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Explore Mars at the Goodman Theater

We chat with science writer Andrew Fazekas about a new Mars documentary


National Geographic Live, a partner of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, comes to Chicago over the next few months to host a live lecture series at the Goodman Theatre. Science writer Andrew Fazekas kicked off the series with the first event, Mankind to Mars, and brought along experts on Mars to talk about a new National Geographic show that speculates on what the first manned mission to the red planet will be like. And this isn’t so far off: Experts believe we will send our first astronauts to Mars within the next 20 years! We chatted with Fazekas to get more detail on what the world can expect from this 45-million-mile journey to Mars.

What’s the gist of the talk at the Goodman?
It’s really getting the audience to get excited about Mars exploration and seeing a possible future of humans going to Mars. The foundation is the blockbuster mini series on National Geographic premiering Nov 14. It takes place in 2033 and showcases a crew of humans from many different countries going on this first adventure on the surface of Mars. What makes this unique is what you’ll witness is a storytelling of that adventure and juxtapose that with real interviews with scientists today and how we got to 2033.

What can people expect out of this?
People will see never-before-seen clips from the video series, interviews with big thinkers, leading scientists and inventors associated with space and Mars exploration. The audience will get a sense of what a historic milestone it’ll be for people to go to Mars. They will walk away realizing we’re closer than you thought about humans going to Mars. It’s basically a giant puzzle with many different components – technology, the renewable resources we’ll need, health components – and we’re slowly putting this puzzle together piece by piece.

What do you think will happen on the first manned mission to Mars?
Those first boot prints on Martian soil will be momentous — and an even greater moment than Neil Armstrong. It’ll be fraught with life challenging moments. One or all of the crew may perish – there’s a big chance of that. It’s pushing the boundaries of what it’s all about. Humankind has always wanted to expand our frontiers and this is the next great frontier. If we’re on multiple worlds, that ensures the survival of our species. It’ll also have amazing discoveries we can’t even fathom.

What are some of your predictions – and what are they based on?
On Mars you mean? Definitely a large reservoir of water; that would be key. We already have evidence that exists. That almost ensures our ability to have renewable resources. Water is also used for making fuel for rockets, generating power, using it for greenhouses to grow food. Water is the key ingredient for life for us to survive and also the possibility of finding Martian life. NASA has a mantra: Follow the water. And it seems like water is everywhere on Mars. That’ll be key to make Mars home.

What would a typical day be like on the journey?
When talking about flying to Mars, it can take anywhere from six to nine months. That’s one way. It’s a long road trip. You’re going to be in closed quarters of a group of four to seven individuals constantly. There’s a lot of psychological issues and physical strain as well. You want to make it as comfortable as possible. You’ll have living and working areas, just like a home, if you work from home, but it more cramped quarters. It’ll also have to be shielded from radiation in space. Astronauts on a daily basis will get forecast of radiation and if they find it they’ll have to go to special areas on the spacecraft that are shielded from radiation. That’s part of the daily routine of doing forecasts and they’ll be prepping for their arrival. Once they arrive, they’ll be on Mars for a length of time – weeks or likely months.

Will those people return home?
The idea is yes. The consensus among the entire space community, especially like NASA and European space agencies, which are serious about having human missions to Mars, is they will return.

What is your fascination with space?
That’s a huge question. There are so many wonders in the universe. I feel I’m so fortunate to be living in an era where we have technological abilities to open our eyes to all the wonders of the universe and reach out to the final frontier. We’re able to view the Cosmos like never before and peer back into the beginning of time. It’s awe-inspiring.

Would you want to go to Mars?
When they have a pizza joint there!

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