Tonight, National Geographic Channel will unveil its most ambitious television project to date — the unprecedented six-part miniseries MARS, which blends scripted drama and feature film-caliber effects with provocative documentary segments into a new frontier of education and entertainment.
Created in partnership with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, RadicalMedia and a veritable who’s who of scientific minds and other “big thinkers” (see the complete list here), MARS boasts an international cadre of adventure-seeking actors playing its international cadre of humanity-saving space travelers. The scripted tale 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.
We sat down with some of the major players on location in Budapest.
• Olivier Martinez — Ed Grann, French CEO of the Mars Mission Corporation
On his Elon-Musk-like character:
He’s rational, but he’s crazy, too, and I like that part of the contradiction. I feel like Ed is obviously a visionary man who has bigger plans … and he needs to find a plan B for humanity. He’s a scientist and he’s totally enlightened by a kind of faith coming from — I don’t know — the stars! It’s, like, very religious in the process. And he’s a scientist so religion doesn’t usually fit together. Another contradiction. I love that. It’s human. It’s complicated. It’s not black and white.
We have a finished product [in Earth]. This planet is becoming smaller and smaller. And we are more and more. Plus, we destroy it faster and faster. So at one point this humanity is going to face the war. Which is coming very quickly now. I think one or two generations and that’s it. It even seems like greediness makes us smaller. The French say it’s like your house is on fire and you’re still cooking in the house. Be careful! It’s coming! and I feel like [inaudible 00:03:33] is obviously a visionary man who has bigger plans than that and feel it already and we need to find a plan B for humanity.
Would you go?
I tell you right away: No! So don’t ask! But the universe is opening possibilities which are beyond the imagination, and I love that.
• Jihae — American twin sisters Hana Seung, a mission pilot and systems engineer, and Joon Seung, a capsule communicator
On tackling twins in her first series TV role:
I initially drew from my own duality, and then I have two older sisters. I created a very specific back story from age five for each character. From traumas to dreams to teenagers’ first love — very detailed. Their history had to be so specific in my mind, and I drew from things — some of them were mine, some of them were my sister’s, some of them I don’t know where they came from. When you have two very specific histories of a person, of each individual, then you get a very clear idea of what makes them click. What makes each individual be more susceptible to certain things versus another, tougher or not, That was key for me, actually.
Would you go?
I’m always up for adventure.
I am so interested in it now because I had no idea before that 4.6 billion years ago Mars was like Earth. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know there were oceans and lakes and rivers. I didn’t know that, for 40 years, Dr. Joel Levine was figuring out, with his international team, that they can melt the ice on Mars using the sun, and then they can plant photosynthetic plants to create oxygen. I didn’t know all these plans were at work. I was always a big fan of Elon Musk, but he’s so fast. In 2018 they’re sending a Red Dragon.
I’m not sure that I think that the statement [that Earth will soon no longer be viable] is pessimistic. Steven Hawking said a similar thing, that the future of humanity is outer space. Considering climate change, considering that during the dinosaur age, that species went extinct after one asteroid, any of this stuff is possible at any moment in time. I don’t think it’s pessimism. I think it’s realism, actually. We were explorers from Africa. We were explorers by nature. I think it’s just a natural evolution, really.
• Sammi Rotibi — Robert Foucault, Nigerian mechanical engineer and roboticist
On what he shares with Foucault:
I’m originally from Nigeria and I always wanted to be an aeronautic engineer, to fly, and also a mechanical engineer. I’ve seen Top Gun and I like Tom Cruise, but I wanted to be Val Kilmer because I thought he was so cool. … I found that Robert is very dedicated to his work, he’s constantly seeking. Seeking something beyond him. He’s very good at what he does. There’s also another side of him, he’s got a daughter. I don’t have a daughter but I know what it’s like to have that bond with your family. In a lot of ways I always say I was blessed with this role from my mom, because my mom passed away literally a week before I had a Skype meeting with Everardo, our director. In a cosmic way I think that she blessed me with this.
I give a lot of kudos to astronauts. They go through strenuous, intense training, which they need to. The suit itself, the helmet, it weighs on you. You have to mentally psych yourself to be able to deal with it, to be able to take the pressure of it all. When you put on that suit it brings this kind of feeling, that you just feel power, just feel prestigious. Like you’re representing the human race. For me as an African-American to represent the first African-American on Mars is amazing. Going through that and just thinking about that helps me as far as the preparation for my role, and also playing this. The videos our director sends us, just prepare us for the role. It’s amazing being in zero gravity. God, it’s so much I don’t know where to start,
Would you go?
Why not? I’ve lived many years on Earth and I’m always yearning for what’s out there. To be able to have a settlement on Mars, to be able to bring people to Mars — I’m very adventurous and I like to try new things, so why not? You can only live once. When you’re going to go, you’re going to go. If it happens going to Mars, so be it!
