Some thoughts on National Geographic’s MARS

Happy Thanksgiving space fans! I know most of you probably started watching Ron Howard’s Mars on National Geographic Channel a few weeks back. After seeing a few episodes I wanted to share some thoughts, some you might agree with , others you might not.

First off, I found it interesting that in many ways, this docu-drama reminded me a lot of the last Mars miniseries that came out around the time the Bush Administration’s Vision for Space Exploration was announced in 2004. The crew goes to Mars all jazzed up, international crew, pushing the edge of technology, etc.

They have injury, death, all sorts of problems but they figure them out. Its rather depressing but eventually triumphant and realistic.

However, the new MARS docu-drama format is confusing and, according to my wife and others who aren’t space professionals, hard to follow. One minute you are seeing close ups of haggard faces (which were just as haggard before they left Earth-strange does nobody shave in 2033?) flashbacks to things we have no idea what they are about until later, and then poof! you are seeing an interview with Scott Kelly or his daughter, or some random author, or yet another attempt to make President Obama look like he’s John F Kennedy saying he put us on the path to Mars. (Which is not the case-despite the word Mars being in his National Space Policy…Mars has been mentioned in Presidential documents for decades…just in case you didn’t know that-but no program of record ever for Mars specifically. Constellation was to be the step by step approach but some didn’t really believe it was that great and others just didn’t want to continue the plan period-it got canned)

The other part of the docu-drama (the new one) that seems a bit odd, is how everything, EVERYTHING goes wrong…practically all the time. (Except during the flight out-that apparently is quiet for some reason-the older Mars miniseries had a few computer issues and other things during transit). If the miniseries wanted to motivate people interested in going to Mars, its not doing a good job. If its trying to show how hard it is-its going overkill. One thing about media that I have noticed is sometimes people take it too seriously and believe that some Hollywood drama of things exploding, people getting hurt or killed, oxygen going almost to zero, is what things would be like and thus-lose support for going to Mars. Some would be even more motivated and say “It wouldn’t be that bad if I were there. I can fix that.” Either way, the narrative weaving in and out of the movie is partially true, part inaccuracies galore.

Another thing is the Elon Musk-like character who is running the international organization that is pushing this fictional, future Mars mission. The spacecraft they are flying look a lot like the Interplanetary Transit System Musk unveiled at the IAC meeting recently. His plan looks interesting and exciting and thus, probably why they used them. This is a pro-Musk show.  Notice no real discussion of Orion or SLS, they don’t really show the rocket they launch on either . They don’t mention his rockets exploding, only his firsts (except in a brief headline on a paper in the prequel of the two sisters.). Understandable, but interesting nonetheless. They also could have had better people to discuss Mars missions and spaceflight in general. While talking to Scott Kelly would have been good, his segments felt like it was cut and pasted from his documentary from PBS/Time. Not “hey you spent a year on the ISS, how do you think it helps crews going to Mars in twenty years? Blah blah” None of that really. They had Zubrin, which is fine. They always bring out Degrasse-Tyson, so he was there. I would have liked to see more NASA professionals, more planetary science guys, maybe someone from another Mars group like ExploreMars, something a bit more broad and diverse.

Frankly, while I am not impressed with either Mars docu-drama, I think that the old Discovery Channel one was a bit more realistic and easier to follow. It has better character buildup and tries to link the future mission with Martian settlement. The characters are more likable in the old one and while they were excited about Mars, they weren’t as cult-like in their tone.

I wanted to like it, but its disappointing. I’ll pop in my DVD of The Martian instead. Much better quality, and a whole lot more motivating about going to Mars than the one on National Geographic. I want to see real progress. I am tired of watching these things every five or so years. Lets hope the next few years shows progress.





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