The area I live in is known for occasional dust storms that are more of a nuisance than anything, blowing tumbleweeds across the highway and make driving a bit of a challenge. However, we had a dust storm two years ago that literally scared me. The winds whipped with such frenzy that the dust in the air caused the sun to completely disappear. As a result, the sky went pitch black and visibility was reduced to zero. The conditions continued for over an hour, causing my commute home to become a white-knuckle affair.
As a result of that dust storm, I cannot imagine being in the situation our group of intrepid explorers face in the penultimate episode of Mars (Monday, 9 PM/8CT, National Geographic). Recall that at the end of the fourth episode, three of the original crew members stare at an incredibly large dust storm spewing lightning. This storm has dragged on for eight weeks and isn’t close to subsiding. As a result, any activity outside the complex is prohibited. And since the nuclear reactor was not put back online before the storm started, battery power is the only thing running the place (the solar arrays are covered with dust and are useless). That’s an awfully precarious scenario to be in. Power has to be rationed, causing the plants in the greenhouse to wither and die, much to the chagrin of Dr. Paul Richardson (John Light), who has changed significantly as a result of the trip. He’s incredibly distant and crew doctor Amélie Durand (Clementine Poidatz) senses a psychological issue is the problem. His drawings, however, may tell a different story.
The focus of this episode of Mars centers on why a psychological balance in space life is important. It’s not as easy as one might think. Going outside isn’t always a possibility. Astronauts may not see the sun for months at a time. If a person gets upset with someone, they can’t deal with the issue(s) by simply walking away. Space life is, in many ways, like being in prison, only with (hopefully) nicer individuals to deal with. There is a severe toll placed not only on the human body, but the mind as well. An example from Russia is cited, where a six-member crew was placed in a sealed environment for 520 days; only two of the six managed to stay psychologically stable for the entire time period. Hollywood may glamorize space, but it’s not as much fun as one might think.
Yet at the same time, community is of the utmost importance. People have to learn how to get along, how to take care of each other, how to live life together. Loners are prime candidates for causing problems to themselves and others. It reminds me quite a bit of the early church after Jesus’ resurrection. The Bible says, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47 NASB). Taking care of each other is important in life, and the sooner we realize that, the better off we’ll be as a collective whole. It allows us an opportunity to put Jesus’ words into action in tangible ways people can see and react to (the story in Acts notes that as a result of their actions, God added to the believer’s numbers daily).
Will the colony on Mars survive the storm (and each other)? Will the powers-that-be on Earth pull the plug on the whole mission? Will there be a surprise none of us saw coming? Only one episode remains to answer all of these questions . . .