More than 202,000 people applied for the Mars One program
Credit: Bryan Versteeg/Mars One

Excited for their one-way trip to colonize Mars, five of the Mars One final candidates give PEOPLE all the details behind their decision to leave Earth. Subscribe now for instant access to the exclusive interviews.

It sounds like an adventure of a lifetime.

Sometime around 2024, four earthlings will blast off in a rocket to Mars. In following years, more people will make the trip. Their mission: to create a colony on the Red Planet and begin a new era in space exploration.

There’s just one caveat: it’s a one-way trip.

“This is a mission of permanent settlement,” says Bas Lansdorp, the Dutch businessman who created Mars One, a private space exploration nonprofit. “They go to Mars to stay.”

Skeptics wonder if the project is even feasible. Mars One has yet to raise significant capital or build a single spacecraft. Critics say the program needs to do additional research on human survival, long-term sustainability and other pertinent issues.

So who would sign up for a one-way trip that may never happen? Apparently, lots of people: Mars One has received 202,000 applications.

The applicants have been narrowed down to 100 semifinalists, including 30 Americans. Five of them talk to PEOPLE about why they want to visit the Red Planet.

Kenya Armbrister

Armbrister, 36, works in research and development for a global pharmaceutical company in Oakland, California. She has two masters degrees and calls herself a proponent of human rights. “I think space exploration will be very important in the next 10 to 20 years,” she says. “A lot of people are afraid of doing something that’s extraordinary, and I just want those people to know that they shouldn’t limit themselves. I just hope that we, as a group of pioneers, can change the world’s thinking.”

Peter Degen-Portnoy

The 51-year-old software engineer from Stoneham, Massachusetts, is intrigued at the opportunity. “I never thought this was something that would happen in my lifetime,” he says. The married father of five says that his wife is supportive of his dream – but his children are a little less convinced. “My 12-year-old son seems to be strongly affected by my decision to participate in Mars One,” he says. “If I do get accepted to go to Mars, I’ll never stop being his daddy. I’ll just be the daddy who works and lives on another planet!”

Sue Ann Pien

Pien, 35, lives in Los Angeles and works as a manager at a tech company. “I’ve always loved space,” she says. “My family comes from an aerospace background. From a very young age, I wanted to become an astronaut. My parents discouraged me after the Challenger accident. So this is a great opportunity that’s happening a little bit later in my life. I personally think it’s important for us to go to Mars, which is older than Earth and had conditions for life before Earth did. I think we’ll find out a lot about our own origins, and I want to be part of the team that goes there.”

Peter Felgentreff

A technology executive from California, the married 50-year-old believes that a Mars trip will be good for the human race. “I think it will help in a number of ways,” he says. “First, it’s always nice to have a secondary backup home – having humans spread across two planets instead of just one. In terms of technological evolution, I think it will benefit people the same way that colonization of the human species across the face of this planet has helped people.”

Kay Radzik Warren

The 54-year-old lives in Reno, Nevada, and works as a project manager at an architectural firm. The self-proclaimed “nerd” says that the naysayers don’t bother her. “Yes, we have our skeptics, but I welcome them,” she says. “I think that a healthy skepticism makes for a better mission.” As for her husband of six years, he’s been enthusiastically supportive. “When this opportunity came up, I told him, ‘I have to do this.’ And he said, ‘If you have to do it, then do it. Follow your heart and your passion.’ Now that’s a perfect mate!”

Reporting by ANNE LANG

For more on the Mars One mission, pick up the latest copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands today!