MARS: Could We Be a Multi-Planet Species? Ron Howard and NGC Team Up to Show You How it Might Happen Sooner Than You Think

Mars Nat Geo National Geographic: Robert Viglasky
Could you be here?

MARS premieres Monday, Nov. 14 at 9/8CT on National Geographic Channel.

Fifty years.

In just 50 years, a thriving colony of humans will live beneath the surface of Mars. That’s not science fiction. Not prognostication. Not the pipe dream of a handful of billionaires with money to burn. And National Geographic Channel is about to take you on an awe-inspiring journey that examines how humans might someday — someday soon — be Martians.

In its most ambitious television project ever, the network partnered with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, RadicalMedia and a veritable who’s who of scientific minds and other “big thinkers” (the complete list follows) to create the unprecedented six-part miniseries MARS, which debuts this month on NGC. MARS blends scripted drama and feature film-caliber effects with provocative documentary segments — including interviews with those folks at the forefront of space research and technology — into a new frontier of education and entertainment.

Click here to stream the first MARS episode for free!

“The notion began as a documentary look at Elon Musk, SpaceX and some of the other space programs that are beginning to focus on Mars,” Howard tells us. “We thought that would be interesting and compelling. Then the notion came to our minds to actually dramatize what it is that we were learning through the documentary — what that might be like for human beings. We found that could be very cinematic and exciting, and the combination became a really cool, creative experiment.”

The scripted tale — which Howard says makes up half of each episode — begins in 2033 as a powerful public-private partnership unveils the first manned mission to Mars. Joining forces are the fictional Mars Mission Corporation (MMC), a London-based consortium of aerospace corporations handling the hardware for the program, and the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), created by a coalition of space-ready nations looking to stave off human extinction as Earth faces its inevitable demise.

Boarding the revolutionary spacecraft Daedalus? An international crew of six highly skilled, specially chosen astronauts. The group must first establish a sustainable base camp, then scout viable subterranean space to support a long-term home for the next wave of arrivals in 2035 and 2037 — 36 more people who will bring the supplies and manpower to expand the settlement to 1,000 people by 2100.

Including a new generation that has never set foot on Earth.

“These are fully fleshed-out characters depicting real, dramatic situations that came out of the research that we did in the interviews from these big thinkers,” Howard stresses. “Those interviews were all done before we began our scripted material; they influenced the storytelling in very significant ways. To you as a viewer, it will feel more viable and more authentic, because it’ll relate directly to information that you’re learning from people who are dedicating their lives to it today.”

People including Mars habitations’ most vocal and active proponent, business mogul and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who aims to best NASA’s plan to put humans on Mars in the 2030s. “This series has more film of Elon Musk and more hours of interviews with him and an inside look at SpaceX than has ever existed anywhere,” notes Stephen Petranek, an emerging technology expert whose book How We’ll Live on Mars informs the series, as well. “If you took all the film and all the writing that has ever been made about Elon Musk and SpaceX, what National Geographic has to work with in this series is 10 times as much.”

“We sent camera crews and documentary producers all over to collect these interviews, but I happened to be available and was there to interview Elon Musk,” says Howard. “That was thrilling. And I was very pleased that Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, agreed to participate, as well. I wish I could have been there for all of them.”

Petranek says that MARS’ own mission is to help us devout earthlings understand —and embrace — that natural and man-made forces are working against a sustainable Earth and that humanity’s best hope is interplanetary habitation. And, as has been the case for explorers since the beginning of time, people must be willing to die for the mission — a reality Howard doesn’t take lightly. “To me, there’s tremendous drama in people who are willing to risk everything in the spirit of exploration,” he says. “I want to support that idea. I hope this series ignites people’s imaginations and excites them about the idea of deep space exploration and colonization.” Just don’t expect him to be first in line to go. Or even last.

“I could help them figure out where to put the cameras and suggest what they might try to shoot when they’re up there — and if they want to send it back to Earth, I can also help them edit it together,” he admits. “But I would not have the interest in donning the suit and going!”

Meet The Big Thinkers

  • Charles Bolden, NASA administrator; former NASA astronaut
  • Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman, X PRIZE; cofounder and co-chairman, Planetary Resources
  • David Dinges, professor, department of psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania
  • Casey Dreier, director of space policy, Planetary Society
  • Ann Druyan, executive producer, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
  • Charles Elachi, retired director, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL); professor emeritus, Caltech
  • Jim Green, director, NASA planetary science division
  • John Grunsfeld, retired NASA associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate; former NASA astronaut
  • Jennifer Heldmann, NASA research scientist, Planetary Systems Branch
  • Jedidah Isler, award-winning astrophysicist; 2016 National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer
  • Thomas Kalil, deputy director for policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; senior adviser for science, technology and innovation, National Economic Council
  • Roger Launius, associate director of collections and curatorial affairs, Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum
  • John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs, The George Washington University
  • James Lovell, former NASA astronaut; commander, Apollo 13 mission
  • Elon Musk, CEO and chief technology officer, SpaceX; CEO, Tesla Motors; chairman, SolarCity
  • Stephen Petranek, author of How We’ll Live on Mars
  • Mary Roach, author of Packing for Mars
  • Jennifer Trosper, project systems engineer, JPL
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, director, Hayden Planetarium at The Rose Center for Earth and Space
  • Andy Weir, author of The Martian
  • Robert Zubrin, president, The Mars Society; president, Pioneer Astronautics

MARS premieres Monday, Nov. 14 at 9/8CT on National Geographic Channel.

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Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.