Away is Netflix’s latest piece of science fiction. The Netflix show, which is currently at the top of the streamer’s TV charts, imagines what would happen on the first manned mission to Mars, as flown by an international team of Americans, Russians and Chinese astronauts as well as those of other nationalities.
Of course, real humans are not ready to travel to Mars yet, with even the most optimistic estimates saying that we will not be able to land on the Red Planet until the 2030s at the earliest. However, that does not mean that there is no science fact behind the science fiction of Away.
The Netflix show is based on “Away,” a Chris Jones article published in Esquire in 2014 about astronaut Scott Kelly, who became the first space traveler to spend a year in space.
“Chris Jones, the journalist, goes into depth about how the International Space Station came to be.” Away creator Andrew Hinderaker said in a Collider interview. “And this improbable idea of countries that normally don’t work together, working together to create the space station and how that could be an analog for the international mission to Mars.
“And then, just as profoundly, he talks about what that was physically and emotionally for Scott Kelly. He was up there when there was an emergency with his family; his sister-in-law was shot and he tried to navigate that from a distance. And I then pitched Jason and Matt this series, with Hillary [Swank]’s character Emma at the center of it, who was leading the international effort.”
This Esquire article goes into detail about the impact a long time in space has on the human body. Notably, Kelly has a twin, which allows NASA to compare what happens to a body in space compared to an almost identical body spending the same time on Earth.
Some of the things Kelly found happening to his body are similar to those that happen to Emma and the crew of Away. Kelly experienced bone density loss, for example, as his body dealt with living in a zero-gravity world where he did not stand up or sit down for a year. The article also details how astronauts experience losing chunks of skin from their feet, something that happened to the space travelers in Away.
Kelly also found himself dealing with pain and sleeplessness on board the International Space Station.
Notably, astronauts in space have also experienced impaired vision: Something that affects Misha (played by Mark Ivanir) on board the Atlas in Away.
In order to make Away as realistic as possible to real space travel, the show worked with a number of consultants, including former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and the production designer took inspiration from NASA and SpaceX vessels when designing the Atlas, the ship that Emma and her crew live and work on.
And when the show needed to rely on science that is not possible in our real 2020, even that is based on real technology. According to the Los Angeles Times, the artificial gravity in the crew’s quarters, for example, is based on research and proposals made in real life on the subject.
In that same article, Hinderaker recounts asking a NASA employee how soon humans could go to Mars if there was enough money and/or international co-operation. “He said, ‘Oh, we could go tomorrow…That was so powerful and that’s really part of why we chose to put the show in a very near future world that really felt like ours.”
Away is streaming now on Netflix.
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