The Risks and Perils of NASA’s Manned Mission to Mars
The feature-length documentary explores NASA’s ambitious plan to send humans to the Red Planet. Tom, a former US Army Special Forces officer, and Kayla, a submarine warfare officer in the US Navy, find themselves facing the challenge of being on different planets. Kayla, who became an astronaut in 2020, is selected as one of the four crew members for NASA’s milestone mission to Mars, which will span three years.
In the thought-provoking documentary titled “The Longest Goodbye” on BBC4, Tom openly expresses his concerns, highlighting the daunting nature of a three-year journey. Furthermore, Kayla’s training experiences on the International Space Station (ISS) have done little to alleviate Tom’s worries. The ISS crew faced a potential threat from space debris resulting from a missile test by Russia, which caused them to seek shelter in capsules. Although the debris ultimately caused no harm, Tom questions if this mission is truly worth the risks.
Watching this serious film, one can’t help but question the sanity of even the most highly trained astronauts who willingly embark on such a mysterious journey to Mars. The risks involved in such a lengthy voyage are numerous – from potential damage caused by space debris to severe illness among crew members or technological failures. The worst case scenario, as experts explain, would be a complete communication failure between the astronauts and NASA ground control.
Most importantly, it is unclear how the human mind, the most intricate machine of all, will withstand three years confined in a spacecraft. As Dr. Jack Suster, the “human factors specialist,” states, “Soft, squishy humans are completely unfathomable to engineers.” This documentary serves as a reminder of NASA’s attempt in 2018 to simulate a Mars flight experience. The simulation involved four scientists from different backgrounds living in a dome in a remote part of Hawaii, mimicking the Martian landscape. However, the experiment faced immediate setbacks, including communication failures and a power outage resulting in an electric shock to one of the team members. The tensions within the group regarding whether to seek medical assistance led to the cancellation of the simulation after just one week, causing international embarrassment to NASA.
The film also sheds light on the emotional strain experienced by the loved ones left behind during these lengthy missions. The audience witnesses the toll it takes on now-retired astronaut Cady Coleman’s family as they communicate via video calls during her six months aboard the ISS in 2007. Cady’s young son Jamey becomes increasingly agitated, with hindsight revealing the significance of a simple hug from his mother. Jamey reflects, “You never know how much you’ll miss that until you don’t have it.” Considering the limited real-time communication options during a Mars mission, the astronauts would face heightened feelings of loneliness and isolation.
This enthralling documentary challenges the viewer’s perception of a Mars mission. As it progresses, the desirability of embarking on such an extraordinary journey becomes increasingly questionable.
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