Stop what you're doing, set aside four minutes of your time, and bask in the inspirational spectacle that is Wanderers, an electrifying short film by animator Erik Wernquist that seamlessly merges breathtaking visions of humanity's future in deep space with stirring narration by Carl Sagan. Trust us – you don't want to miss this.
Riding a space elevator up from Mars. Trekking across the ice fields of Europa. Soaring in wing suits above the clouds of Titan. Base jumping on Miranda. Wanderers is a science-inspired short film imagining human exploration of our solar system that leaves me giddy and excited for a future we could one day experience.
Set to Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot, this inspired future borrows heavily from the futuristic visions of NASA, Kim Stanley Robinson, Arthur C. Clarke, Chesley Bonestell, and many more. The film's creator, Erik Wernquist, sees the film as "a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds - and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there."
Each of the places depicted in Wanderers is an actual place in our solar system. When real photos or map data was available, Wernquist used them to guide his digital recreations. You can read about each of the places and their scientific basis in an accompanying gallery of stills (also on imgur): leaving our home planet, surfing the rings of Saturn, basking above Jupiter's epic storms, mining asteroids, and so much more.
Basking in the ringshine above the clouds of Saturn. Image credit: Erik Wernquist
While we're still a long way off from human deep space exploration, we are getting a tiny step closer with the first space test flight of the Orion spacecraft next week. Currently just a crew and service module, the spacecraft is intended as the planetary crew transport module for an eventual deep space exploration vehicle for asteroid interception or even to carry humans to Mars. All the alien worlds in this short film are within our solar system, places conceivably within reach of Orion or its descendants.
Floating above the Jupiter's epic storms. Image credit: Erik Wernquist
What I truly love about this film is not just that its beautifully-crafted visuals or that it uses science to inform those visualizations. What I love is that it takes humans and places them in a situation where they aren't just exploring our solar system, but embracing living in all its exotic wonder. This isn't just pragmatic visualizations of spacecraft and colonies: it's taking our love of adventure and applying it to the unbelievable yet totally real vistas beyond Earth. This is a future of skydivers, base-jumpers, ice-cliff climbers, and free divers. This is our solar system as a place open to not just work and life, but also to play. This is a very human vision of the future we could have.
Hitching a space elevator out of the gravity well on Mars above the Terra Cimmeria highlands. Image credit: Erik Wernquist
In the film, Wernquist takes a bit of artistic license, but he works with the beautiful parts of what is plausible, not sacrificing science on a whim. It'd be more scientifically plausible to mount a space elevator on Pavonis Mons, an equatorial volcano stretching 14 kilometers above average surface elevation, but the cratered Terra Cimmeria highlands are more aesthetically pleasing. This is such a beautiful merger of science and fiction that I don't even care about such tiny variations; it's a minor thing to suggest humans may pick their space elevator location based not just on science but on having a great ascent view!
This is a possible future, but it won't be easy. We've got a long way to go on these technologies: How would we build a cable strong enough to function as a space elevator? Could we come up with a thermally insulating material adequate to protect from the extreme temperatures on Saturn without a full space suit, even if we stayed floating at a pressure of one atmosphere? What techniques would be most efficient to mine an asteroid? Can we find a way to protect our delicate bodies from radiation outside the protection of planetary magnetic fields? But the only way we're going to solve those challenges is if we're motivated to try. Videos like this, embracing science and dreams, are what will help kick us into reaching out for this future and pushing the boundaries between plausible and possible.
While it can feel like a painfully slow crawl, the technology of robots or humans leaving our planet is progressing scorchingly fast. We've come from the first uncertain rocket launches and humans just barely poking into orbit to crew transport to the space station is a task contracted out to commercial bidders and launch explosions are shocking news in under a century. Yes, this is a futuristic vision, but this is a future we could have, if we wanted to and worked hard for it.
So much of our solar system exploring is by robots, and I love that. But I am also thrilled by seeing humans survive in the harsh, exotic environment of space, managing to do dull, mundane things in a totally unreal situation. Space exploration doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. We can fund both robots and humans, reaching out beyond our planet to explore and immerse ourselves in discovering the true wonder of our solar system. We can do this. Please?
As for the story to go along with the film? That's for you to write.
Tip via Alex Parker, thank you! Do you think we can convince Wernquist to visualize all the NASA exploration concepts? I want more!