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Complete Guide to National Geographic Channel's MARS Interviews, Cast, Episode Guide, Photos

Maj Canton - November 14, 2016



Blast Off! National Geographic Channel premieres MARS on Monday, November 14, 2016 at 9/8c.


Of all the planets in our solar system, none has captured our collective imagination like Mars. Follow the first human mission to Mars, set in 2033, as the crew struggles to safely land on and colonize the planet. Tracing the thrilling quest to make Mars home, National Geographic presents a new breed of programming, blending cinema-quality scripted drama set in the future with documentary sequences that feature current space-technology pioneers. MARS is an edge-of-your-seat story of mankind's thrilling quest to colonize Mars. This epic six-part global event was filmed in Budapest and Morocco. MARS represents an entirely new genre of storytelling, pushing the creative boundaries of traditional docudramas in ways never done before. Starring Ben Cotton, JiHAE, Alberto Ammann, Clémentine Poidatz, Sammi Rotibi, and Anamaria Marinca, with Executive Producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Michael Rosenberg, Justin Wilkes, Jon Kamen, Dave O'Connor, Jonathan Silberberg, and Robert Palumbo.



Characters and Cast

The scripted portion focuses on Earth's first crewed mission to Mars aboard the spacecraft Daedalus. Its maiden voyage in 2033 is crewed by a carefully selected international team of six uniquely qualified astronauts.



The crew includes:


American mission commander Ben Sawyer (Ben Cotton)


Korean-American mission pilot Hana Seung (JiHAE)


Spanish hydrologist and geochemist Javier Delgado (Alberto Ammann)


French mission physician and biochemist Amelie Durand (Clementine Poidatz)


Nigerian mechanical engineer and roboticist Robert Foucault (Sammi Rotibi)


Russian exobiologist and geologist Marta Kamen (Anamaria Marinca)


Back on Earth, the Mars Mission Corporation (MMC) control team based in London includes Hana Seung's twin sister, capsule communicator Joon Seung (JiHAE), and French CEO of the MMC Ed Grann (Olivier Martinez). Once Daedalus successfully lands on Mars and sets up a preliminary base of operations, British nuclear physicist Leslie Richardson (Cosima Shaw) will lead a Phase 2 settlement team along with her husband, world-renowned experimental botanist Dr. Paul Richardson (John Light).


MARS brings together the world's leading minds in a way never before accomplished. Those interviewed on camera for the series include the following:

  • Charles Bolden, Administrator, Former Astronaut, NASA
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director, Hayden Planetarium
  • Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO, XPRIZE Foundation
  • David Dinges, Director, Unit for Experimental Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania
  • Casey Dreier, Director of Space Policy, The Planetary Society
  • Ann Druyan, Creative Director, Voyager Interstellar Mission, NASA
  • Charles Elachi, Director, LPL (Ret.)
  • Jim Green, Division Director, Planetary Science, NASA
  • John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator, Former Astronaut, NASA
  • Jennifer Heldmann, Planetary Scientist, NASA
  • Jedidah Isler, award-winning astrophysicist; emerging Explorer, National Geographic
  • Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director, White House Office of Science and Technology
  • Roger Launius, Smithsonian Institution
  • John Logsdon, Founder, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
  • James Lovell, Former NASA Astronaut, Apollo 13 Commander
  • Elon Musk, CEO SpaceX
  • Stephen Petranek, author, “How We'll Live on Mars”
  • Mary Roach, author, “Packing for Mars”
  • Jennifer Trosper, Mars 2020 Mission Manager, JPL
  • Andy Weir, author, “The Martian”
  • Robert Zubrin, President, The Mars Society

Q&A Interview with Cast and Executive Producer

This past August at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour, the Nat Geo Channel presented a MARS panel that included stars Sammi Rotibi, Clementine Poidatz and Executive Producer Justin Wilkes. Here are a few highlights (edited for clarity and readability) from that panel.



Justin Wilkes

Question: Can you talk about the mix of fiction and fact within an episode? Is it half and half? How does it work?

Justin Wilkes: We don't actually refer to it as fiction or science fiction. It's actually science fact. Everything that you're seeing is real. It's going to be what that mission will actually entail. The story takes place in the year 2033, so our scripted narrative takes place in 2033 with our cast members. Then we flashback to 2016, to today, when we actually see the documentary portions of the show where we're embedded in places like SpaceX and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We hear from our big thinkers giving context for the actual engineering that's taking place toward that mission in the future.



Clementine Poidatz as Amelie Durand and

Sammi Rotibi as Robert Foucault

Question: Where there certain things that you have to learn how to do because you walk differently on Mars than you might on Earth. Was there any kind of special training with your experts?

Clementine Poidatz: We trained with Dr. Mae Jemison, who is a former astronaut. And we had the space boot camp for five days. And so we trained in the swimming pool just to experience zero gravity and also, I think that it created a bond just to be all together wearing swimming suits.

