Humans have had an obsession with visiting Mars for years. Capitalizing on that fascination, many filmmakers have attempted to depict what it would be like if humans actually made it there — and the new Hulu show The First has the same goal. If you're planning to give the show a watch, you may be wondering: Is it possible for humans to travel to Mars? No human has ever set foot on the "red planet," but many in the aeronautical field would certainly like to see it happen one day.
For those in the United States, eight episodes of The First dropped on Hulu on Sept. 14; for those in the United Kingdom, the show will be making its way to Channel 4 this fall. According to Hulu, The First tells the story of a group of five astronauts (one of whom Sean Penn plays) on a mission to become the first humans to colonize Mars.
OK, just how realistic could that be? Based on the trailer, the show feels like a drama with a dollop of science fiction. Hulu is billing the show as a "near-future drama," and it's set in New Orleans in the early 2030s, implying that perhaps humans really will have the technology to visit Mars 12 years from now.
So, is there a chance that humans could really make it to Mars within that time frame? Space.com recently spoke with NASA's former director of its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Charles Elachi, to get some insight. After watching The First, Elachi told Space.com that "all of this could happen in the next decade or next 12 to 15 years," referring to self-driving cars and other new technology, in addition to humans launching off to Mars. He also argued that The First isn't really science fiction because everything on screen could actually happen in the near future. He told Space.com:
[The First] really does not go into science fiction. It kind of pushes the limit of what can be done in the future, but everything done in the film, I think, can happen in the next decade, technically speaking. That's what I like about it.
The show comes from the mind of Beau Willimon, who also created House of Cards, so he definitely has some experience with writing heightened realities for dramatic television. And, like Elachi, Willimon sees The First as pushing the limits of the future more so than simple science fiction.
“I’ve always been interested in space and adventure travels,” Willimon told The New York Times in an interview published on Monday. "Not just space, but also tales of people pushing themselves to extremes, to their limits. Whether it’s climbing a mountain or going to the ocean depths, or Shackleton trying to traverse Antarctica.”
Part of Willimon's fascination with these adventures comes from the idea that their benefits often do not outweigh their risks. He also told The New York Times:
Some of these desires are almost irrational ... Because there really is no way to explain why someone would place themselves in that much risk and peril in order to get to this place that doesn’t necessarily even have a practical benefit other than the accomplishment itself.
On top of space buffs wanting to put humans on Mars, potential missions already have the support of the U.S. government. In October 2016, President Barack Obama declared his goal of humans making a round-trip journey to Mars by the 2030s. In an essay for CNN, Obama wrote:
We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way.
And back in 2014, Chris Carberry, the executive director of Explore Mars Inc, envisioned a similar future. He told Space.com that a mission to Mars in the 2030s would have been possible had the U.S.' spending levels not been sequestered in 2013. Should the nation's budget change, the possibility of a trip to Mars will become much more likely, Carberry said.
So while you wait around for 2030 to get here, The First should have plenty of #Mars content to keep you entertained.