The Martian's Andy Weir on Whether He Would Ever Go to Space: 'Hell No'

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 - 1:07PM
NASA
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 - 1:07PM
The Martian's Andy Weir on Whether He Would Ever Go to Space: 'Hell No'
Andy Weir is famously afraid of flying, but according to a new interview with Chron, he's been gradually working through it, even making the trek from Houston to San Diego for Comic Con. But even so, when asked if he would ever follow in Mark Watney's footsteps and participate in commercial spaceflight endeavors, his answer was fairly unequivocal:

Opening quote
Hell no. I would not go into space. I very, very much want the private spaceflight industry to succeed, and grow and flourish and to become a whole industry. [Laughs] But I don't want to be its customer. I don't think I would ever be able to handle something like that.
Closing quote


He insists that he is a big believer in commercial spaceflight, but with his fear of flying, it's understandable that he would not want to make the journey himself:

Opening quote
I'm a huge fan of commercial, because I think ultimately a profit motive is the best way to get technology to happen. You've got to prime the pump. If you can get spaceflight cheap enough that middle class Americans can afford to do it once in their life, then you will have an explosion in the private spaceflight industry. But it takes a bunch of initial investment to bring those costs down.
Closing quote


Funding is a major issue for NASA's mission to Mars. NASA has projected that they will be able to reach Mars by the 2030s, but Weir offers a (very well-educated) layman's opinion that this timeline is unfeasible, for lack of funds rather than scientific advancement:

Opening quote
I think they could absolutely do it if they were funded enough. When people ask me when I think we'll have the first human mission, I say about 2050. That's my wild guess... Realistically I think a manned mission would organizationally be more like ISS, a large international effort with multi-national cooperation. It would be like just a big white ship with American flags all over it. It would be international, because it would be very, very expensive...

NASA has the skill. It all comes down to the funding. During the Apollo program they had 5 percent of the entire federal budget. Now they have what, half a percent? Imagine if they had 5 percent of the federal budget right now, it would be something like $170 billion a year, for the next 10 years, guaranteed. Almost $2 trillion. Yeah, I think they could probably get to Mars.
Closing quote


Technologically, NASA is close, but not quite there yet. Weir also offered his opinion as to which advancements need to be made before we can successfully travel to Mars, which he attempted to portray realistically in The Martian:

Opening quote
My enthusiast but not expert opinion is that the critical technology that needs to be invented is how to make a significantly high yield reactor work in space, and you need to overcome the political hurdles of getting people to accept putting a nuclear reactor in space. Number two, we need to invent ships with centripetal gravity. I just don't see sending people to Mars, having them spend months in zero-g, and then have them be effective in 0.4 Gs on sol one. I also believe we need to get ion propulsion working. I think technologies like VASIMR are really the key to interplanetary travel. First off there's a dramatic reduction in mass, plus you get so much more flexibility in aborting. With current technology, if something goes wrong, it doesn't matter. You're going. In the book the fictional Hermes transport ship has VASIMR engines an order of magnitude more powerful than exist in the real world. If you work that out and get through all the kinks that gives you so many options to adjust course and increase the safety of any mission. It means you're not tied to specific launch windows. My fictional Ares program is my view on the best way to go to Mars.
Closing quote


But where The Martian was hard sci-fi, in the sense that Weir tried to be as grounded in real science as humanly possible while still writing a speculative plot, he won't be quite as much of a stickler while writing his next book:

Opening quote
It's softer science fiction. It's got aliens, faster than light travel, it's good, old-fashioned sci-fi.
Closing quote


Aliens and faster-than-light travel both sound very trendy for the current sci-fi landscape, but there's one practically ubiquitous trend Weir's next book won't follow: a dystopic vision of the future. 

Opening quote
I'm not really into dystopian, I think it's just because I'm an optimistic guy when it comes to human nature in general. Also a lot of sci-fi now is really fantasy with a science fiction gloss. There's nothing wrong with that. But I like sciencey sci-fi.
Closing quote
Science
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