Sammi Rotibi: Basically, we had to go to class, like, every day, and I was like, “Whoa, I'm an actor. Just give me the lines and I'll say it.” But actually, she schooled us on what it was like to be an astronaut and the experience of doing that. And then we had to take a test at the end of the week. And I tell you, that was no joke. But it was fun. It was interesting. And I think we all passed. And made it to MARS. So it was a great experience.



Ground crew from a scene in MARS

Question: Was there any kind of technology that doesn't exist yet that is likely to exist in 2033 that you kind of extrapolate to invent?

Justin Wilkes: The interesting thing for us is we were doing the research, and a lot of this even came to life with the Scott Kelly story, who is one of our documentary storylines, is that technology today that's sending astronauts to space, particularly even in the Russian space program, is still leveraging Soyuz capsule technology that's been around since the '60s. As we were talking to Dr. Mae and some of our other consultants, if you're going to send a mission to Mars, you want to make sure there's redundancy and you don't want anything too cutting edge. So, in fact, a lot of the engineering that is taking place today will be the engineering that will power that mission in 2033.


So we would get into situations where we're using a lot of heads-up display technology that today isn't quite where it will be in 2033, but it's a leap that you can probably believe. The mission control that we've built and that our production designer designed, I'd say, is as high-tech looking as SpaceX's mission control right now, which is using a lot of flat panel technology. One of the interesting things that came up in the production design of the ship itself is that Astronauts still like buttons. So even though you might have a control panel that's all touchscreen or that's all flat screen like in an Airbus A380 or a 747 today, you still want to have a throttle. You still want to have a button. It's this tactile, very human thing that psychologically still works. So we erred on the side of, again, technology that does exist today, that might slightly evolve in the future but not to the extent that it's science fiction.



Scene from MARS on the Red Planet

Question: This is something that takes a very long time to put together, how much footage did you shoot?

Justin Wilkes: On the documentary side, including all the big thinkers, easily over 100 hours worth of material. We've been embedded in SpaceX for over a year now, and then also having access to JPL and other organizations that are all doing work into space. And then, on the narrative side, the scripted side, we shot about 40 days over the course of about three months. There's a unique approach that we took to how to frame the drama and never have to put any actor in a situation where they're acting up against reality like that.

Episode Guide

If you want to know nothing about the episodes at all, skip this section. Provided by National Geographic Channel, this episode guide includes general episode descriptions and specific plot details.


Episode 101: "Novo Mundo"
Debut: Monday, November 14, 2016 at 9/8c
In 2033, the first human mission to Mars enters the planet's atmosphere, but the Daedalus crew faces a life-threatening emergency when the ship's landing system goes offline. The crew's commander risks his life to fix the problem as Mission Control monitors back on Earth. Interwoven within the drama, in 2016, SpaceX is attempting to land the world's first reusable rocket to pioneer the critical technology that will help humans reach Mars.

Episode 102: "Grounded"
Debut: Monday, November 21, 2016 at 9/8c
In 2033, the Daedalus crew battles the harsh Martian terrain to reach the safety of its pre-built base camp. A race against the clock begins when the ship commander reveals he has been injured during landing. In present day, NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is undergoing a historic yearlong mission on the International Space Station, revealing both the physical and emotional hardships astronauts face.

Episode 103: "Pressure Drop"
Debut: Monday, November 28, 2016 at 9/8c
In 2033, the Daedalus mission is in jeopardy as the crew struggles to find a permanent shelter that can provide long-term protection from radiation. The team must locate a suitable site for their settlement before their mission is cut short. In current day, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, Russia's former federal space agency, partner to launch an orbiter to help future Mars missions prepare for settlement through advanced imagery.

Episode 104: "Power"
Debut: Monday, December 5, 2016 at 9/8c
It's 2037: four years have passed since the Daedalus crew landed on Mars and established its first settlement, Olympus Town. A new crew arrives to help execute plans for expansion and search for life when a dust storm threatens the outpost. In present day, the bustling McMurdo Station in Antarctica currently serves as a modern example of how humans will settle Mars as scientists look to discover life on another planet.

Episode 105: "Darkest Days"
Debut: Monday, December 12, 2016 at 9/8c
In 2037, the dust storm has lasted for months, and Olympus Town's infrastructure, along with its residents' well-being, suffers. The psychological pressures of life on Mars reveal themselves while the crew is trapped inside the habitat. In current day, modern-day scientists study the effects of extreme isolation among various long-term analog missions to prepare for a future manned mission to Mars.

Episode 106: "Crossroads"
Debut: Monday, December 19, 2016 at 9/8c
In 2037, a devastating tragedy on the colony forces everyone on Mars and Earth to question the mission. While Olympus Town tries to cope persevere, controlling groups back on Earth struggle with the decision whether to end the mission. In present day, SpaceX again attempts to pioneer the rocket technology that would help mankind reach the planet.