In “Space: The Longest Goodbye,” scientists researching the problems of long-term space exploration go where movies have gone before. Sending astronauts into hibernation to conserve scarce resources? Pairing them with an artificially intelligent entity that can act as a pal and sounding board? Screenwriters have tried these things already, with results probably best kept in fiction.

But such gambits may offer real solutions for getting humans to Mars. And they are gambits that this fitfully intriguing, sometimes wide-eyed documentary, directed by Ido Mizrahy, takes seriously.

“Soft, squishy humans are completely unfathomable to engineers,” says Jack Stuster, an anthropologist who asked residents of the International Space Station to keep journals. One of the principal interviewees is Al Holland, a psychologist who assembled a unit at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to provide support for astronauts. He discusses his experience in 2010 consulting on the Chilean mine disaster, which had striking parallels with the isolation of space life.

We also hear from Kayla Barron, a submarine warfare officer who decided to go to space, and her husband, who stayed behind; as a military couple, they were used to living separately, but this posed a different challenge. And we see clips of personal video chats that the astronaut Cady Coleman held with her husband and son back on Earth, through a system that sometimes didn’t work. “It’s hard for me to really realize how hard it was for a little kid to just have to be so very patient,” she recalls in the documentary.

On Mars missions, distance will make similar real-time communication impossible, which means that astronauts won’t even have that kind of intermittent contact. “Space: The Longest Goodbye” leaves open the question of whether anyone could get to the red planet with his or her sanity intact.

Space: The Longest Goodbye
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.



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