That’s the catch.  This is a one-way shot, and I’m OK with that … I think for me the biggest challenge is going to be figuring out how to say goodbye to my family.  In the next 10 years I’m going to learn how to build a home from scratch on a dry, atmosphere-less, waterless rock, and those are all things that can be learned.  The technology can be broken down and understood and explained. How I’m going to walk away from this extraordinary planet is going to be the big challenge.”

Van Meter’s husband of four years, Jason Stanford, supports her and not, he says, because he wants her to be 35 million miles away.

“It’s perhaps not my first choice for her, but it’s her first choice for her and our marriage vows didn’t really come with an asterisk,” he said. “If she wants it, then I’m for it 100 percent.”

Van Meter and Stanford know this is a long shot. Only four people will be selected for the mission, which hopes to have humans on Mars by 2025. Those selected will spend the next decade training for the mission and organizers have already said that process will likely be part of a reality television program. The next step in the process is a medical evaluation for each of the finalists.

“I don’t know how it’s going to end,” said Van Meter.  “If we can look up from Earth and know that human beings are living on another planet, will we ever again be able to tell ourselves that there’s anything we can’t do? If we can achieve that, then what else is possible?”

Lockheed-Martin has been contracted to build the landing rover, but critics of this kind of mission say it will cost billions of dollars, and while it has been tried by other companies, it ultimately failed when funding ran out.

Tonight on KXAN News at 10, this Austin wife and step-mother explains why she is ready to leave everything behind, including her family and friends and even her planet, for this one-way ticket to Mars.

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