Inside Nat Geos Incredible Documentary Mission to Mars

A spaceship is preparing to land on Mars when the crew notices that one of the thrusters isnt firing. There is, as they say, a problem. But theres no use telling Houstonby the time a distress message reaches home more than 30 million miles away, either the astronauts on board will be space dust or humanity will have become an interplanetary species.

Thats the premise of National Geographics new series, Mars, which mixes documentary and speculation to tell the parallel stories of two groups: the fictional future explorers who will make that first journey, and the pioneers of todayscientists, astronauts, and strategistswho are blazing the trail. In the premier episode, for example, that white-knuckle landing scene is spliced with a look at Elon Musks SpaceX as engineers test a real retropropulsion landing system.

Every piece of tech in the show was designed to accurately reflect the current scientific vision of how well get to Marsand to avoid the gaffes that have undermined recent films and invited the wrath of astrophysicist/space ombudsman Neil deGrasse Tyson. As executive producer Ron Howard puts it, Its not sci-fi! (Indeed, President Obama has outlined a vision to send humans into Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.) Heres how Mars envisions our red future.

The Crew

The Mission

The six astronauts in Mars travel to their new home in a rocket called the Daedalus, and their ship is based on science thats more than simply plausibleits coming, and fast. This is technology that will probably be tested in the next five years, executive producer Justin Wilkes says. The spacecraft is heavily inspired by SpaceX, but it also borrows design elements from NASA, Boeing, and even the Russian space program. Other films say Lets make it look cool, production designer Sophie Becher says. We asked, Hows this going to function? Where are they going to use the bathroom?

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