Scientists Claim Mark Watney Would Have Been in a Wheelchair "For a Very Long Time"

Monday, 06 June 2016 - 3:43PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Monday, 06 June 2016 - 3:43PM
Scientists Claim Mark Watney Would Have Been in a Wheelchair "For a Very Long Time"
The Martian is one of the most scientifically accurate Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory, but there are still a few well-documented nitpicks. As Andy Weir has admitted, the dust storm on Mars wouldn't have been nearly powerful enough to strand Mark Watney, and the temperatures on Mars are much colder than depicted. But there's one other inaccuracy that hasn't been mentioned nearly as often: Mark Watney's physical strength on Mars and overall health after he returns to Earth. According to scientists at the Science of The Martian panel at Phoenix Comic Con this weekend, Mark Watney probably would have been in a wheelchair for months or even years after he returned from his Mars detour.

In the film, Mark Watney is shown to be a little sickly at times, but for the most part demonstrates physical strength. Even at the end, when he has undergone a long-term spaceflight and nearly a year on Mars, he's still able to perform physically onerous tasks. Annie Wargetz, a popular science communicator and the social media lead for the OSIRIS-REx mission, said that Watney "was too strong the whole time," both as a result of malnourishment and bone and muscle loss from the decreased gravity.

The microgravity in particular would have caused a problem, as ISS astronauts have been shown to lose bone and muscle mass after only a few months on the ISS, even while under a strict diet and exercise regimen. After his entire ordeal on the Hermes and on Mars, which has only 30% of Earth's gravity, and without proper interventions during his trip, Mark Watney's body would have been "significantly weaker," according to ASU planetary scientist Andy Ryan. 

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"He would have been in a wheelchair for a very long time," said Wargetz.
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But would that pose a problem if we ever wanted to establish a settlement on Mars? Not necessarily, according to the speakers. Especially for temporary installations for scientific studies and/or rotating crew members, there are precautions that can be taken on Mars, mostly involving exercise and dietary supplements. It was somewhat unrealistic in The Martian because Mark Watney didn't have any of this equipment available to him, but in real life, even if someone wanted to stay on Mars forever, it would be difficult, though not impossible.

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"One third [of Earth's gravity] is technically the threshold," said Wargetz. "There would still be deterioration, but not so much that they would die right away."
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