20170127_1603361This blog is dedicated to science fiction movies – mostly independent.

Funny, dark, psychological, deep, smart, weird, odd, low budget, gory, eccentric and created in first place not for cash earning, although some occasional exceptions for big budget sci-fi will be made.

Independent means under $15-20 mln budget. No trash – in most cases I don’t review trash (with that said, “Ex Drummer” is one of my all-time favourites). All the films are rated from 0 to 4 only within the sci-fi genre.

Why indie? Because since late 90-s indie movie production has been growing into something big, bigger than ever. So many awesome films with tiny budget and unknown names were made, most of them remaining virtually hidden in the shade of commercial sci-fi, blockbusters and YA franchises. More and more of the recent indie sci-fi is not about aliens, monsters, robots and stuff, but more about us, humans, our nature and psychology. This change is still ongoing and it’s great.

I watch all movie genres, so… it would be reasonable to ask why did I start this blog? Simply put, I haven’t found any other that concentrates purely on good science fiction. It lacks coverage. The movie that inspired me particularly in first place was probably ”Coherence”. Some all-time favourite movies of mine are “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Stalker“, “Mulholland Drive” and “Lost In Translation”. Welcome! On the right panel you can browse by categories, otherwise go directly to reviews a-z or reviews by category.

Was 1997 the Greatest Year for Science Fiction in Film?

I never paid attention to this, but may be damn true. And if we consider “Flubber” a science fiction movie, that is so damn true!

Plot and Theme

Most years have a few high-quality genre pieces to offer, some years see the release of a genre-defining film and a solid collection of supporting movies, and every now and then there are collisions where two absolute classics are released side-by-side (see:  1968, 1977, and 1982).  But, there’s nothing quite like what happened 20 years ago.  Eleven science fiction films of note were released in 1997, spanning all subgenres.  This piece will discuss each of these films, heralding 1997 as a seminal year for cinematic science fiction.

Intellectual Dramas 

In the first section, we’ll look at three slow-burn, intellectual science fiction films:  Contact, Gattaca, and Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes).  These films respect the intelligence of the audience while discussing some of the most classic science fiction concepts.

Contact

contact Jodie Foster, listenin’ for aliens.

Based on the 1985 Carl Sagan novel of the same name and…

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The One I Love

Director: Charlie McDowell. Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. USA, 2014. Budget: $100,000. Box office: $513,447. IMDb: 7.1. My rating: 3/4. Witty dissection of a couple relationship wrapped in a sci-fi puzzle.

– Let’s say you buy a gorilla.one_i_love
– Excuse me?
– Let’s say you buy a gorilla, Ethan.
– You can’t buy a gorilla.
– I know that, it was for the story. But fine, let’s say
you buy an aardvark, okay?
(conversation between main characters)

What I especially liked about ”The One I Love” is that it’s a smart and small movie that is not trying to be pretentious and artsy – of those kind that are slow and hard to watch, burdened with their artistry and attempt to say something deep (like beautiful but soulles “High-Rise“). While 20170406_041833somebody could criticize it for not digging as profoundly as it could, I’d rather say that it intelligently leaves you enough space to analyze it by yourself. From one hand, it’s still some kind of a weird story dark romantic comedy about a couple in crisis. But it’s also a psychological minimal science fiction with witty plot and unusual approach. And as you start to understand what is actually happening in the movie, it can get pretty creepy. In short, ”The One I Love” is a micro-budget ($100,000) film about a couple in crisis with lingering and memorable aftertaste. Last but not least, it’s a puzzle.

20170406_042229If you have seen an indie with Mark Duplass (“Cyrus“, “Safety Not Guaranteed“), a one man orchestra, then you’d probably know at least vaguely what to expect from “The One I Love“. Intimate atmosphere, unorthodox script and dialogues, warm human touch imbue almost all of his works. In case you are not familiar with his works, this movie could be a good reason to do it. It’s also was a curious case when the critics were asked not mention the plot of the movie since it’s pretty difficult to write about it without spoiling anything. Before the release, it had two kinds of a test screening – where the audience knew the main idea of the plot and where it didn’t (the second screening did much better).

