By Dave B.
The Mars Generation (Netflix) is a documentary that covers a group of teenagers attending Space Camp. In exploring their interest in space generally (and Mars specifically), it’s also an ode to human spaceflight, NASA, and humanity as a whole. In addition to following the campers as they engage in tons of fascinating space-related activities, The Mars Generation also contains interviews with experts and provides a surprisingly thorough history of human spaceflight (from an American perspective) which provides viewers with an understanding of how NASA’s human spaceflight program has ended up in the disappointing state that it is currently in and how its future may change.
This is one of Netflix’s most delightful documentaries. It takes a subject that some people are often passionate about (but not necessarily very knowledgeable of) and makes it accessible to anyone. And I have to admit, everything that the campers do is so interesting that The Mars Generation is the first documentary that I’ve seen where I’m actually jealous of the interviewees. The documentary also provides a fairly balanced view of some of the more controversial aspects of America’s history of human spaceflight, from relying upon Nazis for expertise and direction, to objective failures such as tragic accidents that led to deaths, to the embarrassment of having to rely on Russia to get American astronauts into outer space.
The documentary has two major weakness. The first is it’s length. At 97 minutes, it isn’t very long. However, it doesn’t feel quick. Despite enjoying the subject matter and the production immensely, after about 70 minutes, I was ready for things to wrap up. One of the risks in creating a very comprehensive documentary is that the audience’s attention will wane. Viewers who have been immersed in learning about human spaceflight may get bored with The Mars Generation. The film’s other problem isn’t one of it’s own making, but is glaring nonetheless: the campers aren’t a very diverse bunch of kids. Anyone who has ever tried to get into Space Camp (or tried to send their children there) knows that it is not an inexpensive proposition. The film inadvertently gives the (largely correct) impression, that space is not yet as inclusive of a field as some of the utopian rhetoric from advocates of the industry may suggest.
Overall, I enjoyed The Mars Generation and I highly recommend it. The film’s enthusiasm for Martian exploration doesn’t blind the filmmakers to the challenges (such as a very limited budget for such exploration) that are a reality for the modern NASA. But The Mars Generation also makes it clear that some of these challenges can be overcome by popular will. Activities like Space Camp and artistic endeavors such as The Mars Generation play a role in shaping popular opinion about an issue that doesn’t get as much attention as many believe it deserves. I really hope, regardless of whether you have a high or a low interest in space, that you watch it with an open mind and an eye towards the future.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.