Life on Mars and beyond...

The cast of doco-drama Mars are split on whether life would be any good on the red planet, writes Matt Sud­dain.

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE | TELEVISION -

Go­ing to Mars is a bit like vis­it­ing a ho­tel bar in Dubai: there’s no at­mos­phere, there’s noth­ing to drink, and if you go out­side you’ll prob­a­bly die. It’s a deso­late, life­less ball of red dirt roughly 140 mil­lion miles away, where noth­ing grows, where one dust storm can cover the en­tire planet and rage for months, and where the tem­per­a­ture can fall to mi­nus-130 de­grees Cel­sius. Plus, a day on Mars is 39 min­utes, 35.244 sec­onds longer than a day on Earth.

You can imag­ine the one-star Trip Ad­vi­sor re­views. ‘‘Too dusty. Days longer but no late check­out avail­able!? Give it a miss.’’

‘‘Life there is tough, but beau­ti­ful,’’ says Cle­men­tine Poi­datz, who plays physi­cist Amelie Du­rand on Na­tional Geo­graphic’s hy­brid doc­u­men­tary-drama show Mars. ‘‘Ev­ery­thing that hap­pens can po­ten­tially be a dis­as­ter, be­cause we’re so far from home. No chance of help. Far away from your fam­ily, your loved ones, good food, good cheese.’’ (Cle­men­tine is French.)

The planet is too far away to even let you call or Skype your fam­ily. The de­lay on the line would be 10 min­utes or more. You’d be lim­ited to video mes­sages, or cryptic sta­tus up­dates. ‘‘Any­one know how to make beer from dust LOL.’’

Jeff Heph­ner, who plays min­ing colony leader Kurt Hur­relle, re­cently gave up drink­ing – though it wasn’t to pre­pare for the fic­tion­alised hard­ships his char­ac­ter will face. He did it for his health. And he misses it. ‘‘It’s a so­cial thing, a thing to get through the day. The dan­gers of an ac­tor’s life’’ – much like a Mar­tian colonist’s life, I imag­ine – ‘‘is that you’ve got noth­ing to do.’’

Sea­son one of Mars fo­cused on the chal­lenges of just get­ting there. This sea­son, a decade has passed since the voy­age, and the In­ter­na­tional Mars Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (IMSF) as­tro­nauts have built a bur­geon­ing colony. The six-episode se­ries arc, which al­ter­nates scripted and doc­u­men­tary se­quences, ex­plores how the set­tlers deal with chal­lenges such as con­tam­i­na­tion, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, the ar­rival of the pri­vate sec­tor, even moth­er­hood.

‘‘I’m the mother of the first Mar­tian baby,’’ says Poi­datz. ‘‘It’s re­ally cool. But there’s this con­flict of ‘Should I have the baby?’ Be­cause that child will be stuck on the planet its whole life. Be­cause of Mar­tian gravity, your bones and mus­cles don’t de­velop the way they would on Earth.’’

‘‘There’ll be some mus­cle wastage,’’ says Stephen Pe­tranek, whose book How We’ll Live on Mars formed the ba­sis for the show. ‘‘But you won’t need as much mus­cle, be­cause for every step you take on Mars you can walk nine feet. You’ll feel like a su­per­hu­man.’’

From left, Jeff Heph­ner, who plays min­ing colony leader Kurt Hur­relle; Cle­men­tine Poi­datz, who plays physi­cist Amelie Du­rand; and Stephen Pe­tranek, whose book How We’ll Live on Mars formed the ba­sis for the Mars show.

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