Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is 'The Martian' Accurate? How 500 Days in Space Would Affect You

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is 'The Martian' Accurate? How 500 Days in Space Would Affect You

Article excerpt

Is "The Martian," the upcoming science-fiction film from noted director Ridley Scott ("Aliens," "Prometheus"), scientifically accurate? The answer is yes.

"Martian" centers on NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who becomes stranded on Mars after he is presumed dead by his crew mates and left behind on the Red Planet.

Filmed over the course of 70 days in Budapest, Hungary, the film worked to ensure that it followed NASA protocol, from Mark's rover to the potato crops that help him survive. One of the movie's most striking features, however, is how deeply it dives into the psychological impact of long-term isolation.

"I'm the first person to be alone on a planet," Mark (Matt Damon) says partway through the movie. "400 billion years, and then there's me." Not only is Watney separated from the rest of humanity, but forced to scrape by on whatever resources he can find or improvise.

Rather than retreating into a dour procedural, however, the movie presents his isolation as an opportunity: Watney is forced to figure out how to survive entirely on his own. Though he may be physically alone, he is not alone psychologically; Watney narrates each course of action by checking in with cameras placed throughout the "HAB," or habitation module, on Mars.

This is one of several aspects in the movie that conforms to NASA science. In order to prepare astronauts for long-term space missions, NASA built a HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog), a two-story habitat designed to simulate conditions of long-term missions, at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. Both the HAB that Mark lives in, and the test version that the crew on earth use to get ready for the rescue mission, look very similar to the HERA at the Johnson Center.

Also of crucial importance is the question the movie asks about the impact of Mark's exile on the other members of his crew, both those who are on Earth at Mission Control and those who accidentally left him behind. The leader of Watney's mission, Captain Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), is forced to make a tough decision: whether to return to Earth and let another mission retrieve him, or turn around and get him themselves, despite the risk for her crew and the time it would add to their mission. …

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