Alberto Ammann — Javier Delgado, Mexican hydrologist and geochemist
On the idea of a dying Earth:
The first feeling is like some kind of sadness when I think about that: “Oh, this planet, it’s not forever?” But I think it’s a little bit childish to not understand that. I think we have a childish relationship with our environment and our world, so it’s good to have this tough revelation about ‘it’s not forever.’ We can do whatever we want or somebody wants with our planet, with our home, so we need to take care about that. I hope our evolution is going to be healthy. I think this is tough but it’s good to put it in front of us and watch and say “OK, maybe an asteroid or maybe our own acts are going to destroy this planet so we need to try to find another place, and in that moment realize that we need to take care about this place.
Would you go?
No way! For sure not now. Maybe when I was 70 or 80. Say, “OK, let’s go buddy!”
Trying to imagine how is this, just getting into the spaceship and a one-ticket ride. You don’t know if you’re going to come back, if you’re going to see your family, your friends. I can’t imagine.
Clémentine Poidatz — Amelie Durand, French mission physician and biochemist
On the series’ “science faction”:
Planet Earth is the center of what we imagine to be the universe — because we live on planet Earth. What if there were other people? What if people from our planet go and just live somewhere else that is so far away? It would change our entire perception of the galaxy. It’s so huge, I don’t know how we’ll react to that. I don’t know how we will deal with that, knowing that some people live on another planet, because it changes, I think, everything.
Would you go?
I want to go there! At first I would love to go to ISS, the International Space Station, just for a week or two. Just to see what it is to be in such a small space, place in space, in orbit, with people from different countries, nationalities, such different backgrounds, and just to see how they deal with that very tiny society in a spaceship. I have no idea. Even if I’ve been watching videos, I would love to see what it is. To be weightless, I would love to do it. We trained in the swimming pool, but — come on! — it’s not the same thing. I would love to be just floating. Just to see planet Earth from a total different point of view. Just to leave the atmosphere. To think about it is like, “Wow, I want to do it.” I would love to go to Mars. I would love to!
Anamaria Marinca — Marta Kamen, Russian exobiologist and geologist
On projecting positive about life on Mars:
This is actually science. I’m really proud of being part of a half fiction, half documented project that is being made by National Geographic, and that is based on facts. We’re not doing a sci-fi piece. We’re just trying to imagine what is going to happen, and I think it’s an exercise for all of us. It has to do with story telling, and with what’s central to the human existence.
We don’t know how far can we go. We are the only ones who can limit our existence, our knowledge. We are the ones who draw these limitations — and they come later in life. Ask a child. A child can look at a ladybug for hours. We don’t have time. We write texts; we don’t talk to each other. We actually, we avoid looking in a person’s eyes. I take the tube and nobody looks me in the eye. Why? I smile, I’m a nice person. We don’t like confrontation, we don’t like their questions. We don’t ask enough direct questions, like children do. The beginning philosophy is the question, “Why?” That’s how it all starts. Children ask, “Why” all the time. We stop asking “Why”. I think that the minds that we’re speaking about, are starting to ask themselves, “How?” And they’re giving us answers. In order to make something, to do something, human beings have to first imagine it. Just being a very small part of this gives me an amazing reason to get up every day!
Would you go?
In 2033 I’ll be too old for travel in space. But I do believe that we will find a way to survive.
Cosima Shaw — Leslie Richardson, British geneticist, administrator and leader of MMC’s Phase 3 settlement team.
On training with and learning from astronaut Mae Jamison:
I didn’t know what to expect when we met Mae, but I have to say, it really blew my mind the way she spoke about herself and what it takes to become an astronaut and just her whole life journey. It really exemplifies that mindset that you possibly need to establish a new civilization on a different planet, because it means constantly pushing the boundaries. In her case, that really meant starting from a very young age. I think she did say she always dreamed about going into space, but that was just one of the things that she wanted to accomplish. And everything that she did, she seems to have done with this sense of “Yeah, I can do that!” — and that’s really refreshing to see on anyone. It’s a rare thing. She just applied herself to everything and she’s succeeded in so many different areas. She’s moved on from being part of a space mission, a NASA mission and she’s part of the 100-year spaceship program, thinking even further ahead, thinking past Mars colonization, thinking about what else is there to gain from space exploration.
I was really and deeply inspired by that. We all got so stressed, I think because we really wanted to impress her. There wasn’t a single person in the room who didn’t really want to do well in front of Mae Jamison. She wasn’t strict, but you want to impress her, you want to make sure you’re on her good books. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I wasn’t bored for one minute. We sat with her for hours and hours for three days in a row and there wasn’t one dull minute in there.
Would you go?
It’s very hard to answer that question, because it takes place in the future and we just don’t know what the pressures will be at that point. I assume they would be great enough to make it that much more pressing and that much more real. As for myself, right here and now, I cannot imagine going to Mars because I don’t like flying. For starters, the idea of being marooned on a spaceship for eight months is possibly the worst thing you could do to me. I’d have to be heavily sedated all the way through, which probably wouldn’t make me into a very good astronaut. Plus the idea of not being surrounded by trees and light and oxygen is difficult!
MARS premieres Monday, Nov. 14 at 9/8CT on National Geographic Channel.