We are approaching a very important time in space exploration. New designs of a shuttle that can reach beyond our solar system have been drawn. The projected journey of this ship has been calculated and its destination could change everything. When it lifts off it will take with it the possibility of finally answering the burning question… are we alone in the universe?

Follow the story of Artemis, an artificial-intelligence piloted spacecraft on a 50-year voyage to a distant planet in the new and exciting feature documentary Living Universe – It’s Time to Meet the Neighbours.

In the lead up to National Science Week, 11th-19th August, a co-production between Essential Media (Australia) and ZED (France), and producers Chris Hilton, Marcus Gillezeau, Aline Jacques and Christine Legoff, was released after eight years in the making.

A screening of the documentary and a special event, which included a talk by Dr Charley Lineweaver, an ANU Associate Professor who researches space, was held in Canberra earlier this Science Week to commemorate.

The film takes you on humanity’s greatest ever pursuit to discovering Earth’s exoplanet – a twin planet that can sustain life. It takes you far beyond the stars you see with your naked eye and into the galactic depths on a mission to reach a planet called Minerva B. Flying beyond the familiarity of our solar system to the greater cosmos, we sift though stars like grains of luminous sand looking for that one promising speck.

Professor Tamara Davis from Artemis. Stills supplied by Essential Media and ZED.

Everyone’s favourite doctor, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, narrates over stunning displays of star fields, planetary bodies, and digitally animated alien species. His enthusiasm and quirky manner help to engage you deeper into the excitement of the mission. Accompanying him is the warm and welcoming voice of Artemis, provided by Australian astrophysicist, Professor Tamara Davis. Together they team up with some great scientific minds lead by Steve Squyres (interplanetary explorer from NASA), Gentry Lee (Chief Engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and science fiction author), and Natalie Batalha (research astronomer).

Although it is set 150 years in the future, starting this journey may soon be on our doorstep.

Since the launch of the Kepler telescope in 2009, there have been thousands of Earth-sized planets discovered but very few of which may support life. In an eye-opening explanation, they show just how delicate the sustainment of life can be using Earth’s distance to the sun. Only a few percent further away and our world would freeze to the likes of a snowball, reflecting all sunlight. A few percent closer and our oceans would boil, evaporate and the ozone layer would completely deteriorate.

Luckily, we sit within the ‘goldilocks zone’, not too hot nor too cold. Life is indeed precious and Minerva B may hold fascinating forms of it – not too dissimilar from home. CGI visuals allow the breathtaking experience of seeing what the alien ecosystems could hold – luminescent bugs that emerge only at night, camouflaging predators that look like rocks and an underwater world so peculiar and mesmerising. It seems reasonable that with life as such a delicate luxury, we should use this existence to seek what may be out there.

Artemis’ mission, as it states, “carries the hopes and dreams of humanity” and leaves us reliant on its findings in the quest for extra-terrestrial life. But no matter how valuable its discoveries, it is these hopes and dreams of people that are truly precious. Human nature’s burning desire to explore is what drives us to proceed with these endeavours, what drives us to accomplish the challenge and what continually advances us as a race.

In the film, Gentry Lee made apparent a difficult reality: “there is a vastness out there for us to explore that will challenge us for generations.”

Generations. Yes it is a slow process and asking people to devote themselves when they may not be here to taste that sweet moment of success is one of the many hardships facing deep space exploration.

NASA control room. Stills supplied by Essential Media and ZED.

Though Hilton, Gillezeau, Jacques and Legoff have offered hope. They have crafted an experience that straps you in and takes you to places of interstellar wonder teasing you with just how close we could be to answering the question we have sought after for so long. They break down complexities within jet propulsion, anti-matter, biology and chemistry and show you in layman’s terms just how possible it will be. All in the hope that you leave the cinema inspired to chase what these many scientists have been chasing for most of their careers, if not their entire lives.

“For every star, there is a planet, for every planet – a possibility,”  said Dr. Karl as the audience of varying faces, young and old, watched the final minutes. Like each planet holds possibility, the people in the cinema hold possibility as well. For every scientist that contributed to Artemis’ conception and will not be there to see its journey, maybe their place will be filled by at least one of the children sitting in the room twinkling their eyes at a future of possibility.

Person in front of a star field. Stills supplied by Essential Media and ZED.

For more information, visit the website or keep up with the documentary’s Facebook page.