The One I Love” is pretty minimal, basically, it’s a theater with two actors – Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad 20170406_042244Men“, “High-Rise“). Almost everything is happening in one location. But thanks to an original idea with some very good acting the film keeps you glued to the screen. It’s also a debut movie by Charlie McDowell, the son of legendary Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange“). It seems Mark Duplass has really a distinctive flair for revealing talent in young directors. He was contacted by McDowell who wanted to make something ”relationship-oriented” and during three weeks they with Justin Lader build up a very detailed 50 page script, where everything was described with 20170406_042113smallest details – everything except for the dialogues, that were improvised by Moss and Duplass right during the filming to make the story more alive and real. 9 weeks later the movie done. Pretty quick even for such a small movie.

20170406_041948But small doesn’t mean that it offers little, right?  You could draw some parallels between ”The One I Love” and brilliant ”Coherence” (a must-see!). Some other wonderful movies like ”Closer” and ”Sliding Doors” also come to my mind. But while the ”Coherence”  was more about our choices and character formation in general, ”The One I Love” is rather a dissection of a couple relationship using science fiction to approach the question from an unexpected angle. It is an intimate story about something very private though still an 20170406_042004experience almost all of us had. So I would rather rather leave you to analyze the movie by yourself. For those who are already in a relationship – go on and watch it together, it may be pretty thought-provoking for a good discussion.

20170406_042145What I liked less. Still, a movie deserves some criticism as well. While Duplass’ passion for micro-budget-oriented movies is indeed adorable – he even said that it’s actually easier to make money with a movie that has a budget of $500,000 rather than $5,000,000, I wish the film showed us the story from a bigger view. I suppose it’s not only a budget question though, but more of time and organizational matters since the movie was made barely in 3 months. At times I felt like the movie is a little bit too tight in its minimal setting for what it wants to explore.

20170406_042215The recepton. It’s always a pleasure to note that such small independent movies can gain good recognition – 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.1 with 27k IMDb votes and a Saturn Award nomination as Best Independent Film.

20170406_041731Worth watching?The One I Love” is a curious dissection of a couple relationship. If you love sci-fi puzzle and Charlie Kaufman-like movies, definitely check it out. It leaves enough space for psychological depth, while remaining a pretty quick-paced and at times creepy puzzle. The plot is sturdy and witty. So yes – instead of an endless array of various kind of romantic comedies whatever, watch ”The One I Love”. I don’t like this cliched definition, but it’s a thought-provoking movie indeed. While not perfect and probably a little bit too minimal (I still prefer ”Coherence”, which I consider a low-budget cinema masterpiece, but it was also heavier and darker), ”The One I Love” is an interesting, refreshing and original psychologic puzzle about all of us.

Spectacularity: 2.5/4
Acting:  3.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Screenplay: 4/4
Final vote: 3/4

Watch also: Other great low-budget sci-fi movies set in a minimal setting: “The Man From Earth“, ”Exam”, ”The Cube”, ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, ”Moon”, ”Coherence”, “Version 1.0“.

P. S. Read here Q&A with the Duplass brothers.

Robots get bullied!

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Found via Sam’s article on “Ex Machina” and “Westworld”.

Stephen Hawking said: “The short-term impact of A.I. depends on who controls it; the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”

Atlas Robot by Boston dynamics is learning how not to fall when being bullied:

This is how desperate it looked several years ago, when the robot wasn’t able to pick itself back up:

Atlas Robot 5

 

Alphabet Inc. (read “Google”) sold Boston Dynamics several months ago though, after owning it for 4 years.

***

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BFI London Film Festival 2017

While I am incredibly happy to see a Russian movie (of the same name as My Bloody Valentine’s epic work!) to win The Best Film Award at BFI London Film Festival 2017, Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ (“The Lobster“) “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” really make me wanna strain at the leash.

Both have awesome posters, by the way.

