Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens have been writing science fiction books and TV for decades. They have written a number of Trek novels on their own and in collaboration with William Shatner (including "Star Trek: The Academy–Collision Course" coming out next month). They were also brought in for Star Trek Enterprise’s final (and most consider best) season. But the couple are also aficionados of science fact (see picture of pair on an actual Space Shuttle). They have written a number of non fiction books including one about real missions to Mars. Their most recent television project (the Race to Mars mini-series airing on the Discovery Channel in Canada this Sunday) brings fact and fiction together. Judy and Gar spoke to TrekMovie.com about their Mars project and also about their time on board Enterprise.
About "Race to Mars"…taken from the Discovery Channel description:
Born out of exhaustive scientific research and consultation, the four-hour mini-series "Race to Mars" captures every exhilarating detail, from lift-off through touchdown on Mars to return to Earth, drawing viewers into the heart of this amazing journey. In the year 2030, the race to be the first to reach the Red Planet is on. China has stunned the world by leapfrogging over America’s long-term plans and has landed a series of advanced rovers and robotic landers in their quest to make the most important discovery in history – extraterrestrial life on Mars. Once again, America and its partners, Canada, France and Japan, are thrust into a winner-take-all space race – but the stakes are much higher than the race to the Moon nearly seven decades earlier.
TrekMovie.com: Race to Mars is running on the Discovery Channel which is known for documentaries. So is this a ‘docu-drama’ or a regular dramatic mini series?
Garfield Reeves-Stevens: Race to Mars is a four hour dramatic mini series that is a companion piece to a six hour documentary series. The Mars Rising documentary is a complete presentation of all the challenges we are facing today for sending humans to Mars. What they wanted to do is take all that information and actually show it. The mini-series is based on what we know now and what we expect to know in the next 25 years or so.
TrekMovie.com: So would you even classify this as ‘science fiction’?
Garfield: Well 20 years ago you would have, but these days it would best be described as ‘predictive fiction’?
TrekMovie.com: How did you guys get involved?
Judith Reeves-Stevens: They came to us because we had worked with one of the other producers and because we had written the book "Going to Mars" with the Brian Muirhead, on of the chief engineers of JPL. And now Brian is the chief architect for the Constellation Program, which is NASA’s plan to send humans back to the moon and on to Mars – for which Mike Okuda has designed the mission patch.
Mission patch designed by Star Trek designer Mike Okuda
TrekMovie.com: How accurate is your depiction? There are many ideas for going to Mars such as the Zubrin ‘Mars Direct‘ proposal, which did you use?
Garfield: You know we just started working on this project around the time of the shooting of "Terra Prime" for Enterprise. We were using the Paramount theater as an assembly hall for Archer’s speech at the end of the episode and were standing outside with all the alien ambassadors and ran into Lou Friedman of the Planetary Society who was at Paramount talking about another project. We told him about Race to Mars and he asked the same question…’which plan would we use?’. After talking to us he reminded us that if you get 10 Mars experts in a room you will end up with 10 really good ideas for going to Mars. We based Race To Mars on the NASA Reference Mission. Every few years NASA pulls together scientists and engineers and they plan a Mars mission and that is subject to constant revision. In fact while we were writing Race to Mars they were all abuzz because the latest analysis data from the Mars Exploration Rovers show they had made some incorrect assumptions about the Martian Atmosphere which effected how parachutes would work, so we made changes to reflect the latest thinking. We now have four smaller landing vehicles instead of just two larger ones.
Judith: What we benefited from is spending years going back and forth to JPL and talking to the actual people who are landing craft on Mars. So we were able to make adjustments to reality. And we had over 70 science advisers from all over the world to tell us where we went wrong.
TrekMovie.com: So how long is your mission to Mars?
Judith: It is called ‘the sprint mission.’ It uses nuclear rockets so it is 11 months to Mars, 60 days on the surface and then 14 months back.
Terra Nova craft from Race To Mars
TrekMovie.com: The show is called ‘Race’ to Mars. It presupposes the US working with Russia, Japan and the Europeans in competition with China to get to Mars. Do you feel that a 60s style race is what it would take to get us to Mars?
Judith: Historically exploration has always been motivated by competition…
Garfield: ..whether it is economic or political. And this is addressed in the series.
Judith: Competition and cooperation are joint themes of the series.
TrekMovie.com: The premise also revolves around there being some discovery of indications of life on Mars and the ‘race’ is to be the first to find the proof. Do you think that search for life is a requirement to motivate people to go to Mars?
Judith: Two of the characters on the show love quoting famous Mars quotes back and forth to each other. One of them is by Arthur C. Clarke who said "Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering." The idea is that if they find life on Mars then odds are really good that there life everywhere since there has been two Genesis events. If they find absolutely no life on Mars, and especially since we know Mars was so much like Earth billions of years ago, then everything we know about how life forms is wrong. So we need to go to Mars to find out why that is so. A lot of biologists tell us that they would be more surprised if life isn’t found there because the indications are so strong.
