1st Broadcast 12th April - 10th May 1999 BBC Radio 4
2nd broadcast 3rd June -7th June 2003 repeated twice each day BBC 7
Repeated June 2007 on BBC7
BBC Radio Light Entertainment BBC Radio 4
1969-1971, Decision: JFK survived the 1963 Dallas shootings. As Project Apollo reaches the moon, he issues a new challenge:
a manned mission to Mars. Natalie will have to decide if she wants to compete for a place on the mission to Mars.
1972-1980, Trajectories: If Nixon orders NASA to mount a manned Mars mission, Natalie will have to decide if she wants to compete for a place.
Natalie York has qualified as an astronaut, but the nuclear booster test is about to change her life forever.
1980, Apollo-N: Natalie York has qualified as an astronaut, but the Apollo-N nuclear booster test is about to change her life forever.
Following the Apollo-N disaster, Natalie's prospects look bleak.
1981-1995, Approaches: Natalie's prospects look bleak after the Apollo-N disaster.
1985-1986, Ares:The first manned mission to Mars lifts off on its journey of discovery one that holds both scientific and personal peril.
None at this time
None at this time
As I make more ambitious stories I learn to use the light and shade of the medium.
Putting a tight, intimate scene next to something huge and powerful, working in layers. Dr Stephen Baxter’s ‘what if’ novel about the first manned mission to Mars included a scene where an orbiting capsule attached to a nuclear booster (Apollo-N) is in trouble. The layering there was very deliberate, I wrote it as a test piece for myself. It starts with cold voices in a dead acoustic and then builds layers as we go into the capsule and then to mayhem as the crisis is revealed in Mission Control.
The scene was deliberately symmetrical, and the last part tracks back from the Flight Controller trying to keep order amidst all the yelling engineers to finish simply and quietly on the character of Natalie Yorke, the astronaut who is working as capcom, talking to the astronauts, calmly keeping it all together.
30 Minutes each Episode
150 Minutes Total
Alasdair Stuart 27/06/2002
When you take a look at it, space travel is an inherently ludicrous idea. Two or three people, crammed into a tin can which is balanced on the end of what is, basically, an immense bottle rocket, are thrown into the sky at speeds far beyond anything else on the planet.
There, they have to operate in an environment that changes from unbearably cold to unbearably hot in seconds and which will kill them in seconds if they're exposed to it, all whilst moving at speeds exponentially faster than anything else on the planet. It's a dangerous, fascinating and desperately fragile thing to do and, to make matters worse, the most audacious space program conducted to date was carried out in the 1960s. With the Cold War as a motivating factor, the US and Russia raced one another to the moon. America won and then proceeded to go no further. Space, it seems, was precisely a quarter of a million miles wide.
Voyage begins where the Apollo program ended. Stephen Baxter's original novel goes into tremendous detail on the structure of the space program, how decisions are made and above all else, the fragility of all involved. Following NASA from the end of the Apollo project to the first mission to Mars in 1985, it's a huge, sweeping story of a mad idea, and the sacrifices dozens of people make to get them there. It's The Right Stuff for the later 20th century, a pipe dream which is all the more affecting for exactly how close it came to being a reality. However, Stephen Baxter's novel is also six hundred pages long, and as a result, a lot of changes have had to be made.
Dirk Maggs' audio version strips the story down to its barest essentials, following potential astronaut Natalie York (Lauren Lefkow) as she's slowly drawn into the program. At the same time, fellow astronauts Phil Stone (Rolf Saxon) and Ralph Gershon (Mel Taylor) all make their way through the program, heading for the same destiny as York; Mars. Maggs' adaptation plays to the strengths of the novel whilst avoiding many of its weaknesses. The novel has a tendency to drown the reader in information and multiple viewpoints whilst the play is stripped down and as a result far more focussed. Whilst there are a number of subplots, they all inform on the main one and give the story a far wider, more epic feel than it would normally have. There's a sense of dozens of stories travelling in the same direction here, as York's job causes her to interact with NASA politics, erratic nuclear scientist Mike Conlig (William Dufris) and fellow astronaut Ben Priest (William Roberts). Time goes by and characters change, move on or die whilst all the while, Mars remains the dream that drives every single one of them forward.
More so even than the book, Maggs' dramatisation brings into sharp relief exactly how obsessive all the main characters are. York and Conlig's relationship collapses as a result of their conflicting views of the project, a scientist loses his son to it and the Apollo astronauts are forced to accept that their time has passed and the only thing they can offer now is help. It's a brave move, and one that pays off superbly well. None of these characters are the clean-cut stereotype you're expecting and at times, that makes the story all the more poignant. They're all fallible, confused people but their job requires them to be both absolutely focussed and acceptable role models for the 'folks back home'.
This narrative complexity is unusual for stories of this type, and it's helped immensely by the cast. Lefkow in particular is superb, taking Natalie York from her first appearance as a grad student to a slightly world-weary, hard edged NASA veteran of the late 1980s. Despite the changes, York remains essentially the same character; a driven young woman with a passion for her work that takes precedence over everything else in her life.
The production is equally impressive, and demonstrates what Maggs does best. A veteran of BBC Radio projects ranging from ID4-UK to an audio adaptation of the Batman story Knightfall, he's a producer who's adept at constructing utterly convincing 'locations'. Here, for example, a lot of scenes take place in small, cramped spacecraft and the sound changes accordingly. There's a constant background hum of machinery, the sound of switches being flicked and the astronauts around you going about their routines. By recording these scenes in cramped locations (Including, memorably, a car) Maggs gives the story an extra grounding in reality, further emphasising how close to the truth this story is.
It's that which makes Voyage a gripping, and at times intensely moving, story to listen to. Project Aries is an utterly plausible take on a mission to Mars and one which plays out through a history incredibly similar to established events. Time and again, hints of what really happened surface and when they do, it's the emotional equivalent of a hammer blow. This was almost how it was and, as far as Baxter, Maggs and co are concerned, it's how it should have been. This is audio drama with a real widescreen mentality, a huge story that sweeps across the decades and the world without ever losing sight of the people at its centre. Intelligent, gripping and unusual, this is radio drama with real depth and bite.
“STAR WARS EAT YOUR HEART OUT ...so realistic, it’s hard to believe it was recorded in a studio... if you close your eyes you may be fooled into thinking the cinema screen is in front of you ... Another undoubted winner for Maggs and BBC Radio Collection.”
PHILIPPA MORGAN, Talking Business May/June 1999
“ Dirk Maggs’ production and cast are polished as usual ... will hold your attention right to the end.”
GUY HALEY, SFX Magazine July 1999
“... a wonderfully rich ‘widescreen’ soundscape, expertly crafted by director/adapter Dirk Maggs.”
NIGEL ANDREW, Daily Mail, 12 April 1999
“... the superior technical skills of writer/director Dirk Maggs add real atmosphere to this five-part dramatisation ... it is his technical brilliance which brings it to life...”
RADIO CHOICE, Mail On Sunday, 11 April 1999
“...Great casting, superb production and an excellent comprehensive music score all in cinematic Dolby Surround Sound. This is right up there with Maggs's usual stunning production values.”
AUDIO THEATER.COM Website, Spring 2001
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