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DIjUoFPWAAA-Q5s

Yesterday was the last day of the BFI London Film Festival 2017, which ran between 4-15 October 2017, and I thought I would comment on the Best Film Award winner, on some other nominees, as well as on some of the films that took part in various special galas. The films of the Festival reflected today’s global challenges, while also emphasising various nations’ peculiar traditions and highlighting truly personal stories behind broader themes.

I. Official Competition – Best Film Award: 

Winner – “Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Coming from Andrey Zvyagintsev, the man behind such critically-acclaimed films as “Leviathan” (2014) and “The Return” (2003), “Loveless” is another well-made film about a couple who lose their son during difficult time of divorce. “Loveless” has already made commotion (in a very positive sense) at the Cannes Film Festival, and all points to a…

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What Happened to Monday? (Seven Sisters)

Director: Tommy Wirkola. Starring: Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Willem Dafoe, Marwan KenzariPal Sverre Hagen, Christian Rubeck, Cassie Clare. 2017, UK-Belgium-France-USA. Budget: unknown. Box office: $19 mln. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2.5/4. Dystopian sci-fi thriller about overpopulation.

monday-movie-poster-xl“Beyond an insult to intelligence.”
(zippersthemule)

“The film portrays a dystopian future where overpopulation has lead those in power to create a one child rule, with chilling justifications for abhorable acts in the name of protecting humanity.”
(denise-314 from the UK)

“Stunning Movie Exciting from the first minute.”
(Mahmoud from Egypt)

 

One. “What Happened to Monday” is a movie where Noomi Rapace performs 7 different roles – 7 sisters. Remember Tatiana Maslany and her multiple clone performances “Orphan Black“? It’s a tough role for any artist, so is Noomi Rapace good enough?

Two. If you ever wondered what will happen if you make a combined clone of Michael Bay & Roland Emmerich and make him become a director of a mid-budget movie, here’s your chance.

Three. Movies and plots are like jeans. The best examples look like this, solid and firm:

Think of “Children of Men“, “Ex Machina” or “Stalker“. Solid and firm.

Some others, like “Pacific Rim“, “Terminator: The Judgment Day” or “Star Wars” may have occasional plot inconsistencies, but it’s fine. They know it. We know it. It doesn’t matter. We can both get through it, still having strong orgasms watching the final result.

Other candidates, like “Armageddon” (miners learning to be astronauts? grass on the asteroid?) or “The Dark Knight Rises” (send all the police forces underground? why no! make them look perfectly clean shaven? fine!) may be pretty fucked up with plot holes and inconsistencies, but pretend like they aren’t and proudly try to masquerade them with quickly-paced action, CGI and other bollocks.

But there’s worse than that – some films (“Passengers“? Any Roland Emmerich film?) almost brag about their plot problems, proudly presenting them in-your-face as a newly discovered gem.

“What Happened to Monday” falls somewhere between the last two categories. But while Roland Emmerich’s films never take themselves too seriously, “What Happened to Monday” does.

***

Here’s a quick autopsy – the film starts like a “Children of Men“-wannabe, then spends some time as a “Passengers“-like whiny melodrams about family values, then finally – thanks to the unknown xenomorph God – abandons any attempts to appear smart and converts itself a pretty straightforward sci-fi thriller. The overall feeling after having watched this Netflix-distributed dystopia was like observing the monster from “Frankenstein” – it moves clumsily, sometimes makes a sincere smile, but you can clearly see that it wasn’t seamed too accurately and is an extremely artificial creation.

I may sound overly sardonic and happy to crush the movie’s corpse body, but “What Happened to Monday” isn’t actually a bad film. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on. Seriously. The sci-fi designs are curious, like the mirror that tells your physical condition and skin problems or a self-programming punching bag.

The film has an excellent premise – how the society turns itself into a totalitarian regime state to protect the world from overpopulation. There weren’t too many films about it, in fact, and half of them are surely from the 70-s (with “Soylent Green” being the most obvious example, plus some elements from “Logan’s Run“).

The visuals are one of the films strongest points too.

