The series "First": The Dark Side of Cosmonautics

    Habr, May 2031. The

    tragedy of the Providence 1, which we have witnessed today, alas, fits into the history of cosmonautics. Like most cosmic catastrophes, it could have been avoided. And it is not terrible that for an unknown reason an explosion occurred in the area of ​​a solid-fuel accelerator, but that the astronaut rescue system , specially designed for such a case, did not manifest itself at all. There is a surrealistic feeling that we are watching a movie in which the writers simply threw it off the rocket for plot reasons.

    September 14 on the streaming service Hulu was released together with the British channel Channel 4 series “First” (“The First”, KinoPoisk , IMDB). The first season is dedicated to two years of crew preparation for a flight to Mars. And, despite the presence of a stellar team - show runner and screen house writer Bo Willimon, the main role - the winner of two Oscars, Sean Penn, in my opinion, the series turned out to be contradictory. It perfectly shows the undistinguished sides of cosmonautics, but alas, it is not without flaws.

    First about the technique

    The film's scientific adviser was Charles Elachi, former director of JPL. And in general, the series really gives the impression of realistic. But, unfortunately, it was not without technical mistakes.

    First of all, for plot reasons, the writers had to kill the first crew. It's difficult to come up with a realistic accident, so we are looking at the repetition of the 1986 Challenger disaster. The problem is that there was no rescue system on the shuttle, but there was one on the SLS, and in the “spire” film CAC was clearly shown.

    On the left - the photo of the Challenger disaster, on the right - a frame from the movie A still

    from the movie

    The SLS rescue system has no restrictions on altitude and speed and is able to lead the ship with the crew away from the exploding rocket, even from the launch, even at a high altitude. So, for screening reasons, the rescue system was not only turned off, but was not mentioned in any way in order to avoid unnecessary questions.

    Further, the cause of the disaster was not copied from the Challenger (that would be too strange), but what was invented is completely ridiculous. On the one hand, someone (I suspect that it was Elaci), quite correctly described the design of the front engines of separation and removal of the side solid-fuel accelerators of the Space Shuttle / SLS. The fact is that on the shuttle itself there are covers of shunting engines to protect against rain. Most of the program they were made of paper, and at the end switched to tayvek. These covers were nominally separated at start under the pressure of incoming air, and sometimes fell off by themselves even before launch.

    But on solid-fuel boosters there are indeed spring-loaded covers on top.

    On the left, the upper engines of separation and exhaust, on the right are lower

    These covers open when the engines are turned on, as we were shown in the series.

    But, in reality, any foreign object would have struck casually at a sufficiently thick layer of thermal insulation of the outer shuttle tank (or the central unit of the SLS) and could not have caused any noticeable harm. In real launches, the engines of the department managed to burn out rather big areas in the insulation, and nothing.

    In general, the choice of SLS as a carrier is very strange. The fact is that the astronauts will start on a remotely resembling Orion ship, which in low-Earth orbit docks with the Martian transport ship. The mass of "Orion" from the film is no more than 30 tons, and the SLS block 1 shown in the series will bring 70 into low orbit.

    Since the "Orion" from the film is not an exact copy of the real, Elaci did not seem to ask, but in vain, therefore that there were a lot of little blunders in the scenes with him.

    At the separation of the third degree, historical frames of the American lunar program are obviously quoted, but, unlike reality, the ship and the steps are given a completely inappropriate rotation.

    They were confused with a cyclogram during the withdrawal, and the ballistic cover with the rescue system is separated from the ship only at the very end, after the third stage is turned off. In reality, it can be dropped shortly after the separation of the first stage (side accelerators) - already in the second or third minute of flight the height rises to ~ 50 km, and the resistance of the atmosphere can be neglected.

    In the minds of the creators of the movie, the shuttle mingled with Orion, and it is completely incomprehensible how the ship’s electrical system works - it shows the discovery of solar panels and at the same time discusses the inclusion of fuel cells. The first is the Orion, the second was the shuttles, in a real ship just one thing is enough, and for a short flight to the Martian transport ship there would have been enough commonplace batteries.