TrekMovie.com: Being that Race to Mars is still a dramatic mini-series, even though it is based on strict science, how do you guys get past some of the dry ‘reference mission’ and make this an exciting drama
Garfield: By being exceptional writers. [laughs]
Judith: It is almost like McMurdo in the South Pole where the cooks go after each other with cleavers after being cooped up so long. There is an element of cabin fever that is going to bring some excitement. And the exploration in the hostile environment also brings drama of its own. When you have people far from home and they are reliant on themselves and any support is far far away, things will happen that their training alone will prepare them to deal with.
The Race To Mars crew on the surface of Mars
TrekMovie.com: One bit of speculation you guys added was naming one of your characters Okuda.
Garfield: We knew we had an international team. It was patterned after the International Space station and the Japanese Space agency is putting a huge effort into astro-biology. So we made the one scientist Japanese — and who better to name him after but Mike’s Dad?
TrekMovie.com: Are there any other Trek references in Race to Mars?
Judith: We were very cautious. We put exactly one little Star Trek reference in there and when we saw the rough the actor, who shall remain nameless, blew the line! He was supposed to say ‘Mr. Spock’ but he said ‘Dr. Spock.’ Unfortunately, due the way it was shot it could not be fixed so it had to be cut.
Kevan Ohtsji as Hironi Okuda in Race To Mars
TrekMovie.com: Speaking of Trek, you guys co-wrote "Terra Prime" which was the first time in whole Trek franchise that we get to visit Mars. Did you guys feel that it was time to give Mars its due?
Judith: Well to be fair, since the beginning of the season there was a board up in Manny [Coto’s] office and he had all these story areas he wanted to address and Mars and the ‘Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies‘ was one of them. When Manny wanted to do the Demons/Terra Prime arc it was to bring the themes of Enterprise home to the solar system and that is when we said "then we have to go to Mars."
TrekMovie.com: That was the second to last episode for the series, but many consider it to be the real finale for the series.
Judith: It was nice people got two. One ("Terra Prime") ended Enterprise and one ended the recent Trek era ("These are the Voyages").
Garfield: In everybody’s heart of hearts the show was going to go a couple more years and was going to end with Archer’s speech to the Federation. But early on Manny started to thing ‘what do we do if we don’t get those years.’
TrekMovie.com: You guys were brought in for the 4th season of Enterprise. When one looks over your episodes they are just laden with continuity nuggets. Was that why you guys were brought in specifically? Was that your mandate?
Judith: I think Mike Sussman and Manny had read our book "Federation" and when we came in to talk to them, the themes they wanted to address were those from "Federation." That is something they thought was a strength of ours. That is how we approach it – we always love to tie things up and find novel explanations.
Garfield: When we came in and met with Manny and Brannon they emphasized that anyone coming on staff had to be people who understood Star Trek completely so they could start working on the first day.
Judith: Which we certainly did. I think we were on to our first outline within two weeks.
TrekMovie.com: Did you see that Brannon recently said that once he saw how things went on Season 4 he thought that maybe that is how the show should have gone since the beginning, do you agree?
Judith: It is hard to say in hindsight. That show evolved
Garfield: Season 4 was so heavily continuity driven and it was great for the fans. But by season 4 the audience had been reduced to just the fans. For whatever reason the audience dropped off the previous years.
Judith: It is hard to say but everyone would have loved to have the opportunity to continue it. Manny had plans already.
TrekMovie.com: What were some of those ideas you guys would have liked to have seen if you got more seasons?
Garfield: Manny was determined to find a way to get Shran onto the bridge of the Enterprise. The context of Star Trek is so huge and there was so much that Enterprise could have done…there is no end of stories.
TrekMovie.com: Any specific ideas you guys had?
Garfield: Well we pitched this story to have Alice Krige back as a Starfleet medical technician who made contact with the Borg from Season 2 [ENT: "Regeneration"] and we would see the birth of the Borg Queen.
Judith: We were thinking that there were all sorts of "Federation"-like ties we could have between the end of Enterprise and other established canon. We could have linked them more so you could have seen the continuity and you could see the flow of events and people. You could have seen them from the beginning and that is likely what Gar and I would have gravitated towards. Plotting out what might have linked Enterprise to the others.
Captain Archer visits Mars in "Terra Prime"
The first part of Race to Mars airs this Sunday on the Discovery Channel in Canada. It is also airing on RTE in France and NHK in Japan (check local listings). It will air on the Science Channel in the US in early 2008. The companion documentary Mars Rising (narrated by William Shatner) airs in October. More on both at the Discovery: Race To Mars website. For those outside Canada, you can view some of the preview videos at Spacecast (scroll down to Race To Mars section on the left) Also learn more about Gar and Judy at their official site reeves-stevens.com
TrekMovie.com will soon follow-up this interview with another related to their new book "Collision Course" written with William Shatner.
VOTE: Mars or Bust?
When do you think we will ever make it to Mars? Vote in the latest poll (right).
Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens items mentioned above, available on Amazon
Photos/Images: NASA, Discovery Channel (&Pierre Dury), and CBS Studios