Werner Herzog believes human space colonization will ‘inevitably fail’

(ORDO NEWS) — “Last Exit: Space” is a new documentary on Discovery+ that explores the possibility of human colonization of planets beyond Earth.

Since the film is produced and narrated by Werner Herzog (director of Grizzly Man, guest star of The Mandalorian) and written and directed by his son Rudolf, this film is different from the usual space documentary. He’s weird, handsome, skeptical, and even a little funny.

In light of the film’s recent streaming launch, father and son Herzog spoke to Ars Technica from their homes about otherworldly hopes, pessimistic conclusions, and space colonists having to drink their own urine.

“My accent is a joke”

“As a storyteller, I’ve always spoken in a dead voice, and of course there’s a certain amount of humor in that, because listening to my accent is already a joke,” Werner says from his current home in Los Angeles. His son Rudolf, calling from Germany, scoffs at this, to which Werner replies, “Well, for some!”.

Werner notes that the script belongs to his son, who says that “all my films are comedies, even if they don’t look like comedies.”

Rudolph’s penchant for dark humor can be seen throughout Last Exit: Space, which mostly consists of interviews with researchers, engineers, and former astronauts, though the director also willingly includes naysayers, futurists, and opinions he admits he shares. “politely disagree.”

Werner, as a narrator, periodically clarifies some points regarding humanity’s interest in space colonization. On rare occasions, he edits, such as when Werner describes the efforts of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic as people “going into space in testosterone-fueled competition.” Other times, Werner prefers a dryly hilarious tale of how bleak some space colonization efforts can turn out to be.

“The reality of life on Mars would be sobering,” he says. “Astronauts will huddle in radiation-protected bunkers, enjoying drinks made from recycled urine.”

“I knew that when I talk about [drinking] my own urine, if I talk about it dispassionately, it becomes hilarious,” Werner says in an interview with Ars Technica. “If I had spoken about it with my voice, it wouldn’t have worked.”

He then told Ars that he is familiar with the YouTube ecosystem of comedians and creators who parody his voice, acknowledging that he understands the comedy of it. “Once I was filming a film in Antarctica, and before I had time to start editing, a satire was already out – about a film that I had not yet had time to start!

While I couldn’t find a satirical video, the finished product shows Werner’s penchant for darkly hilarious deadpan, both in storytelling and visual content. Here’s an example from the excellent 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World:

Questions about antimatter

In Last Exit: Space, Rudolph draws on his father’s bloodline in his own way, alternating between science, hardcore skepticism, dark humor, beautiful filmography, and amazing moments of reverence for the human spirit.

For most of the film, Rudolph focuses on two options for where humans could go, land, and establish space colonies: Mars or an exoplanet in the Alpha Centauri system.

Throughout the movie, “Last Exit: Space” follows a pattern. First, problems are listed that could make any proposal for space travel impossible.

Then the most promising solution to this problem, developed by modern science and technology, is briefly explained. Finally, the interstellar dream crashes back to Earth with a grim description of why this solution won’t work.

In one scene, a futurist in a small boat on an idyllic Idaho river explains his sincere hope of accelerating space flight by combining matter and antimatter and then capturing the resulting photon energy. The film warmly admits that this wild idea does have some scientific merit.

The film crew travels to the magnificent and beautiful CERN particle accelerator complex in Geneva to have one of its employees explain the concept and provide physical evidence that his team has indeed captured antimatter, which is in a tube protected by an electromagnetic shield.

However, the hypothesis was rejected soon after, at least for now. A CERN employee explains that current methods for producing antimatter not only consume huge amounts of energy, but are so slow that it would take billions of years to produce the amount needed for a legitimate rocket engine – or, as he believes, from the time of the Big Bang to the theoretical end of the universe .

“Good luck to you”

Toward the end of the film, the film crew visits a Brazilian commune whose members believe they are the direct descendants of aliens that originated centuries ago on a planet many light-years away.

However, when Rudolph asks the group how the inhabitants of Earth can go to another planet, the members respond with a warning: human biology is not designed to withstand millennia of space travel or extreme radiation. Stay on Earth.

Werner agrees with the Brazilian commune. “We know that the next planet outside our solar system is at least 5,000 years away,” he tells Ars. “It’s very difficult to do, and [whatever it is] probably uninhabitable. And we know that there is constant radiation on Mars, which will force us to hide underground in small bunkers.

We know that we do not have a breath , no water [on the surface], and Elon Musk once proposed to detonate nuclear bombs at the poles to melt the ice, and then, of course, using giant pipeline systems to deliver it somewhere in the city.

He pauses. “Good luck with that,” he says.

