Meet the people who want a one-way ticket to Mars

If all goes according to plan, the first Mars One astronauts will touch down on the Red Planet in 2023. Mars One / Bryan Versteeg

When the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean to form what is now the United States, the colonizers had no guarantee that they would ever return to Plymouth, England. But they were more interested in exploring and colonizing the New World than in the land they left behind. Before Skype, and especially before modern postal services, moving to a new land meant leaving your life behind.

Today, in the age of instant digital connections and international travel, it seems preposterous to leave everything behind. But that's exactly what 165,000 people are trying to do. They want to be the first to colonize what truly would be a new world: Mars. And if they go, they'll never be able to return to Earth.

The Mars One missionseeks to send the initial colonists on the Red Planet by 2023. Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to apply, and there has been a flood of applications.

In August, dozens of those applicants convened in Washington, D.C., to meet their potential future neighbors. At the "Million Martian Meeting," four would-be colonists ranging from age 24 to 45 answered questions from the audience.

Hotel manager Aaron Hamm, 29, said a trip to Mars is "literally something I've wanted forever."

Emergency room doctor Leila Zucker, 45, wrote a song about her lifelong wish to travel in space: "We're about to take off for the Red Planet Mars because Mars One leads the way to the stars," she sang. She didn't say whether her husband would join her. She says that if the journey only guaranteed she would survive for a year, she might have second thoughts.

She said she would take a 50-50 chance of surviving two years, or a 1-in-100 chance for surviving 20 years. "None of us are planning to die," she said, "but we all recognize we could."

"That year has to count -- you don't get my life for nothing," she said.

Sporting green hair and an alien antennae, former U.S. Army imagery analyst and paratrooper Austin Bradley, 32, said that he sees the Mars One mission as a way to fulfill his lifelong desire to be a NASA astronaut.

"I feel like you're born knowing you want to travel," said Joseph Sweeney, 24, a graduate student in applied intelligence who started the Aspiring Martians Group on Facebook. He's ready to go, no matter the risk of survival.

"As long as there's a small possibility to do something great, I think it's worth the risk," he said.

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.

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