    There is a very funny bloop in the design of docking stations. On the pseudo- "Orion" they drew a docking node of the Russian "Union" with the "pin-cone" system, and on the Martian transport ship an androgynous node. With all the joy for the Russian space program selling US docking stations even in the 2030s, these designs are incompatible.

    On the left - pseudo- "Orion", on the right a Martian transport ship

    In the scene of convergence and docking for speed correction at 4 m / s, it is completely unnecessary to unfold. The Martian transport ship looks too empty, unlike the ISS, with junk hanging on all the walls. In general, the design raises questions - there is obviously no greenhouse on the ship, which means that the astronauts are flying with irreplaceable supplies, and the ship looks too small for that. Separately, it is worth noting that the artists who painted the ships seemed to have heard about tripping (three-time redundancy), so blocks of three engines are often found, when there are usually two, but this is not impossible. But the ion engine from the Martian ship alone, without any reserves, which is strange. And it is completely incomprehensible where the energy for it comes from - there are few solar panels, and the cooling radiators of the nuclear reactor are not visible.

    So, involuntarily arguing with a review already published here , the transport ship from the Martian, in my opinion, looks more realistic.


    The spirit of the work of the space industry in the series is shown well. Watching on-screen peripetias of working with relatives or forming a crew, you unwittingly recall the memoirs of real astronauts, it looks very similar. But, alas, not without its oddities. The first crew has doubles, but the second one does not. And one cannot say that they exist, but they are not shown - instead of excluding / adding people to the team (which is also a question), it would be more logical to discuss the movement of astronauts between the second and third crews.

    But the organization of mission processes raises serious doubts. In a situation where additional risks have arisen at the departure stage, which is on Mars and produces fuel for take-off, the decision is made to fly to chance instead of fixing the problem, which is completely unrealistic. Surely this problem will bring unpleasant surprises in the next seasons (despite all the criticism, I would like them to be).


    The experiences of relatives are beautifully shown, but this is characteristic of the era of shuttles, which did not have rescue systems, now the risks are perceived differently. A good example is that during the time of the shuttles at Mike Mullein every start was a nightmare for relatives, and in the memoirs of Chris Hadfield there is a much more relaxed simulation with his wife learn from the MCC, not from the reporters. ”

    Astronauts are very unlucky with their families. In the series, the only normal family where your partner supports you and does not create problems is the same-sex marriage of the former commander of the second crew. Everyone else has either a drug addict daughter or a husband who needs to go to the hospice (I hope not to euthanize, there is no clear wording) a mother suffering from dementia, or a husband who wants children, or relatives with whom you do not maintain relationships. The head of a private corporation sending astronauts on a flight that was clearly written off with Mask is obviously divorced. In life, anything can happen, but the concentration of personal problems on the series is off the scale, and willy-nilly sadly recalls the healthy family relationships shown in Apollo 13.


    The series is made in a realistic manner, but, unfortunately, the authors could not resist trying to add deep meaning. A mysterious character who collects phones calls associations with the film “Contact” and symbolizes something, but in the first season his personality and purpose are not revealed. In general, when I watched the last episode of the first season, I had the thought “what if everything that happens happens to be his nonsense,” but, fortunately, the flight to Mars is most likely real.

    Very important question

    In several series, the question of the expedition’s meaning is raised - why should they even go to Mars. And, in my opinion, the filmmakers failed to give a good answer. The speech of the head of the company is perceived in a completely different way, they say, they have blasted the Earth, now let's fly around to foul Mars. And even the argument for beauty from the commander does not stand up to the counter argument - "but let's send a satellite with 4K cameras and we will shoot cosmic beauties for your pleasure." Alas, there are problems with the meaning of such a flight in a real space program ( one , two ). It’s good that the writers did not come up with a simple but unrealistic solution, and it’s bad that they couldn’t give an answer while staying within the bounds of realism.


    The advantages of the series should include the general realism of technology (despite the blunders), people and the atmosphere. The disadvantages - sometimes too gloomy mood. In general, in my opinion, the advantages outweigh, and I would like to hope for the release of the next seasons.

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