Hulu's 'The First' Highlights the Real Science (and Painful Realities) of Space Exploration

"The First," a gripping new science-fiction drama on Hulu starring Sean Penn, is rooted in real science, according to Charles Elachi, the former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who worked as a science consultant on the show. 

The show, which takes place in the 2030s, follows the story of the first humans making their way to the Martian surface. "The First" employs a number of futuristic technologies, but Elachi told that everything shown so far, from the rockets launched to the cars driven (autonomously), "all of this could happen in the next decade or next 12 to 15 years." 

This makes sense, considering that space organizations like NASA and SpaceX are currently hoping to launch a crewed mission to Mars by the 2030s, if not sooner, and technologies like autonomous vehicles and voice-controlled devices featured in the series are already entering the mainstream. [Red Planet or Bust: 5 Crewed Mars Mission Ideas]

Sean Penn stars in "The First," a gripping new science-fiction drama. Set in the near future, the show follows a group of astronauts working to be the first humans to land on Mars. (Image credit: Hulu)

Without giving too much away about the series, it is easy to forget that it takes place in the near future. As far as the series' choice of rocket goes, Elachi explained that, essentially, they used "the most powerful rocket" available — viewers will notice a striking resemblance to NASA's upcoming Space Launch System. Although the show's depiction of launching toward Mars might end up being different from how humans first launch to the Red Planet in real life, the show's depiction feels exceptionally realistic. 

According to Elachi, the series "really does not go into science fiction. It kind of pushes the limit of what can be done in the future, but everything done in the film, I think, can happen in the next decade, technically speaking. That's what I like about it."

In addition to incorporating technical legitimacy, "The First" captures a great deal of realism in the interpersonal relationships and drama that ensue. From government budget cuts and restrictions to families' possible reactions to their loved ones blasting off into space, "The First" shows the gritty, often painful realities of space exploration. 

"The First" will be available to stream on Hulu starting today, Sept. 14. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.