Living Universe is a visually spectacular, scientifically informed doco that imagines as a real future possibility an interstellar space mission discovering life light years beyond our solar system. Enthralling, inspiring, transcendent in its hope and optimism.
Living Universe takes us on a journey 200 years+ into the future, when a spacecraft controlled by AI (a female-voiced entity named ‘Artemis’) leaves Earth on a mission to ascertain whether life exists on the planet Minerva B, located light years beyond our solar system. Like Earth, Minerva B’s orbit around its sun is in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone (that is, “not too hot and not too cold” to support life).
While Artemis’ journey and Minerva B are clearly imaginary, Living Universe is a documentary, not sci-fi. Aerospace engineers, astrochemists, astronomers, robotics engineers and all manner of “planet hunters” lend their expertise to hypothesising how such a journey might one day make the quantum leap from the imagined to the real.
Impossible, you might say, but these guys, brilliant scientists all, are believers, and their unbridled optimism and faith in the human capacity to find a way is contagious. The logistics seem overwhelmingly daunting. Example: chemical fuel got us to the moon, but how to power a spacecraft to another solar system? Then a British female scientist tells us that we’re within 5 years of developing “direct fusion drive”, and a NASA peer postulates that anti-matter could be a future option capable of powering a spacecraft at 20% the speed of light. And you begin to wonder…
But science and technology are only part of the equation. One of the interviewees observes that “the great paradox of wide open space is to make us look inward” – and indeed, the Artemis mission raises some fundamental existential and philosophical questions. If life is discovered on other planets, what implications does that have for religion? For our sense of place in the universe? For what it means to be human?
Cinematographically, there are some spectacular scenes throughout Living Universe, including some CGI-driven space travel and extra-terrestrial sequences, but in truth, we’re pretty used to stuff like this these days.
The great appeal of Living Universe is in the future possibilities it raises and thoughts it provokes as the expert interviewees and narrator (Australia’s favourite voice of science, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki) give us access to their rarefied world of specialist knowledge, enthrall us with their visions of future space travel, and zealously respond to that eternal and most profound of questions – are we alone? – with a resounding NO!
Those who are old enough will recall the moon landing as an event that unified the world in a way that is unthinkable now. Back then, there was a sense that all humankind shared in that momentous occasion, not just America. It was a landmark for us as a species. The feeling of global unity that attended that historical moment was special, unforgettable. Whether intentionally or otherwise, Living Universe taps back into that, presenting space travel as unifying, ennobling, and transcendent of the pettiness and divisiveness of today’s world. I say that makes it a must-see.
Movie Website: https://www.livinguniverse.com.au/
Australian release date: Living Universe screens at Event Innaloo and Event Whitford City on 10, 11, 15 and 18 August 2018.
NOTE: ONE-OFF Q&A Screening next Saturday 18 August at Event Innaloo (6.30pm), with space scientist Alexandre M. Kling and exoplanet specialist Megan Shabram from NASA’s Ames Research Centre!
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