This Ridley Scott venture has pushed the boundaries of film-making as well as the idea of space exploration. The Martian is arguably one of the best space travel films. But how accurate is the science surrounding the movie’s concepts? Keep reading to find out!
A Nightmare 140 Million Miles Away
Several films have attempted to depict human travel to Mars. Films like Total Recall, Red Planet, and most recently, The Last Days on Mars have done decently as well. However, The Martian manages to raise the bar in a way that these other films just couldn’t. The only thing that can be scarier than taking a trip there, is being stranded there. This is what happens to astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon when he and his team attempt to evacuate Mars. Let us examine how much of the movie is scientifically credible and what the crew has excelled in.
Andy Weir, the author of the original novel, played an extensive role in the film’s development. NASA also collaborated with the team keeping in mind the potential for space travel, especially to Mars. They oversaw every little detail ranging from script development to photography. Both Weir and Scott wanted to create a project with maximum scientific accuracy. The crew roped in James. L.Green to play the role of a mentor. Green is the Director of the Planetary Science Division, NASA.
We want to be clear that The Martian is not a flawless film. It has its shortcomings and flaws, but it’s what the film manages to accomplish despite these blips that set it apart from others. Here are some of the crucial concepts in the context of the film, that had full scientific credibility.
Botany in The Martian
Mark Watney is forced to grow vegetables on Mars to survive. Martian soil has been found to be suitable for growing several crops, including potatoes, as shown in the film. In fact, it has also been proved in studies to be better than Earth soil in some aspects. Watney also stored human waste to use as fertilizer. This would richen the soil and provide it with several nutrients. To conclude, the botanical concepts portrayed in the film are fairly on point.
Watney uses a sophisticated method to produce water for drinking. He separates hydrazine from rocket fuel before dissociating it into nitrogen and hydrogen. He produces water by burning hydrogen in the presence of oxygen. NASA confirmed that this method is indeed legible. It is also being used to plan a future Mars Rover mission. In 2015, several scientists proved that conditions were favorable for the presence of water on Mars. Interestingly, this coincided with the release of the film.
Mark Watney uses a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to produce heat on Mars. This is a type of nuclear battery used as a power source in space probes. But it is not commonly used in unmanned missions. Despite this, it is ideal for situations that require less power for longer durations.
Two scenes feature scenarios in which an immediate repair is required. Watney’s glass Faceshield suffers a large crack. This causes the oxygen level to drop below the critical point for a few moments. Watney fixes it by using a patch of duct tape to avoid suffocation. This quick-fix has a legitimate scientific principle behind it. Only if the internal pressure drops below 30% will the astronaut undergo suffocation or undergo an embolism.
In another scene, a pod on Watney’s habitat explodes from a pressure leak. He fixes the leak by using a patch of plastic tarp and duct tape. NASA stated that this was also an actual method of repair. Despite not matching with the film’s depiction, this fix is possible in Mars’ atmosphere.
Escape Strategy in The Martian
This is perhaps one of the biggest talking points from the film. The primary basis of the escape is a technique known as a gravity assist. It has been used as a backup on manned Apollo missions. NASA said that it has even been used extensively in robotic planetary missions. Furthermore, they also said that this particular technique would have been the first choice in such an extraordinary scenario.
From what we have seen, it is clear that The Martian has properly executed the pillars on which the film rests in terms of scientific credibility. But like we said earlier, there were a couple of drawbacks to the film as well. Here are a few areas in which scientific accuracy was somewhat lost in The Martian.
The Storm in The Martian
This is one of the most crucial events in the film concerning its importance to the storyline. It is the storm that causes Mark Watney to be left behind by his astronaut crew. The atmospheric density of Mars is 1/10th that of the Earth. This makes winds of 100mph speed an extremely rare occurrence. Even in such a rare scenario, the wind would only be strong enough to rustle a few leaves. A full-grown human cannot be knocked down by it, let alone get dragged.
This is a comparatively minor mistake when compared to others in the film. There is a scene in which an unmanned supply vehicle docks with the Mars ship. A crew member wearing spacesuit signals it as if it was a car being parked in the driveway. The cargo ship is empty, and the whole scene accounts for an unnecessary spacewalk. One of the most important principles in space is to avoid performing spacewalks unless absolutely required. As a result, this scene was rather deceptive.
Martian radiation is one of the biggest obstacles in the quest to put humans on the Red Planet. Two specific hazards would come in the way of the astronauts on their way and after landing. One is solar energetic particles and galactic cosmic rays. Even a 180-day trip would subject the crew to around 15 times the safe dosage of radiation. Watney spends around 500 Martian days or ‘sols’ stranded on Mars (One sol = 24 hours and 39 minutes). He also makes the trip back to Earth during his escape. A proper explanation as to how this radiation was avoided was not provided in the film.
Despite these few blips that pop up in the film, The Martian is undoubtedly one of the best movies to be made about Mars. It has vision, it has a dream, and it is not afraid to embrace it. Matt Damon allows us to believe that even the extraordinary is possible. In addition, the powerful message that the film sends makes it an absolute treat to watch. So what are you waiting for? Go sit down for a couple of hours and treat yourself to this gem!