NASA Wants The Martian to Show Us That Mars Is 'Survivable'

Thursday, 01 October 2015 - 10:22AM
Science of Sci-Fi
Space
Mars
Thursday, 01 October 2015 - 10:22AM
NASA Wants The Martian to Show Us That Mars Is 'Survivable'
NASA has had a huge hand in consulting on the real-life science of The Martian, and are openly intending to use it to drive public interest in NASA's work and scientific research in general. In a recent interview, NASA director Jim Green explicitly stated that he wanted the film to specifically drive interest in the colonization of Mars:

Opening quote
"It was a great opportunity to tell the public what Mars is really like," Green told Blastr. "It's a harsh environment but, indeed, it's survivable."
Closing quote

Mars is not habitable for humans without technological aid, as there is almost no oxygen in the atmosphere, the temperatures are extremely low compared to Earth, and the air pressure is too low to be survivable. But we have the means to create artificial environments that would allow us to live on Mars, very much like Mark Watney's Hab. 

In addition, terraforming will likely re-enter the public conversation surrounding Mars now that we've found liquid water. This interview took place before the announcement, but in all likelihood after the findings were discovered by NASA, as the space organization told Ridley Scott the news approximately two months ago. 

In fact, Mars may be even more habitable than the movie portrays it to be. Mark Watney's struggle to survive is at the heart of the film, and according to Green, any creative licenses/scientific inaccuracies made it more difficult for him to survive than it would be in real life, not less.

Opening quote
Once Curiosity landed and started taking measurements, we have found out that the Martian soil has a lot more water in it than anyone ever figured. A lot of the water went underground; the area where Ares 3 is actually is at the bottom of an ancient ocean and contains a significant amount of water. We also know there are nitrates in the soil; that's really good fertilizer. In reality, Mark Watney would have had an easier time growing food."
Closing quote

Mars is also more human-friendly than it was depicted in the film because there would never be such a severe dust storm, which means Mark Watney probably never would have gotten stranded on Mars to begin with:

Opening quote
One example I noticed right away, and even [author] Andy [Weir] will admit, is that the dust storm is unrealistic. The pressure on Mars is so low that even though the winds can be 120 miles an hour, it's not enough to straighten an American flag.
Closing quote

But that being said, The Martian is being hailed as one of the most scientifically accurate sci-fi movies in recent memory, not least as a result of NASA's influence. When asked whether Mark Watney's use of radiation for heat was dangerous, Green claimed that it could be done, if one were very, very careful:

Opening quote
"We handle radioisotope thermal generators, the RTG, all the time. We put them on our rovers. The radiation that comes from it can be stopped by a piece of paper. It's a special isotope that is just the perfect one for us. If you handle it properly, it can be an enormous benefit. We use it in space all the time. It's so hot that you put thermoelectrics on it, and the heat produces a voltage difference from which you can charge a battery, and then you run your experiments off your battery. Watney wraps [the RTG] with the Hab insulation, sticks it in his vehicle, and he's good to go. That Hab's going to be a 100 degrees. He's probably going to have to worry about having too much heat."
Closing quote

Green also claimed that his job in real life is very similar to that of Vincent Kapoor's, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor:

Opening quote
"The scene where Vincent goes in to ask Teddy permission to image Ares Three to me was a very powerful scene, because that's exactly what I'd be doing. The argument [that] eventually wins over Ted [the NASA Administrator] is exactly what I have done in the past. Not exactly in those circumstances, of course."
Closing quote

But most importantly, The Martian is set to become one of the best movies of the year because it captures NASA's adventurous spirit and genuine love for science. When asked what struck him as most true-to-life in the film, Green said:

Opening quote
[Protagonist Mark Watney] typifies a lot of what I see in NASA: You can see on his face he's depressed when he contemplates his own death - and then the science and engineering part of his brain kicks in. You take this huge problem, and it looks absolutely impossible, but you break it up into little pieces, and you methodically work it out. His love of problem solving...is really quite endemic in NASA.
Closing quote
Science
NASA
Science of Sci-Fi
Space
Mars

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