Mars Rising

Mars Rising
Back in 2003, George Bush announced that NASA would be exploring the possibility of conquering the Martian landscape within the foreseeable future — a life sustainment option somewhat more akin to Red Planet than De Palma's Mission to Mars. Because Mars is significantly farther than the Moon — its closest proximity was 55 million kilometres back when Bush announced this, versus the 384,000 kilometres distance to the Moon — the voyage holds its own unique set of challenges. This six-part Discovery Channel documentary narrated by William Shatner examines these issues in depth, dividing them into segments on fuel and ship design, protection from cosmic radiation, inherent human conflict and psychological breakdown on a two-year trek, setting up camp and conducting research on the planet. It's all clearly explained for the layman, with historical context and alternate theory approaches to expand on the sheer scope and thought invested in the project. While all of the episodes provide intrigue, whether it's speculation on ship design or the IKEA approach to travel, wherein the actual travel vessel is shipped up to Earth's orbit in pieces and assembled in space, the human factor is the most compelling. While life without gravity sounds like a lot of fun, allowing astronauts to float around from one place to another, it turns out that it causes significant deterioration in bone and muscle mass, leaving them weak and fragile after prolonged exposure. Therein lies the challenge of creating artificial gravity on board, which solves physical problems, but doesn't resolve the bigger issue, which is that of isolating six people in a confined space for two-and-a-half years. Whether it's sexual tension, personality conflict or gradual psychological breakdown, the likelihood of instability in relations is high, as is the inconsistency in work when people are taken from latency periods and thrust into action. Watching the politically correct Discovery Channel's handling of basic human evils is quite fascinating and even a little awkward. And while this all makes for engaging viewing, the one issue in watching this documentary series on DVD is that it was made for television, as they are constantly repeating information and reframing after commercial breaks. Even the entire first episode of the series is a synopsis of the five episodes to follow. Fortunately, James Cameron pops up every once in awhile to embarrass himself as a "NASA consultant" or some such nonsense. (E1)