Former Astronaut Mae Jemison over the Moon for ‘Mars’

Former astronaut Mae Jemison

The second season of the National Geographic series “Mars,” set to debut Monday, will continue to blend fictional storytelling with fact to present a look at what the efforts to establish a colony on the red planet would look like in the year 2042. The six episodes will bounce between events on Mars and interviews with some of today’s top names in science and space exploration.

The show’s creators are taking every precaution to make sure the fictionalized part of the story is based in fact, including by having former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison — the first African-American woman to travel in space — as one of the scientific advisers. The 62-year-old knows her way around the solar system as the physician, engineer and social scientist served six years as a NASA astronaut. During her time aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-47 Spacelab Japan Mission in September 1992, she performed experiments in material science, life sciences and human adaptation to weightlessness.

Jemison has had a passion for space since she was a little girl growing up in Chicago. She made it a point not to miss any of the televised Mercury, Gemini or Apollo space mission launches. Her passion was compounded when she saw “Star Trek.”

“One of the things that used to irritate me was that all the astronauts were white males,” Jemison says. “I kept thinking that aliens were going to think that was the only kind of people we are. But ‘Star Trek’ had this very diverse cast.


Mae Jemison as a young astronaut, Sept 12, 1992


“And, it was a show where science was in the center. What is interesting about ‘Mars’ is that science is in the center. It’s one of the characters. It’s OK to like it. The first season had a lot of personal elements, but it was about getting to Mars. Now it’s about, how are we going to treat this new world and these new resources?”

The events unfold in the series in 2042 when the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF) astronauts have developed a full-fledged colony. If that is close to the actual time frame, Jemison’s time in space came a half-century too early.

“I feel like we have been putzing around with this too long and I should have been on Mars when I was an astronaut,” Jemison says. “When I was a little girl growing up, there was every expectation that we were going to continue on and we would be able to do more things. What I look at is that we have not involved the public enough.

“That’s been to our detriment because the public is excited about space. If we had kept the public informed on what was going on, we would be much further along.”

The lack of connection with the public has not been from a lack of trying by Jemison and National Geographic. She’s promoted space exploration as the author of “Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life” and a True Books series on space exploration. And in 1994 she founded international science camp The Earth We Share for 12- to 16-year-old students from around the world.

As for National Geographic, the company partnered with Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Michael Rosenberg of Imagine Entertainment to create the series. This season delves into the boundaries between science and industry on an isolated, unforgiving frontier. It also looks at what happens when a deal must be made with the private sector to get enough funding to continue the work.

Howard describes the first season of “Mars” a “great creative adventure” because no format had been established as to the ratio between scripted and documentary footage. This year will use a similar design to make sure all the scientific elements are there, but according to Howard, there’s also a lot of drama.

“This season certainly has physical action and danger and all of that stuff that makes for good viewing. But it’s more and more psychological, it’s more and more about relationships, and a different kind of pressure on these characters,” Howard says.

Helping play out that drama is a “Mars” cast that includes returning actors from season one along with several newcomers including Jihae (“Mortal Engines”), Jeff Hephner (“Code Black”) and Esai Morales (“NYPD Blue”). On-camera experts include SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, former NASA Chief Ellen Stofan, theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku, Planetary Society Director of Space Policy Casey Dreier, leading oil and energy expert Antonia Juhasz and best-selling author, activist and award-winning journalist on climate change Naomi Klein.

Jemison has thrown so much support into working on “Mars” because it’s designed to be both entertaining and educational.

“My belief is that very frequently you can’t tell people stuff, but you can show them and engage them,” Jemison says. “The reason a show like ‘Mars’ can be so powerful is that you are watching all of this develop and you feel like you are a part of it. And, you don’t realize you are learning things.

“That’s why something like ‘Mars’ is really important, because they are working real hard on the science.”


(Article written by Rick Bentley)