As a child, I used to ponder what it would be like to visit all the different planets and moons of our solar system. To see the best vacation spots in our solar system! To feed this desire, I would look through the college astronomy book my father had laying around the house. I devoured all the TV coverage of the Moon landings in the early 1970s. I pored through the books we had from the Time-Life Science and Nature series.
Time-Life’s Man and Space Book
One of those Time-Life books was Man and Space, written by popular science and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. (I guess it’s not too surprising who became my favorite author within in a few years – Arthur C. Clarke!) This book tells the history of space exploration, at least up to 1964, when the book was written.
American Visionary, Chesley Bonestell
Man and Space had pictures all sorts of rockets and astronauts. Everything my 10 year-old brain desired! But best of all, it was filled with paintings by American illustrator and designer, Chesley Bonestell. Born in 1888, Bonestell was fascinated with space and space travel and he painted his dreams. His paintings were a major influence on science fiction art and he was a huge inspiration to the American space program.
Bonestell is perhaps best known for a series of paintings he did for Collier’s Magazine in 1954 depicting space travel and views from other planets. These paintings would be collected a few years later and put into a book by Bonestell and Willy Ley, a German rocket scientist, named The Conquest of Space. I actually have a copy of this fantastic book that I bought in the late seventies.
Saturn as seen from Mimas
But a decade earlier, Bonestell had another series of paintings in Life magazine showing views of Saturn from several of its moons – decades before space probes visited any planets. One of those paintings captured my imagination. Saturn as seen from Mimas, shows Saturn, rings tipped up and on edge, and the mountainous landscape Bonestell imagined to be there. Near the base of a towering cliff, if you look really closely, you can see five astronauts looking at the enormous sphere of Saturn hanging over their heads. I was just so intrigued by this image! I so wanted to go there and see it first hand. What an amazing vacation it would be to see that!
The advances of the space race promised that perhaps, someday, I too could see space first hand. After all, in 1975 at age 12, when I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was going to be a short 26 years until I could travel on a Pan Am Space Clipper and stay at the orbiting Hilton Hotel. Perhaps even travel on to the Moon. But as the year 2001 approached, my dream of this coming true was quickly evaporating.
Wanderers, a film by Eric Wernquist
But now, there’s a film that shows all my dreams and more! Made in 2014 by Swedish filmmaker Erik Wernquist, the film Wanderers shows what it could be like to travel around our solar system. Wernquist, a digital artist and animator, took actual images from NASA spacecraft and combined them with live-action and computer-generated graphics. The film shows tourists exploring and experiencing the beautiful vistas waiting to be seen across our solar system.
The best part of this film is it combines actual images of the locations visited in the scenes with the animation. One-third of the scenes revolve around Saturn and its moons due to the wealth of images from the Cassini-Huygens mission. And the activities shown are perhaps scientifically possible.
In the Beginning…
The film starts out with a family of humans wandering through the land, maybe 10,000 years ago. The camera pans upward to the sky, revealing the night sky filled with stars and the five naked-eye planets. Keep in mind the name “planets” comes from a Greek word that literally means “wanderer”.
Carl Sagan, reading from his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, “narrates” the film. Sagan points out that even after 400 generations of humanity’s existence, we still yearn to explore. Sagan paraphrases Walt Whitman telling us the “open road still softly calls”. There are still a restless few, Sagan says, that still crave, are drawn to the “undiscovered lands and new worlds”.
The Best Vacation Spots in Our Solar System
For the rest of the film, we travel alongside with some solar system tourists. We see the greatest vacation highlight clips possible in our solar system.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see the sunset on Mars? Maybe you’re into more extreme sports – You can see what it would be like to float among the ice of Saturn’s rings. Perhaps you’ve wanted to BASE jump from a cliff that’s estimated to be 20 kilometers high. These wanderers do just that at the Verona Rupes cliff on Neptune’s moon Miranda. They float downwards in what seems to be a never-ending, slow-motion free fall. Maybe you’ve always wanted to fly like a bird? Well, watch them soar through the thick, reddish-orange atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, high above an icy, liquid methane sea using wings not much larger than a human.
The film lasts nearly four minutes. It’s a visual feast from start to end. The soundtrack is majestic at times and quiet at others. It’s simply amazing. I have spent several hours just listening to the music on repeat. Someone even made a 30-minute loop of it, I suspect just for me!
It’s not surprising, but Wernquist lists Chesley Bonestell as an inspiration for this film!
I don’t think I’m going to spoil it by giving away the ending. The final scene shows a woman wearing a parka, its fur-lined hood pulled snug around her self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) visor. She’s standing on the observation deck of an airship. You can see its twin airship in the distance, floating in the upper reaches of Saturn’s atmosphere. The camera is framed close to her face. Reflecting in the glass of her visor, you can see Saturn’s enormous clouds below, and its backlit rings above. After a few seconds, she slowly smiles. All the while, Sagan reminds us, “Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds – promising untold opportunities – beckon.”
Promise for Humanity
Let me know what you think of this film. I personally find it very uplifting to watch. It holds such promise for humanity.
And when the girl from the future smiles, I cry a few tears of joy…
You can watch Erik Wernquist’s Wanderers in the link below.
Interested in learning more about space travel photography, then read about the Earthrise – the first photo of the Earth taken from the Moon by humans.