SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet with an attenuated atmosphere. It shares similar characteristics to Earth, such as deserts, valleys, volcanoes, and polar ice caps. This resemblance attracts scientists to investigate if Mars already carries life, or if it is viable for colonization. This curiosity seems to be driven by the future preservation of the human race. As Earth becomes increasingly ruined by climate change and pollution, is seeking out another planet a prudent decision?
Many will ask if it is worth the time and money to travel to Mars? Well, 51 years ago, some people thought the same way about the moon. I believe this desire to explore other planets is steered by the human impulse to discover and learn. We want nothing more than to unearth miracles, and Mars is the next step, whether we like it or not. Curiosity is a strong craving that we all eat up because new discoveries can change the world. We can only see where this journey takes us.
Lauren DeFilippo and Katherine Gorringe’s compelling documentary, Red Heaven, takes us on that journey by following the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) mission crew as they embark on an elaborate Mars simulation for an entire year. Setting up shop on Mauna Loa, a volcano that covers half of the island of Hawaii, its stony territory is more than 8,000 feet above sea level and miles away from civilization, which makes it feel like Mars.
“…how well will the crew members react, work, and communicate in an isolated environment, sealed off from the world, and left without any privacy?”
The participants come from all over the world and varied fields. The six willful crew members are Christiane Heinicke, the Chief Scientific Officer; Tristan Bassingthwaighte, aspiring Space Architect; Sheyna Gifford, the Chief Medical Officer; Carmel Johnston, the Chief Soil Scientist; Andrzej Stewart, the Chief Engineering Officer; and Cyprien Verseux, the Chief Astrobiologist. These guinea pigs are forced to reside in a geodesic dome for 365 days, where they wear devices to track their movements and vitals, perform plant-based experiments, and are tasked to answer a multitude of surveys about their mood and behavior.
The purpose behind this experiment is simple: how well will the crew members react, work, and communicate in an isolated environment, sealed off from the world, and left without any privacy? As danger-less as this experiment appears, given the crew members are still earthbound, it’s somewhat fraught and complex. The human mind is fragile, and being in constant isolation can easily deteriorate or provoke somebody’s state of mind. When NASA does finally implement a mission to Mars, the crew needs to be healthy and aware of what they’re getting themselves into. Getting to Mars is one thing, but staying there, in a secluded facility with the same faces and in the same restricted space, is another obstacle altogether.
How one adapts to a claustrophobic and perilous setting is always going to be different than how someone else may respond to it. So there has to be a balance. Red Heaven shows deep insight into the six crew members who succumb to isolation for the sake of space exploration. Bringing their knowledge with them, and ready for anything, the beginning of the Mars simulation experiment is met with great elation. By day 27, the crew still believe in the cause, and realize how crucial it is to treat this experiment as the real thing. But as the days go by, and the dome’s walls continue to close in on them, the more taxing it becomes for them to live with the same people, while still being able to sustain the simulation smoothly.
"…a documentary that's bigger than all of us."