Space travel is an endeavor that is not without risk. As we’ve seen during the first five episodes of the Mars miniseries on the National Geographic Channel (Mondays, 9 PM/8 CT), the crew of the Daedalus endured a difficult landing, the loss of their mission commander, the constant risk of freezing to death, as well as a host of other issues. Why would they put their lives at risk in this manner? If you asked them, they would say it was necessary to put humanity in a position to live on a planet other than Earth. Yet the tragic events of the fifth episode have put Olympus Town on complete lockdown and are threatening to end the whole mission. As a result, there’s an opportunity for the viewer to stop and consider what it means to count the cost. Is risk worth it in the end? Perhaps there’s an answer in the final minute of the episode . . .
At first glance, the final episode of Mars may seem like a simple retrospective due to the sheer amount of downtime the crew experiences, so if you’re looking for lots of action, you’re going to be disappointed. However, there is quite a bit to consider, and that is perhaps why so much space (pardon the pun) is given for contemplation by director Everardo Gout. The people on Earth and IMSF are at the point where sentiment in the mission has given way to concern for death and destruction. Do the scientists of Olympus Town need to be evacuated for their own good? Has the expeition become the biggest and most expensive failure in human history? Were we always so farsighted to think we could seriously explore and inhabit a planet we were not created on?
That’s a question that has haunted the residents of Earth since the late 1960s.
After successfully putting men on the moon, NASA struggled mightily with Apollo 13’s near-catastrophe. They eventually considered two options: a full-scale expedition to Mars (the Saturn V rocket could do the trick nicely) or a reusable space airplane that would orbit the Earth and perform experiments. Eventually, President Nixon decided a potentially fatal mission to Mars would ground the space program forever and chose the Space Shuttle as the premier vehicle for exploration. As we know, that decision has not been without catastrophe on multiple occasions (Challenger 1986; Columbia 2001). But, as scientists noted, we’ve been stuck in orbit around our own planet for nearly fifty years. Is it time to change all that?
The issue of reusable rockets is revisited in the final episode as SpaceX attempts to land the first stage of a rocket on a floating barge, with the viewer getting a real-time perspective from CEO Elon Musk. This time, the landing is successful. Perhaps we can make interplanetary travel happen sooner than later!
We create goals in life (maybe not as big as a trip to Mars), but along the way we get sidetracked by the noise of life and the dream gets lost or merely forgotten. Jesus discussed the solution to this once: “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14-28-30 NASB). Perhaps we’ll be on Mars in 2037 (or sooner), but if we really want to go there, we must keep the goal in sight and be ready to handle any setbacks that arise along the way.
If anything, the Mars series has provided some topics for discussion regarding the reason for traveling into space (backup plans and safety concerns are two of them). Perhaps expeditions won’t be completely scientific in the future, instead transporting people to a new locale or expensive vacation destination. But time will tell the answer if this is the case. Until then, we continue to look at the stars and dream of the red planet.