The National Geographic Channel miniseries "MARS," about the present planning and future achievement of landing astronauts on the Red Planet, has claimed its first "victim."
No, not Ben Sawyer, the U.S. mission commander (played by Ben Cotton), who in the first episode sustained injuries during the Daedalus landing and whose fate is the subject of the second episode airing Monday night (Nov. 21), but rather JiHAE, who in "MARS" plays both Korean-American mission pilot Hana Seung and her twin, Joon, the capcom (capsule communicator) back on Earth.
"I am a space geek now," admits JiHAE, laughing. ['Mars': The Epic National Geographic Channel Miniseries in Pictures]
"I have always looked up at the stars in amazement, but I never thought about space travel too much until I got into doing research for this project," she told collectSPACE in a recent interview. "It's so astounding the amount of sacrifice the astronauts have to go through to do what they do and all the science involved in space exploration. I have such newfound respect for the people in this field, the amount of training and hard work it takes for them."
Not that she is a total stranger to traveling to new locations or working with others.
Born in South Korea, JiHAE grew up as the daughter of a diplomat, living in Nigeria, Sweden and the UK before she moved to New York City. Now a singer, composer and the founder of indie music and multimedia company Septem, JiHAE has collaborated on her four albums with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and the late Leonard Cohen.
"MARS" is JiHAE's first major role as an actress.
In the Ron Howard and Brian Grazer-produced miniseries, which blends feature film-quality scripted drama and visual effects with documentary sequences to deliver the story of humanity's journey to Mars, JiHAE dons a spacesuit as the NASA-trained pilot Hana, the second in command on the Daedalus, and sits at a console as Joon, a representative of the Mars Mission Corporation.
Both sisters dreamed since childhood of space travel, but only Hana ventures to Mars, while Joon remains in mission control on Earth.
"I identify more with Hana," said JiHAE. "Joon has to worry so much about being a lifeline, and a limited one because her sister is millions and millions of miles away."
"I think there is more of an adventurous side to Hana and I think Hana is doing what she is doing not just to be the first pioneering woman on Mars," she shared. "It's not so much any of the vanity factors, it is really like a form of sacrifice and a willingness to work and risk her life to be someone who can contribute to society."
Hana's motivations more closely match JiHAE's reason for creating music.
"In my music career, I never was interested in working and writing and creating songs based on what kind of rewards I could receive in return — a hit song, per se, is what most contemporary artists have to deal with when they deal with a label," she explained. "In a sense, all the approach in my musical art and other forms of work that I do is really done to say something and to find a way to contribute positively to our culture. It is not a direct correlation, but I feel more [like] Hana."
And like her astronaut role, she'd pick Mars over mission control.
"A musician on Mars or in mission control?" JiHAE asked, repeating the question put to her by collectSPACE. "I think if Elon Musk asked me to go to Mars as a musician, to sing for people, I think I might just do that."
"A return ticket would be a nice incentive, though."
In the second episode of the six-part "MARS," Hana's and Joon's experiences are presented alongside the real story of astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, twins who supported NASA's first year-long mission on the International Space Station, from orbit and the ground, respectively. JiHAE was not specifically told that her characters were based on the Kellys, although she was "quite sure" that it was part of the consideration.
"Storyline-wise, I think they did a lot of research about all the different types of astronauts that exist today, as well as these types of stories that exist, real-life characters," said JiHAE.
As for the storyline of her own characters, Hana and Joon, she teased, "it's just going to get more and more exciting." The same might be said for JiHAE's music career.
"I would like to hear the sound of space," JiHAE said, on whether she might incorporate her new interest for space exploration in her music. "I have to look into that."
"MARS" airs on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Mundo in the United States on Mondays at 9/8c.