is reassuring to know the spirit of exploration is still alive and well at
NASA, but it is frustrating to see the agency’s procurement problems also
continue unabated. A gutsy expedition will attempt to make a punishing 2,000-mile
journey across Arctic ice that simulates conditions on Mars, but their vehicle
does not inspire confidence in Jean-Christophe Jeauffre’s documentary Passage to Mars (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
the HMP Okarian Martian Rover Humvee, the trek over frozen and thawing ice to
the NASA station on Devon Island is the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for
a manned mission to Mars. For the crew led by NASA scientist Pascal Lee, this
might be the closest they get to Mars. Unfortunately, malfunctions will
repeatedly jeopardize their terrestrial journey.
combining his fly-on-the-wall footage with extracts from Lee’s journals
narrated by rebooted Star Trek actor
Zachary Quinto, Jeauffre vividly conveys the desolation and extreme climate of
the Arctic Journey. The film also clearly establishes its applicability to the
wider Mars project. However, it does not explain why the project is so wedded
to the Okarian Rover, especially considering the frequency with which crew
members have to set off for civilization in search of spare parts. Presumably,
that would not be an option on Mars. It makes you wonder in whose congressional
district was it built?
is not an idle question. Aside from our interest as taxpayers, the Okarian’s performance
also raises safety issues for a prospective crew. Yet, rather bizarrely, Passage does not even acknowledge this
as an issue. Perhaps Jeauffre and his subjects were understandably more
preoccupied with matters of survival, which were very real concerns.
Jeauffre captures some amazing images and compellingly documents the courage
and commitment of the Okarian crew. Frankly, the real stuff is more impressive
than the planetarium show-style Mars recreations (but don’t worry, it is not in
exploitative 3D). For extra added authenticity, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin
also lends his voice to the proceedings.
is a needed corrective to the tiresome conspiracy theories recycled yet
again in Operation Avalanche. Like
the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury astronauts before them, the Okarian crew are
both idealists and adventurers who inspire by example. Recommended for those
who will appreciate its science and optimism, Passage to Mars opens this Friday (9/30) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Documentary, Mars, NASA