Visiting Mars is a bit like visiting a hotel bar in Dubai: there is no atmosphere, there is no drinking, and when you go outside, you probably die.
It's a desolate, lifeless ball of red dirt about 140 million miles away, where nothing grows, where a dust storm can cover the planet and rage for months, and where the temperature can drop to minus 130 degrees Celsius. That's colder than Dunedin. In addition, a day on Mars is 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds longer than a day on Earth. You can imagine the Trip Advisor ratings with a star.
"Too dusty, days longer, but no late checkout available! Do not miss it."
"Life is hard there, but beautiful," says Clementine Poidatz, who plays the physicist Amelie Durand in the hybrid doc / drama show Mars by National Geographic. "Anything that happens can potentially be a disaster, because we're so far from home, no chance of help, far from your family, your loved ones, good food, good cheese." (Clementine is French.) The planet is too far away to even call or skype your family. The delay on the line would be ten minutes or more. They are limited to video messages or cryptic status updates.
"Everyone knows how to make beer from dust LOL."
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Jeff Hephner, the leader of mining politician Kurt Hurrelle, recently gave up drinking – though this is not in preparation for the fictionalized hardships his character is exposed to. He did it for his health. And he misses it. "It's a social thing, one thing to survive the day, the dangers of an actor's life" – much like the life of a Mars colonist, I think – "is that you have nothing to do."
The first season of Mars focused on the challenges of simply getting there. It's been a decade since the trip, and the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF) astronauts have set up a burgeoning colony. The six-epoch series, which alternates scripting and documentation sequences, explores how settlers deal with challenges such as contamination, natural disasters, the entry of the private sector or even motherhood.
"I am the mother of the first Marsbabys," says Poidatz. "It's really cool, but there's the conflict." Shall I have the baby? "Because this kid gets stuck on the planet all his life, and because of the gravity of Mars, your bones and muscles do not develop like they do on Earth."
"There will be muscle loss," says Stephen Petranek, whose book How we will live on Mars formed the basis for the show. "But you will not need so much muscle, because for every step you take on Mars, you can walk three meters and you'll feel like a superman."
There is a tendency among Mars enthusiasts to increase the benefits. Sure, you do not have bone density, but look how you can immerse a basketball. The show has a small army of "big thinkers" – Elon Musk, Bill Nye, Michio Kaku, Andy Weir – used to present the facts. There is an ever-evolving debate about how to get there and how best to build a colony. But everyone agrees that we should go there.
"Exploration is a matter of survival," says Petranek. "If we stay on Earth, we'll all die, get hit by an asteroid, or have a mutant virus that kills every human on Earth, even if you're not worried about these things, our own sun will eventually start to expand, to cook all oceans and to destroy everything. "
His point seems to be that one day the sun will expand and the earth will end up like Mars. The most obvious solution is that we move to Mars. Besides, it has to be Mars.
You can not go to Mercury or Venus, they are too hot and too toxic, you can not go to Titan, Titan is a joke. " Seems hard, but okay. "It's raining methane there, and when you light a match, the whole planet ignites."
This is a very partisan sport. Everyone has their team. I am a Venus man myself. It is even closer than Mars, has about the same gravity as our planet (so no problems with bone density). Sure, the surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead, but who says we have to live on the surface? The cloud tops have breathing air and the temperature is manageable 75 degrees. It would also be a good place to start interstellar missions.
But Mars is just so hot. In summer it is hotter than Venus. With people like Elon Musk proposing privately funded travel, Donald Trump said he plans to send proud Americans to plant the flag (and possibly open a heavy resort). Petranek does not think Trump will be there soon.
"If Trump does not significantly increase NASA's budget, NASA will not come to Mars until the 2040s." "Private companies will come to Mars long before a government, Mars is the only place we have, and it's not too far path."
34 million miles away, give or take.
"250 million miles," he trains me. "The moon is 250,000 miles, Mars is 250 million."
Only the average distance to Mars is 140 million miles. The Mars Close approach, which offers the best opportunity for a mission, takes place every two years (according to the press' own press materials), bringing Mars about 34 million kilometers away. But let's not split the space hairs. We go to Mars, that's all that goes with it. Part of the cast would go in the face of the opportunity – even if the Marche cheese is not quite comparable to French Brie.
"I would like to go there, even if no return would be possible, I'm passionate about this planet, I know it sounds weird!"
Jeff Hephner is a slightly less willing candidate than Poidatz.
I would only go if it was the last choice, you must be able to survive the journey and have the mentality to be in that kind of captivity – it's not a terraform, you're not going for a walk do not go swimming. "
It takes a certain person to make that journey, and he does not think he is one of them. He also does not believe that our conquest of the Red Planet will be the utopian triumph that some imagine. He is the leader of a mining colony that comes to Earth to use its resources as it is our way.
"They get a lot of people, they talk about science, they talk about finding life on Mars, but they also serve the maintenance of humanity, so if you're trying to save your own ass, you do everything right Mine, is not that human nature? "
What is the big question: if we can move planets without taking our worst qualities. He quickly points to the debt his country owes to Nazi rocket scientists whose research has inspired the US space program. Progress is not always pretty, but it's a great drama.
"That's what sci-fi does and why it's so cool, they project the rest of everything, they take these huge questions from humanity and put them in a different context, it's an important art form."
When I ask what a Trump expedition to Mars would look like, his answer is as cold as Mars ice.
"Is not he already one?"
* Mars 2 premieres on Wednesdays from November 14, 9:30 pm on National Geographic, SKY Channel 72