Tell us a bit about The First.
In literal terms, The First is about a human mission to Mars set in the near future. However, ultimately it celebrates the human spirit – its constant curiosity and desire to push boundaries and go beyond comfort zones.
You play Sadie Hewitt. Tell us a bit about her.
Sadie is one of the astronauts on the Providence crew. She is a civilian along with Keiko. Sadie's background is in biology, geology and meteorology – her role on the team would be, essentially, to find life on Mars. Her initial research was in Antarctica looking for life in extreme environments, which is thought to be a potential indicator for the Red Planet. Part of Sadie's backstory is that she was something of a whiz kid; got a doctorate early, is an expert in her field and therefore being recruited by Kayla as an astronaut is a way of fulfilling her potential.
What makes this show unique?
At the moment, most shows about the future are dystopian. The First is, refreshingly, rather more optimistic. It examines frontiersman-ship, ultimately celebrating the human spirit and determination to do what has never been done before.
Did you do a lot of research before shooting?
Yes I did a huge amount of research. I talked to astronauts and people from NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab). I had phone calls with Jennifer Eigenbrode who is a geologist and biochemist NASA consultant, and astronaut Sandy Magnus to get a sense of perspective of an astronaut with a scientific background. I watched countless interviews to get a sense of their attitude towards various aspects of the job. Scott Kelley’s Year in Space was incredibly insightful, as was Chris Hadfield’s biography (How to be an Astronaut on Earth). Chris actually spent some with us and that was so helpful. He also watched some of our activities in scenes, to check and advise how a real astronaut would do specific things. I also tried to get my head around the basic science behind what Sadie is and has accomplished; documentaries on Antarctica, Robert Zubrin’sThe Case for Mars, podcasts from the Mars Society… I was able to visit the JPL and NASA in Houston. They took us through what a typical day looks like there, what’s physically required and so on. We watched Suni Williams do some training in the pool, that sort of thing. I learnt a lot of surprising facts; one I found particularly interesting was the breakaway phenomenon, also known at NASA as ‘space euphoria’ and later repackaged as ‘earth-out-of-view phenomenon’. It’s a reluctance to leave space – a sort of state of internal uncoupling from the Earth. For example, in the 1970s Ed White said he felt like “a million dollars” during his spacewalk, and recalls going back to the hatch as “one of the saddest moments of my life”.
Did you ever want to be an astronaut?
No, I never wanted to be an astronaut because science was never a strong point of mine! However, when I first started learning about the various planets and what we are planning to do in terms of Mars, I remember going to bed often with a total sense of awe, and a little overwhelmed at the thought of trillions of galaxies.
Do you think humans will ever colonise Mars? And do you think we should?
I think human nature demands we go. It seems inevitable. Colonise, I don’t know.