Going to Mars is a bit like visiting a hotel bar in Dubai: there is no atmosphere, there's nothing to drink, and if you go out you'll probably die.
It is a desolate and lifeless ball of red earth about 140 million kilometers away, where nothing grows, where a dust storm can cover the entire planet and rage for months and where the temperature can drop to less than 130 Celsius degrees. It is colder than Dunedin. Also, one day on Mars is 39 minutes, 35,244 seconds on more than one day on Earth. You can imagine one-star Trip Advisor reviews.
"Too dusty, longer days but no late check out available!" Give it a shot. "
"Life is hard, but beautiful," says Clementine Poidatz, who plays physics Amelie Durand in the National Geographic hybrid documentary film. "Everything that happens can potentially be a disaster, because we are so far from home, no chance of help, away from your family, your loved ones, good food, good cheese". (Clementine is French.) The planet is too far away to allow you to call or Skype your family. The delay on the line would be ten minutes or more. You would be limited to video messages or cryptic status updates.
"Someone knows how to make beer from the LOL powder."
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Jeff Hephner, who plays the head of the mining colony Kurt Hurrelle, has recently quit drinking, even if it was not to prepare for the imaginary difficulties that his character will have to face. He did it for his health. And he misses it. "It's a social thing, something to overcome: the dangers of an actor's life" – like the life of a Martian settler, I imagine – "is that you have nothing to do".
The first season of Mars focused on the challenges of just getting there. This season, a decade has passed since the trip, and the astronauts of the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF) have built a thriving colony. The arc of the series of six episodes, which alternates between scripted and documentary sequences, explores how settlers face challenges such as contamination, natural disasters, the arrival of the private sector, even motherhood.
"I am the mother of the first Martian child," says Poidatz. "It's really nice, but there's this conflict of" Should I have the baby? "Because that child will be stuck on the planet all his life, because of Martian gravity, your bones and muscles will not develop as they do on Earth."
"There will be some muscle wastage," says Stephen Petranek, whose book How we will live on Mars formed the basis for the show. "But you will not need many muscles, because for every step you take on Mars you can walk for nine feet, you will feel a superhuman."
There is a tendency among Mars enthusiasts to push the positives. Sure, you do not have bone density, but look how you can crush a basketball. The show employed a small army of "Great Thinkers" – Elon Musk, Bill Nye, Michio Kaku, Andy Weir – to present the factual side. There is an ever-changing debate about exactly how we should get there and how best to establish a colony. But one thing everyone agrees about is that we should go there.
"Exploration is a matter of survival," says Petranek, "because if we stayed on Earth we would all die, we'll be hit by an asteroid, or we'll have a mutated virus that kills every human on Earth. If you're not worried about these things, in the end our sun starts to expand, it boils all the oceans and destroys everything. "
His point seems to be that one day the sun will expand, and the Earth will end up like Mars, so the obvious solution is that we move to Mars. Furthermore, it must be absolutely Mars.
"It's the only place that is, you can not go to Mercury, or Venus, they're too hot and too toxic. You can not go to Titan, Titan is a joke." It seems hard, but it's okay. "Here the methane rains, if you light a match the whole planet comes on".
This is a highly partisan sport. Everyone has his team. I am also a man of Venus. It's even closer than Mars, it has about the same gravity of our planet (so no bone density problem). Of course, the surface temperature is hot enough to melt the lead, but who says we have to live on the surface? The clouds have breathable air and the temperature is 75 degrees. It would also be a good place to launch interstellar missions in the end.
But Mars is so hot now. It's hotter than Venus in the summer. With the likes of Elon Musk offering privately funded travel, and Donald Trump declaring his intention to send proud Americans to plant the flag (and possibly open a tacky resort). Petranek does not believe Trump will arrive soon.
"Unless Trump significantly increases NASA's budget, NASA will not arrive on Mars before 2040. Private companies will arrive on Mars long before any government. Marz is the only place we have. And not it's too far."
34 million miles away, give or take.
"250 million miles", he instructs me. "The moon is 250,000 miles, Mars is 250 million."
Except that the average distance to Mars is 140 million miles. The Mars Close Approach, which would provide the best opportunity for a mission, takes place every two years (according to the press materials of the show) and puts Mars about 34 million miles away. But we do not divide the hairs of space. We'll go to Mars, that's all there is to do. Even some of the cast would have gone, if they had the chance, even if the Martian cheese is not quite on par with the French.
"I would like to go there, even if I can not return, I am passionate about this planet, I know it sounds strange!"
Jeff Hephner is a candidate a little less available than Poidatz.
"Kick and scream, I would go only if it was the last choice, you have to be able to survive the journey and to have the mentality of being in that kind of isolation, it's not terraformed, you're not going for a walk, you're not going swimming. "
It will take a certain type of human to make this trip, and does not think of being one of them. Nor do you think that our conquest of the Red Planet will be the utopian triumph that some are imagining. It is the head of a mining colony that comes to the planet to exploit its resources, as is our way.
"You have a lot of people, they talk about science, they talk about finding life on Mars, but also about preserving humanity." When you're trying to save your ass, you'll do anything. is not that human nature? "
What is the big question: if we can move the planets without taking our worst qualities with us. He is quick to point out, for example, the debt his country owes to Nazi researchers, whose research has kicked off the American space program. Progress is not always beautiful, but it makes it a great drama.
"This is what science fiction does, and why it's so beautiful." Draw the other side of all this: take these huge questions that humanity addresses and put them in a different context: it is an important form of art ".
When I ask what a Trump expedition to Mars would be like his answer is as cold as the Martian ice.
"Is not it already on one?"
* Mars 2 debuts Wednesday, November 14, 9:30 pm on National Geographic, SKY Channel 72