It has a wonderful cast – Noomi Rapace (the original 2009 Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” – a very good movie, by the way; “Prometheus“), Willem Dafoe who needs no introduction (“Antichrist“, “Platoon“, 2002 “Spider-Man“) and Glenn Close (“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1“, “The Girl with All the Gifts“).

So what went wrong? The details. From the first frames you dive into a fascinating world of Mr. Cliche. He is the boss in this dystopian world. The details completely ruin any credibility of this world, and for a dystopian movie that is crucial. That’s like teaching miners how to be astronauts when you can teach the latter how to drill.

In order to avoid the spoilers, let me make an example. All the people must carry an ID card. In any time of the day and night you must be able to prove that you’re the only child in the family. Even when you go to buy some meat, you still need to give your card to the butcher – why?! But I can swallow it. Okay. But if you’re a 35-year-old-woman, it means your mum is at least 50 years old, then what’s the point? If you were the only child yesterday, it’s obvious that tomorrow you’re still the only child because your mom can’t have kids anymore. That’s a big plot hole, but while watching the film I made a rough list and counted about 10 of them, and that’s just during the first view.

Where Alfonso Cuaron was subtle in portraying such a realistic dystopia, “What Happened to Monday” uses a far simpler approach. It’s like Michael Bay filming “Children of Men“. Need to portray an overpopulated world? Just show an overcrowded street 5 times in a row. Totalitarian society? O.K., who cares how it was created and who allowed it. Just show how the police taking away the kids from the angry parents! (…and why all the kids are between 5 and 10 years old? Why they don’t take infants?) Putting illegal children in a cryocam without letting the parents to visit them? Sure!

But if you manage to close your eyes on it, it’s not a bad flick. I was delighted to see Noomi Rapace performing the role(s) of 7 sisters. Noomi Rapace, the chameleon actress… I thought she will become a major movie star 5 years ago? I loved her roles in “Prometheus” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, but due to bad luck after 2012 she did 6 movies (mostly crime/thrillers), 4 of which had less than 35% on RT and pretty low ratings on IMDb. Only “The Drop” with her and Tom Hardy seems to be a good flick (7.1 IMDb and 90% RT).

Willem Defoe, a great American actor, was okay here – his role was limited (thanks to the script!) to a kind-but-severe-uncle cliche. Glenn Close, also a versatile and and talented actress, portrayed a very cliched villain that you want to punch in the face from the first frames… but I can’t blame her for that (thanks to the script!).

Worth watching? “What Happened to Monday” may easily satisfy young unpretentious veiwers (think “Surrogates” or various YA dystopias which I can’t stand), so I get it why Netflix stepped in. For everybody else… If you want to see what happens if Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich make a baby and then make him become a director and shoot “Children of Men” sequel… you’re more than welcome! Just don’t forget that these big-bada-boom guys can still do some nice stuff, especially if mixed with seven clones of Noomi Rapace, one Willem Dafoe, a dystopian setting and some chilling thriller.

Watch instead: choose any kind of dystopia you like! “Children of Men” for a modern, minimal and extremely relevant dystopia, “A Boy and His Dog” for 70-s black satire, “Moon” for a minimal low budget sci-fi awesomeness, “Dead Man’s Letters” for all Tarkovsky’s fans, “Version 1.0” for a Kafkaesque surreal cyberpunk, “THX-1138” for an arthouse film, “Sleep Dealer” as a smart illegal workforce Mexican dystopia – all much better movies. For a quick-paced action… ”V For Vendetta” (also by no means perfect movie) or bloody lovely ”Watchmen”?

Or be a sweetheart and help ”Blade Runner 2049” that is definitely struggling in the box office.

2.5/4

monday-movie-poster-xl

Sunshine

“If this movie was American, it would doubtless be a bunch of American cowboys being sent up with fireworks and catch phrases.”

 

A wonderful review of this hugely underrated movie by Assholes Watching Movies. I can rewatch it endlessly. Like in case of “28 Days Later“, Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s collaboration brought an incredible result. And why? Because – among all other things – they had a good solid script.

