Tonight is the premiere of MARS, a new weekly television series on the National Geographic Channel about our neighboring planet. In a departure from the documentaries that we've come to expect from Nat Geo, this series is part documentary and part dramatization. The scripted element follows an international crew during its Mars mission in the year 2033.
The show's producers claim that the storyline is based on our best guess at what a Martian mission would look like. Many elements seen on the screen, whether it's the vehicles, spacesuits, habitats, mission objectives, and even our motivation for travelling to another planet, are reflections of the ideas of the current-day Mars exploration advocates who were consulted for the show. Sound bites from these advisors make up the documentary elements of MARS. Many of the faces will be familiar to you, such as Elon Musk, Scott, Kelly, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jim Lovell, and Andy Weir.
I've watched the first two episodes of MARS and found them enjoyable. I'm easy to please when it comes to documentaries, so that aspect was a slam dunk. At the same time, I'm a harsh critic of space-based dramas. Although I thought the pace of the storyline was a bit slow, it avoided my usual gripe about these types of stories: too much suspension of disbelief. I don't recall many instances where I pointed at the screen yelling "No way! That's not how it works!" The producers did their homework.
While the dramatic and real-life aspects of the show complement each other, I think that either could stand on its own as well. I won't offer any spoilers here, as I'm sure many of you already have plans to watch tonight's episode. However, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the unique thinking within the book (and TED talk) that inspired the show, Stephen Petranek's How We'll Live on Mars.