Last Exit: Space vividly captures this pessimism by showing interviewees admiring their work on Mars-compatible spacesuits being tested in a vast crater south of Jerusalem. “This is our first glimpse of our future as space colonists,” enthuses one of the team as we watch the two testers tread awkwardly across the barren, scorched red space.

Moments later, space anthropologist Taylor Genovese, usually the film’s most vocal skeptic, makes his own impassioned plea for privatized space colonization. In the absence of any regulation, when private firms control something like a bunker filled with minerals on Mars, the inhabitants of such a colony may become frustrated and begin to make demands on their overseers.

In that case, Genovese asks, “What’s to stop Papa Elon [Musk] from cutting off the oxygen or limiting the supply of food or water?” He points to “similar tactics used today in Amazon’s fulfillment centers to suppress legitimate employee complaints,” referring to Blue Origin being owned by the same man who founded Amazon.

As Rudolph said in our interview, “Space is the Wild West these days. Anyone can just go out there and shoot!”

He mentions a recent conversation with a satellite company executive who had to deal with professional insanity. “Another satellite company put a satellite into their orbits in such a way that they ended up colliding,” he says. “They had to call the red phone.”

“We shouldn’t act like locusts.”

However, the film tries not to focus on low-hanging fruits like satellite technology, let alone people like Musk, Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson, with only a cursory mention of their well-documented space flight tests.

Rudolf tells Ars that this is intentional. “I wasn’t interested in repeating what they had already said so many times. It’s much more pleasant for me to talk to space sexologists or someone who is creating a radiation-resistant human of the future or something like that,” he says.

Indeed, while Last Exit: Outer Space explores the logistics of a possible 5,000-year journey to Alpha Centauri, the film asks wild questions that touch questions of the human spirit, each of which has many optimistic and pessimistic answers. Is hibernation possible?

Can a skeletal crew without hibernation function in their right mind? And what will the human act of copulation look like, both mechanically, in terms of exercise in reduced gravity, and genetically, in terms of possible inbreeding, if the ship cannot accommodate at least 40,000 colonists to maintain a diverse gene pool?

When asked about Werner’s latest experience in the light of pop culture as a villain who fights Grog on a distant planet in The Mandalorian, the elder Herzog spoke about what he sees as a clear distinction between the human spirit and the cold reality captured in his son’s film

Science fiction is great because it’s storytelling. This is poetry. This is pure fantasy. We can dive into poetry, into the realm of science fiction and fantasy worlds. This is amazing. It’s so good for cinema. But when it comes to trying to make it a reality, to move a million people to another planet, this is a utopia, and it will inevitably come to an end.

You have to make a distinction and it’s very easy to make – but I love sci-fi so much and even though I don’t know the world of Star Wars – I’ve never seen the movies – I still welcome and happily agree to be the villain in The Mandalorian.

But when you hear this from Lucian Walkowicz, the astronomer in the film, it’s clear that we accept their position: We shouldn’t act like locusts that graze everything empty here and then move on to the next planet.

There is something wrong with moving, moving our population to other planets, and that is part of all these ethical issues. It’s a utopia and you don’t have to be a scientist or an expert researcher to figure out what’s next. You just sit, twirl your fingers, enjoy your beer, and wait until everything fails.

Space colonization will fail. It’s unavoidable. You won’t be able to travel to the next exoplanet, Alpha Centauri, which is 200,000 years away. Dot. Good luck.

Rudolf and Werner mentioned Walkowicz several times in our conversation, and Rudolf praised them for both doing research on the Kepler telescope and advocating for the preservation of the environment.

The filmmakers make it clear that they admire and appreciate the efforts made to understand the cosmos and our cosmic neighbors. But in calling “space colonization” a “dirty word,” Rudolf paraphrases Wolkovich’s words at the end of the film: better treat her well.”

According to Rudolf, “Last Exit: Space”‘s commitment to capturing beautiful moments and places on Earth while talking to craftsmen and engineers with plans for the stars serves two purposes: to sell our planet as a working spacecraft to be prioritized over space colonization. and impress a certain person.

“I wanted to find the craziest things because I do it with my father,” says Rudolf. “He’s seen so much but I just wanted to make sure he has a good time on the trip and that we surprise him – there’s something even more amazing around every corner so he’ll be really impressed.” It’s obvious: sons want to impress their fathers, right? It was a very hedonistic approach.”

For now, Werner admits that he has some interest in space travel. “I would love to go to Mars on a mission … if I had a camera with me,” he says.

Rudolf immediately interrupts him: “Yes, but I want to stop my father. Don’t incite him to this, please. I want him to stay on Earth.”


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