NASA is Taking the Fiction Out of “The Martian”’s Science-Fiction

In the upcoming science fiction adventure flick The Martian, lil’ Matty Damon plays an astronaut stranded on Mars after the rest of his crew thinks he’s killed during an emergency evacuation. He spends most of the film devising ways to keep himself alive while NASA and a conglomerate of international space agencies work to bring him home. The equipment and technology Damon’s character, Mark Watney, uses whilst lost in space is classic sci-fi—a souped-up, all-terrain rover; airlocked living quarters that let him breath and walk around normally; high efficiency solar panels—but the real-life NASA is steadily taking the fiction out of this Hollywood science fiction.

Mars

Mars, Here We Come… Eventually

This past Tuesday, two of Damon’s co-stars, Mackenzie Davis and Sebastian Stan, made a kind of cross-promotional appearance at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Martian was screened for the NASA gang, and the actors (and assembled media) got to learn more about how NASA is working to make a mission to the Red Planet a reality.

Davis and Stan got the chance to cruise around the Space Center grounds in one of NASA’s current-model off-planet rovers. While not nearly as advanced as the vehicles depicted in the film, it’s easy to see that the technology and design of the real and fictional rovers are not far apart.

The hermetically-sealing personnel habitat, or “hab”, in which Damon spends much of the film is not too far from the type of modular office that is commonly found on Earth today. At least outwardly—both are built in multiple, individual pieces that are designed to be easily assembled on-site. Damon’s movie hab, of course, features a ton of speculative technology that is on NASA’s horizon.

“It really highlights a lot of the things we work on,” said Ellen Ochoa, a former astronaut and current director of the Johnson Space Center, of the technology in the movie. “Those things include devising ways to safely land objects on Mars and creating a closed-loop life support system.”

The Martian is set in 2035, which sounds like a fairly reasonable timeframe for a manned mission to Mars. While the technology needed is well under way, many more preparations are still required.

“The reality is, even if all those technologies were ready, if they were magically ready tomorrow, we would be a no-go for launch,” said Camille Alleyne, assistant program scientist for the International Space Station Program. “Because the human body is not yet ready for us to go to Mars.”

Better hit the gym, fatties. Only two decades before we blow this pop stand called Earth.

The Martian is in theaters next Friday, October 2. If it’s half as good as the book on which it’s based, it will be amazing.

Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Foter / CC BY-NC

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