***

Alex Garland’s second movie, “Annihilation“, will be out pretty soon. trailer was released recently and it looks absolutely hypnotic.  I really think in 20 years he may become what Villeneuve is now if he continues like that.

The cast is impressive – Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Sonoya Mizuno. Really looking forwatd to it.

 

ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

50 years into the future, the sun is a dying star, and Earth will die along with it. We send a ship of astronauts to bomb the sun back into shining but the team goes awol somewhere out in the million miles of space. So we send another one, but this IS IT. Mankind’s last hope. We’ve officially mined all of Earth’s resources for this motherload. No pressure!

sunshine02The new team includes Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy. They’re clearly already under stress when we meet them several years into their trip to the sun, but shit’s about to get a whole lot messier. Just as they’re approaching the most dangerous part of the mission, they receive a signal. It’s a ping from the lost ship. It’s been 7 years since anyone’s heard from them…they can’t still be alive, can they?

The crew debates whether they should divert their…

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High-Rise / posters

4 bloody lovely posters for “High-Rise” that I must have missed when reviewing Ben Wheatley’s surreal film. The last one has some very curious details.

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High-Rise-Movie

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High-Rise” a bloody mess of a dystopian movie based on a novel by J. G. Ballard, but it had its moments. And it also had Tom Hiddleston, Siena Miller, Jeremy Irons and absolutely beautiful although rather lifeless visuals.

 

Space Station 76

space_station76Director: Jack Plotnick. Starring: Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Marisa Coughlan, Matt Bomer. USA, 2014. IMDb: 4.9. Budget: roughly 1 million. My rating: 2.5/4. Retrofuturistic black parody, Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station.

– Warning. Dr. Bot must remind Misty not to become… too close to her therapist bot.
– I’ve gotta be close to somebody.
– We must keep this professional.
– Don’t be so cold.
– I must maintain objectivity.
– But I feel like…  I just feel like you and I have really been going through it here, you know? I feel like I have really been connecting with you. You know me.
– Emotion overload.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– I’m a leg man, you know?

(a discussion between 2 guys about newly arrived female crew member)

 

Can you imagine the future with corded telephones and colonies on orbital space stations, VHS cassettes and interstellar travel? If you can’t, Jack Plotnick did it for you. ”Space Station 76” is a 1970-s version of the future that never came. And “Space Station 76” has one of the best A.I. ever. Seriously.

 

What I liked. It’s actually easier to describe ”Space Station 76” by saying what it isn’t.

 

It’s not exactly a comedy – at least, not if you understand modern comedy only as ”21 Jump Street” or Seth Rogen-like comedy. It’s more of a Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station-like film. Deadpan humour. You never know when the characters are actually joking – well, probably except for the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot, the true gem of the film.

 

It’s not really a science fiction, or, at least, not in first place – the film mostly mocks its retrofuturistic sci-fi setting and ridiculous 70-s costumes, but in a nice and elegant way. It’s not a pure parody – the film really cares about its characters, never using them just as subjects of ridicule. It’s not an art-house movie – the film is not that experimental and distant from the viewers. Last but not least, it has R rating and uses it smartly – no dick jokes, but deadpan humour. The scene with the frozen dog was just nuts.

 

Combination of all this makes ”Space Station 76” pretty unique – and as it often happens with movies of  this kind, the audience hardly got it. ”I wanted to explore what it was like to be a child growing up in the summer of the 70s, which was my experience, but I wanted to tell it in sort of an artistic way by setting it in the future as we had imagined it would be in the 70s”, said Jack Plotnick in an interview.

 

There’s a weird funny episode when Liv Tyler’s character, Jessica (who just arrived at the space station) and Matt Bomer’s character, Ted (who has been living there for a while with a psychotic wife) are trying to approach each other and having a meaningful intimate conversation. Ted has an artificial arm that sometimes goes out of control. When Jessica, following her romantic impulse, puts Ted’s arm on her heart, the hand goes rogue and starts to squeeze Jessica’s left tit. All of this showed with in a deadpan manner, finishing with Jessica finally saying ”I think I should go now”.. If you like that kind of humour, you’ll find ”Space Station 76” brilliant.

