Mars, with its reddish atmosphere and barren desert terrain, is a constant source of fascination and wonder here on Earth.
For generations, people have dreamed of visiting the Red Planet.
While millions of miles away, Mars is closer now than ever before.
Even with the end of the space shuttle program and the common thought that we may have lost our way, some in the science community believe amazing advances lie just over the horizon.
"I think it's wired very deep down in our DNA that we need to look over the next hill," said John Wilson, Executive Director of the INFINITY Science Center, which sits adjacent to NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
Wilson and his team welcome thousands of young visitors each year to INFINITY. He believes their fascination with space is strong.
"We are raising a generation of young people that care deeply about this planet and also care deeply about what's beyond this planet and how do we get there, and how much of this planet do we have to take with us, in a sense," Wilson said. "They want to look over the next hill, and I think Mars is that for us. Even though it's millions of miles away, (Mars) does share some features that may make it actually habitable."
While NASA and programs from other countries have always led the way into space, private companies and non-profits are now preparing for liftoff.
Last year, more than 200,000 people from around the world applied to take part in the Mars One Mission. Within the next decade, the non-profit organization aims to send a pioneering group of four explorers on a one-way trip to Mars - never to return.
The applicants aren't the astronauts you might be imagining. Instead, they're every day people from various professions and walks of life.
After carefully combing the pool of applicants, Mars One has now cut its list of finalists down to about 700 people.
Thibodaux native and UNO student Britton Frost is one of them.
"I'd be proud of such an achievement, you know, for my sake and for the sake of mankind," Frost said. "I'm well fit for this job because I'm highly resilient, I'm adaptable, I'm curious."
Frost considers himself a man of opportunity, and sees the proposed mission as a chance to leave a powerful mark on human history.
If Mars One moves forward and if he's selected, Frost would spend years training here on Earth, before one day leaving everything he knows behind.
Sound difficult to comprehend? He would agree.
"Yeah, there's a lot to think about, a lot to contemplate, a lot of self-searching you have to do," Frost said. "So, time will tell and I'm sure the closer we get, the more nervous, but I guess excited."
The proposed mission is drawing skepticism. Can the group actually pull it off? Do they have the technological knowledge or the necessary funding to make it happen?
Due to the orbits of Earth and Mars, the distance between the two planets is constantly changing. On average, however, they're about 140 million miles apart.
Of course, there are major health risks associated with going to Mars -- especially the large amounts of radiation explorers would be exposed to.
All of that is out of Britton's control, for now. So, he focuses on some of the simpler issues.
"Apart from doing the work, sustaining this colony on Mars, keeping it going and advancing technology in space exploration -- what are you gonna do in your spare time while you're there? It's gonna be pretty boring, right? Well, I'm bringing my golf clubs. I'm bringing my philosophy text books to read and I'm bringing the internet," Frost said with a laugh.
Frost is one of four finalists from Louisiana. According to Mars One, the chosen ones would establish the first colony, and would then be joined by others in future installments.
The reaction from family and friends, Frost said, is wide-ranging.
"They all think it's awesome. It's crazy. It's hilarious. It's interesting. Everybody has a different reaction," he said.
"It's kind of hard to comprehend, you know, the fact that your son may be going to Mars and you're never going to see him again," said Bill Frost, Britton's dad.
Bill doesn't love the idea and doesn't seem to put much stock in the possibility, but ultimately he says it's up to his son.
"It's hard to believe that it'll happen," he said. "But if it does, you know, I mean there's no way I can tell Britton that, no, you can't go. It's his life and we've always believed for our children to do what they want to do in life and be happy, and that's all that really matters."
However, some of Britton's other possible life paths seem far more palatable.
"I think (Britton) going to graduate school in Europe, which he's talking about right now because he's not sure whether this Mars thing will happen or not -- that would be a lot more agreeable for myself and his mother and everybody else that loves him," Bill said.
For Britton though, the dream is very much alive. Along with the other finalists, his next step is to meet the Mars One selection committee face-to-face.
"Sometimes we get caught up in our daily lives and our jobs and the things that we seemingly have to do, and we lose sense of this almost childlike adventure and imagination and space exploration is all about that," Britton said.
Now, he's one of seven hundred people who could -- albeit against significant odds -- leave earth forever to see what's over that next hill.
"I'm honored. I'm glad they picked me. Whether or not this happens, whether or not I end up going to Mars, whether I make the final cut is another thing, but I'll wait in anticipation and I'll do my best. I'll do whatever I can to help the Mars One mission and promote this," Frost said. "People need to know about it. It's pretty big."
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