'Space: The Longest Goodbye' is an intimate glimpse at how astronauts cope with isolation (review)

It can get lonely in outer space.

Hollywood has examined how intrepid space travelers cope with universal feelings of loneliness, alienation and isolation for decades, most recently in Netflix's "Spaceman," Apple TV+’s "Constellation," and even back in "The Twilight Zone's" very first episode in 1959 titled "Where is Everybody?"

But in a more grounded, real-world take, director Ido Mizrahy's new 87-minute documentary, "Space: The Longest Goodbye," deals with these complex issues of how NASA is training the next generation of astronauts who'll travel to Mars

This award-winning film premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival and is now being released in theaters and appearing on Prime Video and Apple TV+ streaming platforms beginning on Mar. 8, 2024.

Related: Can we live long and prosper in space? The astronaut health dilemma

Official poster for "Space: The Longest Goodbye" (Image credit: Greenwich Entertainment)

Here's the official synopsis:

"In the next decade, NASA will send astronauts to Mars for the first time. Separated from Earth, and unable to communicate with ground in real time, crew members will experience extreme isolation that could gravely affect their three-year journey. This Sundance-premiering documentary follows a savvy NASA psychologist tasked with protecting daring space explorers."

Mizrahy's enlightening examination of these mental and physical health risks follows Dr. Al Holland, a certified NASA psychologist who is dedicated to maintaining astronauts' cool and calm demeanor during a round-trip Mars mission in the future. 

"Space: The Longest Goodbye" spotlights rookie astronauts Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer, Dr. Jack Stuster, Dr. Alexandra Whitmire, ex-astronaut Cady Coleman, Sukjin Han, Jackie Morie and others as they discuss common symptoms of stress, anxiety, and claustrophobia that manifest themselves in outer space.

Dr. Holland is the featured Houston psychologist here, brought in by NASA to cobble together a "Frankenstein" program back in 1994 to deliver psychological support for astronauts that would live and work inside an orbital base and research facility that came to be known as the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and her son Jamey in 2007. (Image credit: Greenwich Entertainment)

Mizrahy and co-writer Nir Sa'ar whisk us from archival footage of the early test pilot astronauts recruited for the Mercury program, then onward to the recent past of the '90s and the mounting challenges of today's Artemis moon missions and beyond, exploring the conversation of prolonged separation from Earth and the deprivation of personal contact that will be encountered on long duration missions to the Red Planet that could launch in the next decade. 

This timely documentary is most engaging when dealing with astronauts' personal thoughts written in their journals regarding on-the-job struggles, domestic matters, disrupted sleep cycles, and doubts about their stamina. Using the International Space Station as a testing ground to apply certain coping methods allowed Dr. Holland and his larger team to be able to observe and document what situations might arise when the miles from Earth grow longer and the heart yearns for more.

Kayla Barron, part of NASA's Artemis Program, is one of the newbie astronauts in the film and we're introduced to her amiable husband, Tom, who voices his private apprehensions having his wife off-planet for nearly three years. With her humor, adaptability and introspection, she represents the exact type of solid Mars candidate Holland is hoping to attract who’ll bring NASA a degree of confidence that they'll remain stable far from home in the absence of real-time communications. 

Another prominent segment centers on Cady Coleman, who in 2007 spent six months on the ISS when her son Jamey was a fourth-grader. "The Longest Goodbye" reveals dual timelines from past webcam interactions aboard the ISS and present-day interviews that show how the stress of being away from her family can escalate. 

Via CG shots, actual ISS footage, Mars simulators, reenactments, and thoughtful commentary by Holland, Mizrahy's eye-opening documentary delves into mental matters that will determine whether or not humankind encounters success or failure as it edges into a much larger universe, and invites viewers to become more intimate with the all-encompassing human frailties involved in leaving our Big Blue Marble.

From Greenwich Entertainment and produced by Ido Mizrahy, Nir Sa'ar, Valda Witt, and Paul Cadieux, "Space: The Longest Goodbye" lands in theaters, Prime Video, and Apple TV+ Mar. 8.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.