For all of humankind's accomplishments, a trip beyond the moon — Earth's own natural satellite — remains elusive. Space's mystique, especially a voyage to Mars, has fed a booming industry of billionaires (and ordinary citizens) trying to colonize the Red Planet.
As Earth's next-closest planetary neighbor, Mars remains the ultimate prize. To the scientists behind a new show called "Mars," the point of a manned mission is not the destination, but what we learn from the journey.
Mankind gets most of its technological creature comforts from the vast expanse beyond our world, but has yet to explore its depths, an expert explained to CNBC recently.
The ubiquitous smartphone has "a GPS receiver in it to tell you your location," Robert Braun, a professor of space technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told CNBC. "You probably looked at The Weather Channel this morning. That information all comes to you from space."
Braun, an aerospace engineer, was the lead scientific consultant for the new documentary fiction (docufiction) series set to debut on the National Geographic Channel on Monday. The show, made in the style of a documentary, revolves around a fictional six-person crew on humanity's first manned mission to Mars.
In a nod to traditional documentaries, it illustrates the science behind the drama, replete with explanations from the world's leading experts and pioneers. Some of these include SpaceX CEO and Tesla founder Elon Musk, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronaut James "Jim" Lovell.
Mars is taking center stage on some people's locations to escape the fallout of a bruising election season. Yet to Braun, a manned mission would unify humanity around a single, clear purpose, providing a strategic goal for public spending, private investments, and even boost science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
"It sounds like I just want one goal," Braun said. "But sending humans to Mars encapsulates so many of the things that NASA is already doing."
For a successful manned mission, Braun envisions cooperation between public and private sectors, depicted in the "Mars" series through the fictional IMSF, a consortium of government agencies and private companies that fund and run the manned expedition.
The show's executive producer, Justin Wilkes, credited Elon Musk for driving the show to production.
"SpaceX ... is a company that's built to eventually get people to Mars," Wilkes said. "He's made no bones about it. That's what he wants to do."
Wilkes thinks that by fulfilling current contracts with NASA and helping re-supply the International Space Station, SpaceX is laying the groundwork for a successful mission to Mars. The company is spending an estimated $300 million on its "Red Dragon" Mars lander alone.
Still, Braun cautions against investors eager to make immediate astronomical returns by betting on Mars. "I actually think long term a Mars settlement can be totally sustainable. But that's gonna take 10, if not a hundred years."