 

Visually it’s a beautiful film. You may accuse it of anything but the style. It really squeezes most of its tiny budget, citing 70-s science fiction classic like Logan’s Run and Star Wars. And Dr. Bot, oh! That’s the quintessence of artificial intellect and a good parody. It reminded me of another oddball movie ”Dark Star”, the episode when Sgt. Pinback was trying to convince the Bomb N. 20 not to explode.

– I need to tell you I have just been feeling… so much better since we started treatment. I mean, like, even just my dreams  have just been better. You know, like, I haven’t been having all those feelings… and I’m just really feeling in the now.
-Feelings can sometimes pull one out of the now and put them in the then. Live in the now, not in the then.
– I don’t wanna be in the then. I wanna be in the now.
– Talking about the now can put one in the then.
– I don’t want to be in the then, I want to be in the now. I wanna move forward…
– Don’t move too far forward, you’ll be out of the now. Not too far forward.  Stay in the now.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– What are you thinking in the midst of this silence?
– Actually, I was thinking about smoking.
– Cigarettes contain carcinogens which may cause cancer in carbon-based life forms.
– Right.
– You are a carbon-based life form… therefore, cigarettes may cause cancer inside you.
– Thank you.
– You’re welcome.

(The captain visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

What I didn’t like. Space Station 76” is at times uneven, especially in the first part. The photography, the acting, the music – all is well-crafted and you feel the movie was made as a passion project, but it’s the screenplay that occasionally sags, running out of fuel – maybe because it was written by 5 different people? Some scenes intended as funny left me perplexed. Some felt really unnecessary. Some plot lines got lost in the middle and didn’t get the development. A more carefully crafted screenplay would really help the film. It’s especially seen in the first half of the film, with the second being more juicy and concentrated.

All the actors created memorable and bright characters – maybe, even too much, as at times they seemed little bit too monotone in their role, like playing the same note over and over. Of course, it was intended as a part of the movie’s style, but a little more versatility wouldn’t harm the film. Liv Tyler (superhero satire “Super“, sci-fi “Robot & Frank“, “Armageddon“) was a nice exception to that, as her character was actually alive, with doubts and flexibility. It was great to see Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl in “Watchmen“, “The Conjuring”) who added a weird touch to the film with his pseudo-sexist obsessions.

The production. The project was originated by Jack Plotnick at his house while experimenting with his friends and favourite actors. This is his debut film, but Plotnick is by no means a newbie – he is in first place an actor with 20+ years of experience (”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, ”Drawn Together”, ”Wrong”).

Worth watching? Decide by yourself. ”Space Station 76” is an interesting project, but definitely not for everyone. If you like weird and touching humour of ”Super”, ”The Lobster” or ”Defendor” combined with a retrofuturistic sci-fi look on the 70-s, definitely yes. I started to watch it with bias but learnt to appreciate it more and. Visually stylish and delicate, ”Space Station 76” still leaves weirdly good aftertaste, even far from being perfect. It’s an odd little movie that is trying to find its own tone.

2.5/4
Watch also: if you want too see a weird sci-fi comedy, have a look at “American Astronaut“, “Dark Star” or “Kin-Dza-Dza“.

Mars Explorers Wanted

Saw a graffiti when coming back home…

…and it reminded me of NASA posters I saw recently. They were originally developed for an exhibition at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in 2009:

NASA is currently planning to send humans to low-Mars orbit in the early 2030s (remember the probe that crashed there 1 year ago?). Here you can read more about journey to Mars overview.

And this gorgeous shot is not from the next “Alien” installment – it was taken on the Mars surface during the spring in the Northern hemisphere (May 21, 2017) by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Over the winter, snow and ice have inexorably covered the dunes. Unlike on Earth, this snow and ice is carbon dioxide, better known to us as dry ice.

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