I’m sure it has even crossed the mind of those of you not even that into space travel: what would it be like to live on another planet? What would life on Mars, for example, be like?
Well, the new exhibition at the Design Museum in London (England) explores this exact topic.
I paid a visit and can already give away a spoiler: this interactive exhibition can be interesting to both space-geeks as people that prefer to stay on earth.
Wonder why? Keep reading!
MISSION TO MARS EXHIBITION LONDON DESIGN MUSEUM
If you are not familiar with the Design Museum in Kensington, West London, in short you could say it’s a museum that covers all things design. From product design to industrial and graphic design, to fashion and architectural design.
There is a main collection that is free to visit (which shows you, among other things, how the design for the London Underground logo and interior of the carriages came to be), but there is always a special exhibition with a more niche topic. This time, it’s one I’ve been counting the days off to visit: it’s all about living on Mars!
As you might know, I’m a huge space geek and while I’m personally not immediately up for a trip into space (I’d like a few more years of test runs please), I am very curious about all the different disciplines looking into what it takes for humans to go into space and -maybe even more- everything we can learn from and implement here on earth as a result of all those studies and experiments.
As soon as I enter the exhibition space, this is exactly what I hear other people say: ‘Ah, I didn’t think about it like that’, says one girl after reading a quote on the wall saying “Some say we should fix this world first… But learning to survive on Mars might help us to save the earth”.
That there is an incredible amount of research being done by a huge variety of specialists in different fields, is one of the things I believe I most take away from this exhibition, featuring over 200 objects, including contributions from NASA, ESA and SpaceX.
Throughout the exhibition, you go through 6 different sections (Imagining Mars, On Mars Today, The Voyage, Survival, Mars Futures and Down to Earth), each introduced in a video message by a specialist (among who astronaut Tim Peake, scientist Professor Sanjeev Gupta, climate activist Venetia Falconer and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees).
Every section explores the themes in terms of the role that design plays in keeping the future Martians safe during travel and after landing, and shows you what working with Mars’ limited resources could teach about designing more sustainably on Earth.
The first section looks at how scientific progress shaped our visions of Mars. From the ancient astronomers and their early, hand-drawn maps to Hollywood movies featuring distant planets, all the ways we have represented Mars show you how our understanding of the Red Planet shifted over the years. Telescopes developed, mathematical calculations got more precise, but at the same time, the thought of life on the planet got sci-fi writers and the general public hungry to see the real thing up close.
There is a little section on The ExoMars Programme, a joint endeavor between the European and Russian Space Agencies (ESA and Roscosmos) with the aim to look for life on Mars, before you move to the second section that shows you detailed footage that has been gathered by Mars Rovers until now.
I gaze a little bit longer at the prototype of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover, which will be sent to the planet in 2020. It’s a mobile laboratory that will drill two meters into the planet’s surface. So exciting to see it up close!
ON MARS TODAY
Almost a little in-between section of the exhibition, this was one of my most favourite pars of the exhibition, because it was so realistic. In 1965, the Mariner 4 spacecraft took the first fly-by photographs of Mars and later Mars Rover missions showed us more detailed images of the Red Planet.
On the big screen, you can see the high resolution images with incredible clarity (and for the first time in public!), and stand (or sit down) for a moment to let it sink in just how inhospitable the planet actually is, with its freezing temperatures, unbreathable air, dust storms, solar and cosmic radiation, among other ‘minor inconveniences’.
Is this really a place we want to get to? You will really ask yourself: WHY?!
As one of the quotes in the beginning of the exhibition says: “There will be no experience of Mars outside an artificial bubble, whether in the habitat or the spacesuit”. Think about that for a second!
So yeah, can we stay safely (oh, and another interesting question: stay sane) on the way to Mars? The journey will be challenging for sure, but there are plenty people willing to try, even with the time it will take and the dangers it will surely have.
This section is also about questions such as: what will the astronauts eat? how will they wash and sleep? how will they exercise and what will the effect be of the profound separation of ‘home’, a.k.a. planet earth?
For the first time ever, you can see NDX-1, the first prototype spacesuit designed specifically for use on Mars.
As you can see in this part of the exhibition, a people-focused design for the craft and all its equipment will be crucial for their well-being. I loved seeing all the drawings and 3D simulations with ideas for living quarters, space suits and space food, as well as an interesting short film by artist Lucy McRae showing the possible impact on the psychological well-being of astronauts during their journey to Mars.
This section of the exhibition is being introduced by architect Xavier De Kestelier. The first missions to Mars will of course only send survey equipment from earth, but on the long-term, the Mars settlements must find their own materials and energy sources.
Shelter will be crucial on Mars and architects have already been imagining many different ways we can build habitats on the barren planet (in this section, there is even a life-sized Mars home for you to walk through, designed by HASSELL – Part of NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge). Sustainability on Mars will be a big topic and one that can be of great importance of our lives on earth as well.
From incredible 3D-printed homes and work stations built by semi-autonomous robots (as envisioned by Foster + Partbers), to Mars farming solutions and even topics such as solving how to define time on Mars (did you know that a Martian day is 40 minutes longer than on Earth?) to using recycled (Raeburn MARS Fall 2019 Collection) and even organic materials for clothing design… It’s all really fascinating when you see all these disciplines come together solving a common problem like this together. Go Team Earth!
The last sections of the exhibition talk more about the reasons why we would want to go to Mars in the first place. Is Mars a lifeboat for humans when we f— it up on earth, or is there more to it?
While the technology might be ready to tackle the travel to / living on Mars problem, do we even have the right to ‘colonize’ an entire new planet? Is it too invasive perhaps and should we just use Mars as a ‘stepping stone’ for future exploration?
DOWN TO EARH
We end the exhibition back on earth (pfew!) and see all the specialists from the video messages throughout the different rooms back in one full video interview.
We learn that previous space missions (such as the Apollo missions) have brought us many good things, such as CAT scans, computer microchips, memory foam and even joysticks, but it also transformed the way we think as a species.
Looking back down on earth from space, astronauts have experienced and even captured beautiful that our ‘little blue dot’ is exactly that: a fragile little speck floating in the void of the universe.
Can we achieve a new environmental path aimed at preserving our planet without us having to risk the dangers of a mission to Mars? Or does the rigor of an actual mission make it more likely that we will develop the efficient systems and thinking required to preserve life on Earth?
I loved the exhibition! Not only was there a lot to see and do in all the different rooms itself, the exhibition gave so much to think about after you left the building. If you are interested in space travel, or design in general, then I can highly recommend a visit! I especially loved the sections about visualizing what the day-to-day life on Mars would look like, with input from architects, clothing designers and people tackling problems concerning safety, food and mental health issues. You don’t really realize just how many disciplines have to work together in order to make space travel happen and I think this exhibition did a wonderful job giving a bit of insights into that.
How do you feel about going to Mars? I would love to hear it in the comments!
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO THE DESIGN MUSEUM!
Mission to Mars – Design Museum London
Address: 224-238 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 6AG
Metro Stop: High Street Kensington
Dates: 18 October 2019 to 23 Februari 2020
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 18:00 (daily, including weekends)
Advised Visiting Time: 1.5 to 2 hours on average
Ticket Prices: GBP £16 – GBP £18 (concession and family tickets available, free to members)
Location of London Design Museum
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Disclaimer: I paid for this exhibition myself and wasn’t sponsored in any way. All options and photos are 100% my own.