You won’t find me climbing aboard a rocket to Mars any time soon, but I did recently go to see “Moving to Mars” at the Design Museum, which runs until February 2020. Because it was at the Design Museum, the primary focus was of course the design of items that could be used to travel to Mars, live on Mars, etc, but there were plenty of science aspects to this exhibition as well. Admission was £7.25 using the National Art Pass, but it is normally an expensive £14.50 on weekdays, and £16.30 on weekends(!) so definitely aim to get some kind of a discount (National Rail 2 for 1s work at most London museums)!
The first gallery was about the relationship between humans and Mars throughout history from Galileo on up to the present. It had lots of old astronomical charts I didn’t really understand, some Mars Rover prototypes, and the obligatory orrery or two.
My favourite part was the wall of film poster and scifi books about Mars, including a fair few alien ones. I have a bit of a soft spot for Ray Bradbury because he loved Halloween as much as I do, and I love campy ’60s movie posters, though I often find the movies themselves quite boring.
The exhibition description mentioned how interactive and immersive “Moving to Mars” was, and though I didn’t find it particularly so overall, I suppose the next area was. It contained a large screen showing footage of the surface of Mars with a voiceover describing the Martian environment, where you were invited to remove your shoes and step on a mat that was apparently meant to resemble the surface of Mars. Because I wasn’t wearing socks (with high-tops, yes, I’m gross), I didn’t really want to take my shoes off and expose everyone to my horrible cheese Dorito-smelling feet, but Marcus tried it and said it just felt like a gym mat. I did climb inside the rocket ship in the gallery after this though, even though it was probably meant for children.
This next gallery was about how the first rockets used in space flight were designed, which segued into spacesuits and equipment that had been used on the International Space Station. The thing in the middle that looks like a trampoline is actually a communal dining table with foot straps and rails to lean against to hold yourself in place. Despite the strict hierarchical system that existed on ships during voyages of exploration (historically the closest thing mankind has done to prolonged space flight), current thoughts about life in space emphasise the need for everyone to be on an equal footing (which makes sense!), hence the round table so no one can be seated at its head.
I enjoyed looking at all the space suit designs (the one that looks like it has blood circulating through it is actually filled with water pipes to regulate the astronaut’s body temperature) and trying out some of the prototypes, like space gloves that feature the smells of home. The glove maker had chosen to use two of her favourite smells, which were fresh grass and the smell of her horse. The grass one was fine, but the horse would certainly not be my choice!
The largest gallery was devoted to what life on Mars might actually look like, and included miniature mock-ups of Martian homes (depressingly futuristic, and designed to minimise exposure to solar radiation), everyday space clothes (ugly, and made of futuristic fabrics), and the excellent diagram of how the technology behind a Martian home would work, with all waste products being recycled as much as possible, including the .128kg of feces and 1L of gasses that a human apparently produces in a day. This made me laugh.
There was also a life-sized version of a Martian living room where you could sit on the 3D printed furniture (at least, I assume you could sit on the furniture, as there was no sign saying you couldn’t. Obviously I did anyway). The couch was more comfortable than it looked, though there was a weird divot for the butt that I could imagine getting uncomfortable after a while. Needless to say, I don’t think life on Mars is for me, unless there’s a major ecological catastrophe (and let’s face it, there probably will be) on Earth that makes life here impossible. However, the settlement of Mars plan is definitely a long term game, with robots being sent up about a decade in advance of humans to build housing and start growing crops, so it is highly unlikely any of this would come to fruition in my lifetime anyway.
The final gallery contained a short video about the experience of flying to Mars, and all the prep work that would have went into it. There was also an interesting video showing the way different plant samples from Earth might evolve on the Martian climate, and a wall featuring all the different variations that could occur (there seemed to be a lot of spidery looking things – apparently those evolve anywhere!). There was also a brief discussion of why we would need to colonise Mars in the first place, and whether we should be doing so from an ethical perspective (if we’ve destroyed Earth, why do we need to destroy another planet too? Either improve as a species, or give it up).
I’m not a hugely scientific person, and I suspect Marcus enjoyed himself more than I did, but it was nonetheless an interesting exhibition, and I liked seeing the more eco-friendly ways we could try to begin again on another planet (by necessity, because of the difficulty of getting supplies to and from Mars), though I think we’d be better off implementing some of those ideas on Earth first, whilst we still have a chance! As I’ve said, Mars life would definitely not be for me – all those futuristic/dystopian novels give me the creeps, and some of the ideas in this exhibition made me feel the same way – but thinking about the different ways things might evolve and the technology needed for it to happen was an interesting intellectual exercise, and some of the 1960s space art in here was really cool. Get a discount if you can, because this exhibition is definitely not worth 15 quid+, but for what I paid, I was perfectly satisfied, even if I did think it could be a bit more interactive. 3/5.