An absorbing look at the modern-day realities of space travel that goes beyond the nuts and bolts to probe the most unpredictable element of cosmic exploration: the vulnerability of the human mind.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
“I really miss the sound of rain,” states a wistful astronaut at the opening of this heartfelt documentary. His forlorn journaling from the inky desolation of space neatly captures the hitch at the heart of Space: The Longest Goodbye. We may well be able to engineer the machinery to take us to Mars and back within the next decade, but will we ever be psychologically equipped to survive the trip? Ido Mizrahy’s engrossing documentary follows the work of Dr. Al Holland, a NASA psychologist charged with studying the loneliness of the long-distance astronaut. Using data gathered from astronauts doing months-long stints on the International Space Station in Earth’s orbit, the scientist highlights the profound toll isolation is likely to take on a proposed three-year round trip to Mars.
Footage recorded on-mission and retrospective interviews provide a look at the daily lives of astronauts the public rarely sees: confined to an environment of microgravity and artificial light, constantly surveilled and scrutinised by mission control, stuck in close quarters with a small crew of relative strangers. Maintaining a connection to family life back on Earth emerges as the best bet for maintaining a crew’s sanity, but even the strongest bonds are tested over the gulf of Earth’s atmosphere.
If life on the Space Station is hard, any theoretical mission to Mars will be much more challenging, as real time communication with Earth won’t be possible. After a landbound experiment simulating these conditions ends in abrupt failure, solutions straight out of sci-fi are explored, including VR home visits, hibernation chambers, and AI companions.
Forgoing hard science to focus on the soft, squishy human at the heart of mankind’s grand galactic voyages, the documentary presents a poignant, caring, and complex look at the sacrifices that come with service in space. — Adrian Hatwell