Here's where we get to share our show philosophy with you, the same way that directors and producers often explain their work on those extended DVD versions of popular movies. Enjoy!
Carolyn's Musings about the story we tell in MarsQuest
MarsQuest's predecessor show The Mars Show was first born as an idea I had during a
Case for Mars conference I attended at the University of Colorado in 1987. At that (and previous) meetings, discussions centered on future exploration of the Red Planet. Technologies on the table included some of the current rovers and orbiters that have been exploring Mars since the 1990s. But some engineering marvels we discussed were solely meant for use on the Red Planet, once humans had established a beachhead for exploration. These included gliders for flight over the Martian landscapes, drilling equipment to dig into the permafrost, and little Martian dune buggies that would let explorers into canyons and valleys inaccessible by other means.
So when it came time to write a planetarium show about Mars, I knew that in addition to the usual "science reports" (temperatures, wind speeds, and surface characteristics), I wanted to tell a more human-oriented story. The scientific exploration of Mars continues on day after day, but telling the human side along WITH that science — that was my challenge.
The Mars Backstory
To get myself into a frame of mind where I could help take audiences to Mars, I imagined a man flying to his home to a future city on Mars. He's looking out over the landscapes as he travels, and as he goes along, he muses to himself about how humans first saw Mars as a god of war, then discovered it was another world. He chuckles to himself about the early ideas that there were Martians living on the Red Planet, and diverts himself with tales told by Edgar Rice Burroughs and other science fiction greats. He reminisces about the scientific exploration that began in the second half of the 20th century and continued into the 21st; studies that taught us as much as we could learn about Mars — from a distance. He recalls the earliest days of human exploration of Mars, and as he's landing in his home city, he fondly points out Earth in the darkening Martian twilight, and ends by reminding himself (and us) that "now... we are the Martians."
That was what I wanted. But, it was NOT possible to have a character "on screen" in the planetarium show, especially back in the days when all we had to project images were slide projectors. So, our main narrator became a sort of spoken guide to Mars and human-Mars history — a disembodied storyteller explaining things as we go along in the show. He tells a creditable story about Mars exploration — and that story relies on much cultural, historical, and scientific background. It is only when we get to the epilogue of the main show, called "Rhapsody on a Red Planet" that we get back to a semblance of my original storyline. He speaks more directly to Mars, and to us, in an intensely touching way, about how Mars is now our second home. It is one of the most memorable scenes in any planetarium show, and people have loved it in the show ever since the first 1988 version.
Bringing Viewers Home to Mars
MarsQuest is based very closely on our original The Mars Show, with the obvious scientific updates. But, it also has some touches I thought of after the first production. For example: place names.
I have always assumed that one day people will go to Mars and explore it for themselves. And, as with any travel to a strange new place, there's a certain amount of mental and physical preparation that people go through. You check up the climate, the weather, the terrain, the names of places. Thus, a large part of my story became a "familiarization" exercise for the audience. I also wanted them to be able to pronounce the place names — just as you might do here on Earth, if you've never been to a foreign country. You get a guide book and you start saying the names of the places you'll be visiting — Lyons or New Abu Simbel or Puerto Montt or Las Vegas, Nevada, for example. On Mars, the names are as exotic as any Earth destination: Utopia Planitia, Cydonia Mensae, Noctis Labyrinthus, Candor Chasma, Vallis Marineris. It was especially satisfying to give our narrator these terms, and listen to him speak them with authority and familiarity.
The same idea lay behind the incantation of the Mars gods names at the beginning of the show. They were calculated to bring to audiences a taste of the awe that our ancestors must have felt when confronted with this powerful and unknown deity in the sky. I always hoped that audience members would try to say these names — both of the gods AND the places on Mars where our future explorers will one day walk.
The Science of Mars
When I rewrote MarsQuest from the old Mars Show, of course I updated the science. But, I also knew that it would be impossible to continually update the show after each new mission and discovery.
We now have enough missions to Mars that there are images flowing back to Earth each day. I sometimes think of it as "webcam on Mars." Like a webcam, you get a constant flow. Sometimes there are good, exciting images; other times it's "another picture of another rock." All of this is important in the long run when it comes to detailed scientific understanding of Mars's evolutionary history. But, for a general presentation about Mars, the big picture is what's important.
So, I wrote the show as generally as I could. The story that it tells does NOT go out of date, and it allows all audience members to walk away afterwards with a good general working knowledge of what we've discovered on Mars.
For example, in the central section of the show "Mars in Focus," I use material from several missions to illustrate how we know what we know about climate changes on Mars, landscape evolution, and possible scenarios for water on Mars — both now and in the past. We illustrate the section with images from several missions that give a general look at the landscapes, cloud covers, and discoveries.
It's a chronicle of events stretching across thousands of years of human history and touching on our fascination with Mars. As such, it's a multi-faceted, cross-disciplinary work, with enough material to spark the curiosity of artists and writers as well as scientists and engineers. It's meant to touch you, stir your emotions a bit, and take you to Mars to learn the place names and weather and history of this exploration target. Along the way, if the story touches you the way I hope it does, you will learn as much about humans, our fears and hopes, and our explorations, as you do about Mars. For, after all, at some level, we ARE the Martians.