Inside 'Moving to Mars' at The Design Museum


Curator Eleanor Watson takes us behind the scenes of the Museum's latest launch.


The Design Museum’s latest frontier-shifting exhibition transports Earthlings to the Red Planet and back again. With multisensory installations replicating the experience of living on Mars and more than 150 exhibits, Moving to Mars incites debate as much as it broadens horizons. Steps away from The Milestone Hotel & Residences, discover an immersive showcase of original objects from NASA and a full-scale Martian home. Here, curator of Moving to Mars, Eleanor Watson discusses what not to miss at the extraterrestrial exhibition.

How did this exhibition at the The Design Museum come about?

“Over the last two years or so we noticed that the idea of getting to Mars kept popping up in the news, and that it was a subject that a lot of people—people with extremely different focuses and interests—were suddenly engaging with in a very serious way. We thought it would be interesting to look into what this sudden surge of interest was all about and explore not only how but also why we are trying to get to Mars.”

Moving To Mars

Why is now the right time to shine a spotlight on the Red Planet?

“It feels like we are entering another Space Race, but rather than the previous East–West divide, the race now seems to be between public and private enterprise, which is an interesting tension. It raises a lot of questions about how and why we embark on these big projects, what we imagine the course of progress to be and, of course, who gets to make decisions about our future as a species.

I think that Mars has always acted as a sort of foil to our own planet—a mirror for us to project our hopes and fears onto. But this is now playing out in a more concrete way, as we face some very difficult realities here on Earth. Whether we end up getting there or not, planning for Mars may have an important part to play in shaping how we live on Earth.”

What are your personal exhibition highlights?

“There are so many. We have some beautiful historic objects on loan from institutions such as the British Museum and Brera Observatory to provide context, then we have live projects from the European Space Agency and SpaceX to show the current state of play, and then also some wonderful new commissions by contemporary designers, where we have invited them to think through a specific issue or question relating to a future Mars mission.

Moving To Mars

Stand-outs for each of these different types of exhibits are probably Christiaan Huygens’ original sketch of Mars from 1659, which is largely credited as being the earliest accurate drawing of the planet’s surface; a full-scale model of ESA’s ExoMars 2020, which will be the next rover to land on Mars; and an incredible collection of microgravity clothing by Anna Talvi.”

Can you tell us more about the interactive Mars habitat?

“It’s actually still in production so I can’t say! Xavier de Kestelier and the team at Hassell have been working on Martian habitats for quite some time, so a tremendous amount of thought has gone into the design. I don’t only mean things like airlocks and radiation protection and dealing with the hundreds of engineering constraints. They’ve also put a lot of thought into how the habitat can create a sense of wellbeing for the astronaut and help combat some of the psychological stresses of living in an extreme enclosed environment.”

Moving To Mars

The exhibition features an installation by Dr Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg that imagines sending plant life—not humans—to Mars, posing the question: Should we go to Mars? Tell us a little more…

“We invited two very different design studios to think about what the future of Mars might be, as a way of presenting visitors with alternative visions for the planet. It’s been a very interesting exercise and really confronts you with the fact that all of this has yet to be decided. We could go to Mars and use it as a research station. We could go there and build an emergency bunker for the super-rich, or we could not go at all. It is for all of us to decide. I think our hope for the two commissions—and for the exhibition more generally—was to prompt people to think about what we want for the future, and how we might achieve that.”

See Moving to Mars at The Design Museum from 18th October 2019– 23rd February 2020. As part of Red Carnation Hotels’ Summer of Culture, join Eleanor for a Moving to Mars-themed Afternoon Tea at The Milestone Hotel & Residences on 14th August 2019.

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