We're a pretty accomplished species, but our greatest achievements likely still lie ahead. After all, human nature refuses to let us rest on our laurels. As the late astronomer Carl Sagan famously put it, "Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still."
The same hazy instincts that spurred us to wander our own planet now lead us to wonder about Mars, Europa, Enceladus and more. It's an inspiring thought, making our species' future in deep space seem almost inevitable. And while our spaceflight technology isn't quite ready to take us that far, our animation technology is more than ready to help us visualize the adventure in advance.
The video above, "Wanderers," provides a tantalizing hint of possibilities strewn throughout our own solar system. Unlike the dramatic narratives in "Interstellar" and other feature-length space films, "Wanderers" is a stripped-down slice of sci-fi that leaves you wanting more. Set to Sagan's inimitable monologue on human wanderlust, it spends less than four minutes inducing goosebumps about the ways our children and grandchildren might explore distant reaches of the solar system.
Created by Swedish artist Erik Wernquist, "Wanderers" speculates about space travel without getting (too) carried away. It imagines the activities of human explorers in real locations, starting with a digital spaceship cast against an iconic NASA photo of Earth. Wernquist purposefully avoids a narrative as he jumps around the solar system, offering brief glimpses that force viewers to fill in the gaps.
"'Wanderers' is a vision of humanity's expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens," he writes on Vimeo. "The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available. Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds — and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there."
Wernquist added digital humans to this real sunset photo taken by the Mars rover Opportunity. (Image: Erik Wernquist/Vimeo/NASA)
We see a human figure drifting in front of a swirly atmosphere, for example, with just enough context to reveal that the view is of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, seen from a spacecraft orbiting the gas giant. There are also several compelling scenes that incorporate actual photos from Mars, including a space elevator descending toward city lights in the Terra Cimmeria highlands, blimps arriving at Cape St. Mary and a group of people watching a blue sunset from the eastern rim of Gusev Crater.
Other highlights include domed settlements on Saturn's moon Iapetus, hikers trekking across Jupiter's moon Europa and base jumpers leaping from Verona Rupes, the solar system's tallest known cliff, on Uranus' moon Miranda. One of the most intriguing scenes takes place on Titan, a moon of Saturn whose dense atmosphere and relatively low gravity might finally make bird suits a practical way to fly.
To learn more about these places and how Wernquist portrayed them, check out this scene-by-scene breakdown on his website. It's all speculative, of course, and anyone alive today may not live long enough to verify its forecasts. But, as Sagan wisely noted in 1980, adventures like these are a logical extension of the same path we've been hiking for hundreds of thousands of years: "We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars."
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