We were on Mars! Filming has resumed of the feature-documentary film Magna Carta on Mars that I am directing and producing with executive producers Philippa Kowarsky, Alex Cooke and Alan Hayling. At the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), we were filming the Crew 275. Their several-weeks-long training also means living and working in an isolated environment, eating only dried and powdered food and only two types of fresh vegetables: salad and tomatoes, which can be grown on site in their Martian-style garden. We filmed the French crew of seven, each of them experts in their field of science, along with Sergii Lakymov, currently working as deputy director at the MDRS, who has been living there in complete isolation since September. His dream is to acquire USA citizenship and then apply for the job at NASA.
The human struggle of living and working on Mars with its many obstacles is yet to be explored, but we are all believers: we know that one day Mars will become a new home for the human family. Our film revels in the personal challenges and scientific achievements of the first few people who will bring humanity into the extraterrestrial.
Humans are set to land on Mars at the end of this decade or very early in the next one. However, questions about the purpose of our mission to the Red Planet remain open: will we explore or colonise it and turn it into a habitable place? The ethical justification of this mission is another important question that must be considered.
However, Mars is currently a hostile and lethal planet for humans, with an average temperature of -60 degrees and a thin atmosphere that cannot sustain human life for long periods of time. Surviving on Mars will require constant production of oxygen and water, limited freedom of movement and exercise, and living in underground tunnels and passages, and domes with protective anti-radiation shelters.
Humans on Mars will have to be very creative, with upscaled technical abilities, although their life will in many ways be compared with the life of the indigenes people. We saw some of this at the MDRS in Utah, USA, at the simulation camp of the Mars Society. Crew 275 is working and living in conditions as predicted on Mars; this means entering and living in the main building with two doors, and they must perform one minute of pressurising each time they enter or exit the set. Their rooms are tiny, and the living area is very simplified, just like it will be years from now on Mars.
The commander of Crew 275, Jérémy Rabineau, told us that the biggest risk of human travel to Mars is the psychological impact. How will our minds work in such an extreme environment when we are far away from our friends and family, far away from all we know and are familiar with? Travelling for seven months each way, plus spending at least half a year on Mars, a planet so distant that our Earth is only a tiny dot – sometimes hard to even spot – is just one of the challenges. Another, which is related to Jérémy’s PhD research, is the condition of the human heart. We know that our bodies hold the heart in the middle-chest area and that because of the gravity we get more blood to our legs than to our head. The typical problem astronauts are facing working in space (lower Earth orbit), with zero gravity, is fainting, which is caused due to the heart pumping an equal amount of blood to our head and legs at the same time. Martian gravity is weaker, about one third of the Earth’s, and no one knows yet what the actual impact to the heart and other organs, including brain, bladder and stomach, will mean while working and living on Mars.
We can already predict the many obstacles, hazards, and extremely challenging situations ahead but, maybe hard to understand for many, the excitement and love for scientific exploration is eagerly greater to those working towards it, and they are determined that one day, in the foreseeable future, they will be able to make steps on Mars, as do I. It is hard work, and a goal which can feel unachievable, but it’s one that has driven scientists throughout the history of human virtue.