The Martian

aldrin“We have to go to Mars, and this his how we do it,” Buzz Aldrin said with intensity, his eyes boring into me, riveting me to my chair.  I was interviewing the 2nd man to walk on the Moon for a “Star Trek” television special.  We wanted a reaction from NASA astronauts on the impact of the famous sci-fi series on our culture.  Mr. Aldrin graciously offered a few choice comments for us.  But he was more eager to explain his Mars plan, and spent 20 minutes on camera doing so.  He convinced me it could happen in our lifetime.  Back then, I thought he was a little off his rocker. But today, it’s no joke.  Serious plans are in the works.  In an August 2015  U.S. News report, Aldrin announced that he’s joining the Florida Institute of Technology to develop a ‘master plan’ for colonizing Mars in less than 25 years.

Over a dozen films have imagined a trip to Mars, and some with real scientific theories embedded in the storyline.  But nothing compares to The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott.  NASA was on board to provide facts about space travel, ultimately contributing 50 pages of script material.  Also, the flight mirrors many aspects of actual planned missions.  Jessica Chastain met with real astronauts and various personnel from JPL in preparation for her role as a female space traveler.   Andy Weir, who wrote the book the film is based on, spent serious research time watching space documentaries and scouring the Internet for information.  The plot deals with a marooned astronaut (Damon) determined to survive Mar’s harsh environmental conditions.  He must find ways to grow food, find water, and withstand one calamity after another.   Weir admits that some plot points were not accurate, including depicting an intense sandstorm that wreaks havoc on the stranded astronaut’s habitat.  Based on inertia in the atmosphere, “even a 150-km-an-hour sandstorm on Mars would feel like a one-mile-per-hour breeze on Earth,” Weir said. “But this is a man versus nature story, and I wanted nature to get the first punch in.”  Planetary scientist Dr. Jim Green praised Ridley Scott on his attention to detail. “He wanted to make it realistic and I’ve appreciated pulling together teams of people and answering questions that he asked,” said Green. “And the more that happened, the more I got excited about that, because the film does indeed look very realistic. It has a lot of real elements on it and that’s appreciated from a NASA perspective.”  As a marketing strategy for The Martian, Neil deGrasse Tyson devoted a special episode of his program Space Talk on Mars, exploring the potential dangers of visiting the planet (cosmic radiation, solar flares, etc.).

Buzz AldrinIn recent years, Mars has become a hot news topic.  Mars One, a non-profit organization, vows to create a manned colony on the planet, and volunteers have signed up for a one-way ticket to the Red Planet, beginning in 2026.  In a 2010 speech, President Barak Obama said, “By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”   Hopeful words indeed.

pia19916-main_perspective_2And on September 28th, NASA reported that they’ve discovered evidence of water on Mars.

“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”   This is an amazing news story for two reasons.  One, water equals potential life on the Red Planet. Two, this comes –mysteriously — days before the release of The Martian, which may be a sneaky public relations ploy (was NASA holding out until the movie came out in hopes of riding on its marketing heels?).  Then again, this may prove problematic for the film, since its story premise depends on the absence of water.

Other films featuring Mars:

Red Planet

Total Recall

Mission to Mars

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