The First

I thought I’d make some remarks concerning Hulu’s series, The First, regarding the first crewed mission to Mars.

I like how they turned a cliche on its head to explore the relationship between an astronaut and his daughter. The cliche is one we’ve scene before: male scientist/engineer/astronaut is left to raise his one child, a daughter, after wife dies from a horrible illness, or, in this case, a suicide. We’ve seen this in Contact and Interstellar. But there it was used as a device to explain why the daughter was interested science. That in itself was insulting to women: The only way they’d really be interested in science is if they were held captive by a single male who was deeply interested in science. The cliche is bent a bit in The First because we see that the daughter is actually much more similar to her mother, a tatoo artist, leading to much tension between Tom Haggerty (Sean Penn) and his daughter. To balance this, the Elon Musk-like rocket company CEO character is a woman (though she’s almost the opposite of Musk–shying the spotlight, though seemingly enjoying her wealth) and a number of the astronauts are also women.

Next, lets get to the science. I was particularly impressed with the spacewalk (EVA) scenes because unlike most other works, they showed the spacesuit visors accurately. Space suit visors must have proper shielding from bright sunlight. Of course, if portrayed accurately in a film, you can’t see the actor’s face, which is why most productions take this shortcut. But here, at least in many scenes, they went for the more accurate portrayal, even if there might be some initial confusion as to who we are watching. Discussion of length of the mission, methods for producing fuel on the surface, etc. are also all accurate, though I do wonder if we will ever go in the direction of having a return mission from Mars dependent on fuel produced on Mars and taken with the spacecraft when leaving Earth. if it works, it make the mission more practical, but it certainly adds some huge risks.

I hope this is not a one off because I really would like to see these astronauts get to Mars! Yes, that was one twist I wasn’t expecting: The series about a first mission to Mars didn’t get there yet! I think the drama that played out on worth was worth it (especially in the episode “Two Portraits”), but I am not sure how much patience I and other viewers will have if they don’t get to Mars after 2 seasons.

If you’d like to read about more physics and astronomy in science fiction, take a look at my book, The Physics and Astronomy of Science Fiction, available from McFarland Publishing (and can order on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

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