Ken and Becky Sullivan have been married for more than five years and, like many couples, expected to live a long life together on Earth. But, as it turns out, the Utah couple could be separated sooner than expected because Ken is in the running for a project that would send him to Mars as early as 2024 -- permanently.
The Mars One project, a Dutch nonprofit foundation, narrowed down its list of colonists to 1,058 applicants, and the 38-year-old Farmington, Utah, man is one that could be chosen for the one-way ticket to the red planet. Some in his family, who would be left on Earth, are not necessarily on board.
Ken Sullivan says he would leave his family for Mars if called upon, though he is somewhat conflicted about doing so. (Image source: KSTU-TV)
"The question is do we get divorced now or get divorced later," Becky told The Salt Lake City Tribune. "If I stand in the way of his dreams and passions, then we get divorced now, so I have to be supportive."
The newspaper reported that in addition to leaving his wife, Ken, if selected as one of the 24 finalists -- and if the mission actually comes to fruition -- would have to leave his four children between the ages of 6 months and 13 years.
"I don't like it, not at all," 12-year-old Kaitlyn said, according to the Tribune. "When he leaves, I'd have a way to talk to him, but I can't ever see him in person again.
Her older sister, Jocelyn, was a bit more supportive even though she said the event would make her sad.
"If he wants to go to Mars, he should go to Mars," she said.
Ken recognizes the sacrifice the mission would hold, saying he hopes it would get delayed so his youngest would at least be 18-years-old when he left.
Mars One, a private, nonprofit venture, hopes to send a select group to colonize the planet starting in 2024. (Image source: YouTube)
Though Ken told the Tribune he, of course, loves his family more than the planet, he thinks "to explore and the opportunity to do something no one has ever done before, and making a name for myself, would be nice to do."
All things considered though, Ken said he would be "very relieved" if he isn't chosen to go into space. But, what does he think qualifies him in the first place to pioneer civilization on Mars?
"Currently, I am a helicopter air-medevac pilot and so I do well multitasking and work well under pressure," his applicant description on Mars One's website reads. "My history includes college degree, farm/ranch background, emergency medicine, aircraft mechanic/engineer, and ability to deal with hostile environments (Iraq & ex-wife!!)"
Watch his applicant video:
Ken's wife said her husband didn't ask her opinion about the possibility of his leaving the planet when he applied, but she's "not taking it too seriously" overall.
The family also acknowledged that they're used to Ken being absent at times for work.
"He already works out of town, so we're used to the long-distance thing, but it would be hard when he doesn't come home after awhile. I couldn't do it, I couldn't leave my kids, but I've spent every day with them, and he doesn't, so I guess it's different," Becky told the Tribune.
Becky recognized that her husband having dreams like this is "just who he is."
The Mars One project has an unmanned mission slated for 2018 with manned missions sending crews of four people every two years to Mars starting in 2024. The next step for Ken involves several physical and health exams.
Watch this Mars One video to learn more about the project:
Read more about the Utah family's dilemma in The Salt Lake City Tribune.