What does the word sacrifice mean in today’s culture? Is it just a concept rarely seen outside of making sure the family gets to take a vacation once a year? Is it something only discussed within the subject of the armed forces? Is it a state of mind that comes out when trying to accomplish a long-term goal?
For the first astronauts who attempt to break the bonds of gravity and start a colony on Mars, sacrifice means something different. Nobody can hear you scream on Mars (for at least ten minutes, if at all) and if a problem arises, Amazon’s not shipping a package in two days containing the items necessary to solve it. Sacrifice means a different mental state of mind—one that understands the inherent risks and still is able to make the best of all situations. As Ann Druyan, one of the commentators on National Geographic Channel’s series Mars (9 PM/8 CT Monday) noted, can we survive on a world we were not made for? Without sacrifice, it simply cannot happen.
In the second episode (“Grounded”), we get to pick up the adventures of Daedalus’ crew as they attempt to make the best of a landing that threw them 75 km (46 mi) off course. They were able to summon a rover to the landing site, but face additional problems—they add too much weight to the vehicle and have to navigate some treacherous terrain in order to reach the base. It turns out the rover breaks 16 km (9 mi) out, forcing the crew to walk the rest of the way with their cargo in the dead of the Martian night, when temperatures can reach -100 degrees Celsius (-148 degrees Fahrenheit). Compounding the situation is Mission Commander Ben Sawyer (Ben Cotton), whose injuries sustained during the landing are worse than he let on. He collapses and has to be carried as well, while Mission Physician Amelie Durand (Clémentine Poidatz) attempts to keep him alive.
Will the astronauts make to the base before either they a) freeze to death or b) run out of air? Can Sawyer be treated for his injuries in time? What happens next if everything is successful? Is this trip just a very expensive form of human sacrifice?
The real-day portion of the second episode of Mars focuses on retired astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a full year aboard the International Space Station. It looks like residents of the ISS have a good deal of fun, but at what cost? That’s a question scientists are attempting to answer as they take a look at Kelly. What, if anything, happened to his body systems during a year of no gravity? The heart has to work less in space, so what does that mean for those who will make a trip to Mars? Will future visitors to the Red Planet begin to look like humans in the film WALL*E? In addition, the viewer gets a glimpse of how Kelly’s daughter handles not seeing her father as she begins her middle school years. It’s not easy; that’s for sure.
I’ve asked enough questions in this review, so I’ll end with an observation (and a foreshadowed spoiler). If a person chooses to go to Mars, they must understand the inherent risks in going—losing touch with everything they’ve ever known, living in a world of unknowns, and knowing that their life could end at any time. Mission Commander Sawyer makes the express decision to fix the spaceship in order to preserve the lives of the other astronauts, but pays a price for it that results in a very somber moment at the episode’s conclusion. In the Bible, there’s a gathering of the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council) regarding Jesus and his ministry. They’re concerned that he’s becoming too powerful and will take them out soon (not the case, by the way). During the discussions, the chief priest Caiaphas says to those gathered, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50 NIV). Sawyer epitomized this concept in what he would’ve simply called going his job. In reality, he sacrificed himself to save the other five. It’s a similar concept to what Jesus did for humanity by dying for their sins—and then returning to life again, having conquered death once for all.
The crew of the Daedalus has a lot to think about at the conclusion of the second episode of Mars—and so do we. Perhaps we’ll see sacrifice in a whole new light.