Over the course of For All Mankind‘s alternative history timeline so far, the US has established an elaborate base on the moon, and completed a manned mission to Mars. While both of these advancements may seem far-fetched, there is a lot of real science, engineering, and technology behind the ideas.
In For All Mankind season 3, NASA gets ahead of its competitors to Mars by employing solar sails in the aptly named Operation Jolly Roger, complete with a sea shanty. In an exciting development for all of us who dreamt of being astronauts as kids and are now NASA-geek adults (looking at you – Chris Evans), a recent study has found that solar sails could actually reduce travel time to Mars to just 26 days. The bad news is that the moment, it would only be for ‘small payloads,’ not a manned rocket.
This would still be a significant development worthy of a science fiction movie, as it would mean that cameras and other types of equipment could be rapidly sent to Mars. It took the Perseverance rover seven months to get to Mars, for example. Solar sails use the momentum from light particles called photons hitting the sail, with each one giving it a very small push. In the vacuum of space, there’s nothing to slow down the sail, so it leads to permanent acceleration.
In season 3, episode 4 of Apple’s excellent sci-fi series the NASA mission led by Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) beats its main competitor – the private company Helios’ mission, led by Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman). The NASA ship Sojourner actually should have been given a whopping eight day advantage over Helios’ Phoenix – because of the huge boost the solar sails gives them.
However, they are waylaid by performing a rescue mission on the Soviet crew on another ship which is also involved in the race to Mars – and they end up entering Mars’ orbit after the Phoenix. We’re looking forward to seeing more on Mars in For All Mankind season 4, which will take place after one of the series’ customary time jumps.