The television series Mars, produced by National Geographic and originally aired on their cable channel in 2016, is a curious mix of present-day documentary and fictional story of the human settlement of Mars, with the first crewed landing mission launching in 2033. The first season is set in the years 2033–2037 and chronicles the establishment of the first settlement and its growth into a fledgling base, similar to scientific research stations in Antarctica. The series cuts back and forth between the present and the fictional future, with the present-day segments interviewing figures such as Stephen Petranek, author of How We’ll Live on Mars, upon which the story is based, Robert Zubrin, creator of the Mars Direct mission plan, Elon Musk of SpaceX, Andy Weir, author of The Martian, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The mission is mounted by a fictional international consortium called the “International Mars Science Foundation” (IMSF), which has all of the squabbling and politics you’d expect for something with such a name. The fictional part of the first season is pretty good, and in line with capabilities expected to exist in the time in which it is set.
The second season is something else entirely. Set in 2042, it chronicles the arrival of the first private venture on Mars, “Lukrum Industries”, aimed at resource exploration and development. Lukrum has negotiated a deal with IMSF in which it will produce solar mirrors from in-situ resources which will be employed in IMSF’s terraforming project, which hopes to warm the planet to release water trapped as ice below the surface. This veers immediately into the “corporations bad, government agencies (especially multinational ones where all of the minions speak perfect English with suitably exotic accents) good” trope. The present-day segments are almost entirely about human despoliation of the Earth, with a concentration on “climate change”. This feeds into the fictional future story, where the evil corporation (eventually in cahoots with the Russians, who were too tempting to leave out as villains), is simultaneously thwarting the noble goals of the taxpayer-funded scientists, while using its lucre to manipulate IMSF back on Earth to acquiesce in its evil schemes.
Present-day segments are all about Greenpeace “activists” in kayaks disrupting operation of Arctic oil rigs, oil companies scheming to deny climate change, and deep thinkers fretting about the prospect of dirty humans being unleashed to wreck a second planet. Robert Zubrin, who in addition to his advocacy of Mars settlement, has been an eloquent voice in opposing the anti-human agenda of the Malthusian mafia, for example in his 2012 book Merchants of Despair, a regular on the first season, disappears after a brief appearance in the first episode of the second—perhaps he got wind of where it was going—and is replaced by a conga line of doomsayers, hand-wringers, and inveighers who appear to have “big corporations” wired into their speech centres as a verbal macro. Newt Gingrich appears to “provide balance” in a few brief clips which appear selectively edited to make him appear something between a villain and a clown.
It is deliciously ironic that in this dog’s breakfast of propaganda, the main goal of the noble IMSF Mars project is to unleash irreversible climate change on Mars by means of anthropogenic global warming.
I remember National Geographic while growing up as a treasure trove celebrating human adventure and achievement, from the stratosphere balloonists of the 1930s, to the explorers of the ocean depths, to the summit of Everest, and the void of space. This is a shameful betrayal of that heritage and legacy.
Both seasons of Mars are now available on Netflix, at least in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.