Actor Morgan Freeman Talks Mars Trips & More with NASA Astronauts

ISS Astronauts During Interview by Morgan Freeman
Expedition 41 astronaut Reid Wiseman (left) begins a backflip beside Steve Swanson on the International Space Station. The NASA astronauts were participating in a July 18, 2014 event with actor Morgan Freeman. (Image credit: NASA/YouTube (screenshot))

Actor Morgan Freeman grilled NASA astronauts on the International Space Station about how their work can get humans to Mars someday.

"So you guys are out there, floating around, tossing that microphone back and forth there cleverly," Freeman said during a webcast Friday (July 18) featuring the station's Expedition 41 NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson. Before Freeman could finish his question, Wiseman did a backflip.

"Showoff," Freeman retorted as the audience at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California laughed. "All right, one of my bucket list things is going to be to get up there with you so I can just try that." [The Boldest Mars Missions of All Time]

Swanson thinks that the International Space Station is a good place to practice for an eventual trip to Mars. Astronauts can learn more about how to make life support systems work for three years continuously, and even how to survive the radiation blast of a trip to the Red Planet.

"You can see what works and what doesn't work on this vehicle," Swanson said to Freeman, who was participating as part of NASA's "Next Giant Leap" event honoring the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman narrates an episode of Through the Wormhole, a Science Channel documentary series. (Image credit: NASA/Science Channel/YouTube (screenshot))


'It's not made of green cheese'

Freeman admitted that his interest in science was not in the field itself, but more how it attaches itself to science fiction. For example, how the atomic submarine of Jules Vernes' "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea" became real fascinated Freeman.

"My involvement here is to me, one of the mysteries of my life because it's only through show business that I wind up having this relationship with the JPL," said Freeman, who is also the narrator of the newer Science Channel science documentary series "Through the Wormhole."

Speaking to an audience mostly comprised of NASA interns, Freeman was one of the few people in the room who remembered watching Apollo 11's historic moonwalk on July 20, 1969. He was on the couch in his apartment in New York City at the time, he said.

"We learned one thing there that was very, very instructive for a lot of us: It's not made of green cheese," Freeman intoned seriously to audience laughter.

"[It is] such a momentous event," he added. "To have actually done that, and come back, is proof positive that whatever we can imagine, we can do."

Voyage to Jupiter's moons

Morgan Freeman, an Academy Award-winning actor, during an Apollo 11 webcast at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory July 18, 2014. (Image credit: NASA/YouTube (screenshot))

Freeman also wanted to know what the Expedition 41 astronauts thought of building a Mars spacecraft in space, rather than on Earth.

"Certainly, if we can build a heavy-lift vehicle that could launch up a lot of parts and a lot of mass, and then assemble this in low-Earth orbit outside of our atmosphere, I think that would be a great way to start," Wiseman said.

Freeman pressed the astronauts, asking how long it would take to build. Swanson replied that it depends on funding.

"I think we've spent a lot of money doing the wrong things. We can do different things," Freeman responded.

After the astronauts signed off, Freeman took questions from the audience, among them concerning where he would like to go in the universe.

Freeman said he would visit Jupiter's moons, adding that he would like to spend time "looking around tagging things" in the asteroid belt on the way. But even a trip into low-Earth orbit would be a treat.

"I think that would probably be the adventure of a lifetime for an average person," he said.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: