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A UCF student will continue his pursuit of a potential one-way trip to Mars despite recent news that any such voyage would be delayed at least two years, to more than a decade from now.

George Hatcher, a 35-year-old NASA engineer at Kennedy Space Center and a father of two, is one of 100 finalists competing to be selected as an astronaut for the pioneering missions by Dutch nonprofit Mars One.

But this week, Mars One acknowledged it had been unable to secure funding in time to launch a first unmanned mission in 2018, a delay that pushes back any human launch until at least 2026.

The slip fueled already massive skepticism about whether Mars One can come close to raising the $6 billion it estimates will be necessary to launch a crew to Mars.

But for Hatcher, a Merritt Island native, there is a pretty big upside to the delay.

"My general reaction is relief," he said. "If I am selected, I get two more years with my family."

Hatcher is married with a 2-year-old son and infant daughter.

Based on his passion for science and his religious beliefs — he is a member of the Baha'i Faith — he is willing to leave his family behind for the opportunity to colonize Mars.

But if that decision ever comes, he'd prefer it is when his children are older and possibly able to understand it better. Now he's assured of at least two more years on Earth.

He'd have more time if he is selected as an astronaut but not assigned to the first human mission, with Mars One aiming to launch crews every two years.

Hatcher has received no official notice about what's next, but through fellow astronaut finalists understands that Mars One plans to proceed with its selection of 24 astronauts by the end of this year to start training.

"I am still committed to the program and the application process," he said.

Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One, said in a statement that he believes the venture is moving in the right direction despite the delay.

He cited a contract to develop spacesuits and life support systems, another in work to design a small lander, an advisory board with respected members and global interest in the project, which attracted applications from more than 200,000 people volunteering for one-way missions.

"Is it really a failure if we land our first crew two, four, six, or even eight years late?" Lansdorp said. "I would be extremely proud if we could make that happen and Mars One is still fully committed to keeping that on track."

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Contact James Dean at 321-242-3668 or jdean@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean.

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