Marta Kamen spies at a Lukrum drilling site.
Credit: Richard Donnelly / National Geographic
This night's (November 26) episode of "Mars" by National Geographic shows the great efforts that scientists will make to answer some of the most difficult questions of life.
"Mars", a docudrama that combines a dramatic story with real documentary style interviews with experts, premiered in 2016. The series initially followed the first humans who landed on the Martian surface. Now, the second season of the series delves even deeper into the complex problems that arise on Mars and how they relate to the concerns here on Earth. The first two episodes of Season 2 dealt with the tensions between private and governmental space companies and whether we will treat Mars as we treat Earth. The season has also explored how life on Mars will affect people's relationships and mental health.
Episode 3 shows how much scientists are sacrificed for their work when Marta Kamen, a Russian exobiologist and geologist in Olympus Town, goes against Commander Seung's orders to look for life on Mars. As illustrated in Episode 2, Lukrum, the private mining company that has established itself on the Martian surface, will explore areas of scientific interest regardless of Olympus Town researchers and how their work could contaminate the samples. Kamen is committed to her mission of discovering and studying life on the Red Planet, and she can not stand how Lukrum has continued to ignore how her actions can affect or even devastate ground-breaking research. And, because of this dedication, Kamen is willing to risk everything to boost his work. [How Living on Mars Could Challenge Colonists (Infographic)]
Kamen's fight with Lukrum and his dedication to research are paralleled in Episode 3, by real-life scientists investigating Greenland's ice sheet. This body of expansive ice is a hostile environment for humans, as demonstrated by glaciologist Jason Gulley in the episode. He and others spend months of each year essentially stranded in remote areas and extreme conditions, working until the helicopter arrives that will carry them out. Gulley and his team endure severe temperatures and the threat of losing their way in the ice sheet. The frozen rivers threaten to drag them while the elements relentlessly reprimand their senses. But, as the ice sheet continues to melt at a surprising rate, the study of the area contributes greatly to our understanding of climate change and how sea level could rise.
In addition to challenging the elements, scientists on Earth as well as fictitious scientists at Olympus Town face opposition and skepticism from government and the public. In Olympus Town, Kamen disagrees with the IMSF (International Mars Science Foundation), an agency based on Earth that governs the residents of Olympus Town. He is afraid that Lukrum will contaminate Martian samples that may contain new strains of life, but the IMSF does not want him to become involved with Lukrum's operations.
Here on Earth, scientists studying climate change, such as those studying the Greenland ice sheet and ice in the Arctic, face constant opposition. Personal opinions contradict the scientific fact in both the government and the public, so that scientists like those who promote climate science have to really fight for their work. This fight is shown in great detail in this third episode.
The episode also continues to highlight the psychological cost of living on another planet. From colonists dealing with pain to Commander Seung's tendency to hide their emotions to maintain authority in the face of the intricate and ever-changing nature of romantic relationships, life on the Red Planet is complicated.
Scientists are working to understand how a trip of this kind could affect the mental health of astronauts. From the long trip to reach Mars to live in an alien planet that may never leave, the trip will be done with isolation and difficulty. But hopefully, with ongoing efforts to understand these effects, future astronauts will be prepared for such difficulties.
"Mars" airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. EST / 8 p.m. CST