The Martian: A Story of Survival on a Desolate Planet

The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” is a story about the will to survive calculated to get under your skin. Initially released on the 24th of September 2015, it is a sci-fi cinematic swiftness adapted from the same name, The Martian, a novel by Andy Weir. It is a riveting story portraying an astronaut who was left behind on planet Mars and his sole struggle to survive on it.

The plot unfurls as the intrepid crew of the Ares III mission, a manned mission to Mars orchestrated by NASA, lands on Mars to explore Acidalia Planitia: a region on Mars on Martian solar day in the year 2035. The exploratory mission goes awry when a sudden dust storm bashed; in making the crew pull back and abort their ambitious mission. As the rest of the crew retreats to safety, they presume that the crew’s botanist Mark Watney is dead and leave him on the arid red surface of Mars. The remaining crew takes off to the Hermes Spacecraft before their space shuttle, the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) tipped over; leading them to believe that Watney is dead and non-retrievable.

The Ares III mission crew members, The Martian
Figure 01: The Ares III mission crew members, “The Martian”

The Plot: Mistaken for Dead

However, Watney returns to consciousness after the severe storm and finds himself injured with a low-oxygen warning beeping and marooned on the Red Planet by his fellow crew members. All by himself in the face of meager resources, he devises ways to stay alive and to signal to Earth that he survived and was stranded on Mars. The Martian veers into the territory of man’s natural tendency to persevere and survive; as the majority of the scenes in the film focuses on Watney making the viewers hooked on it. Meanwhile, his crew members get to know Watney’s survival and his condition and join forces to launch a rescue mission in defiance of NASA’s protocol. They execute this mutiny and as NASA could not let the whole crew die, they support the rescue mission to get Watney.

The story is woven methodically incorporating science and realistic visual effects using CGI, inviting the viewers to have a look at what NASA has in the bag for Mars. Most of the technologies used for survival appearing in The Martian are already being developed by NASA in high hopes of human settlement on Mars in the future.

Watney’s Martian Home Away from Home

All alone on a hostile surface away from his home, Mark Watney makes himself at home on Mars spending his time in the habituation module: “Hab”. The habituation module is a structure built to inhabit humans, the astronauts who land on Mars. In real life, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, there is a demonstration habitat called the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA); which is used to simulate isolation, confinement, and remote conditions of mission exploration operations. This self-contained environment trains candidates contributing knowledge for future human spaceflight missions.

The ‘Hab’ in The Martian, an artificial living habitat facilitating human exploration on planet Mars
Figure 02: The ‘Hab’ in The Martian, an artificial living habitat facilitating human exploration on planet Mars
Figure 03: The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

The Self-Sustaining Farm on Martian Soil

Being a botanist, Watney applies his practices to build a self-sustaining farm using Martian soil fertilizing with feces as his major concern is food. He grows potatoes in the habituation module enough for him to survive on the planet Mars. In reality, Veggie Plant Growth System aboard the International Space Station is a space garden that produces fresh vegetables. On Mars, the constant food supply from the Earth is not much reliable and for humans to survive on Mars, they have to find a way to supply food on their own. The Martian soil contains minerals plants need to grow and with fertilizers being added it is possible to grow plants on Martian soil. Space farming is a huge milestone, and scientists are hoping to expand this to sustain the nutritional needs of future astronauts on Mars.

The scene which shows Watney growing plants in The Martian
Figure 04: The scene which shows Watney growing plants in The Martian
The Veggie in International Space Station
Figure 05: The Veggie Plant Growth System in the International Space Station

Air to Breathe on Mars

The Martian atmosphere does not contain enough oxygen for humans to breathe; but contains carbon dioxide accounting for 95% by volume of the atmosphere. For Watney in The Martian, he needed a constant supply of oxygen to survive and therefore he used the Hab’s “Oxygenator”; a system that uses carbon dioxide to produce oxygen from the MAV fuel generator. In reality, scientists have implemented the Mars OXygen In-situ resource utilization Experiment (MOXIE) to investigate oxygen production on Mars. Situated inside the Perseverance Rover, MOXIE’s function is to produce oxygen from the Martian Carbon dioxide atmosphere.

When we send humans to Mars, we will want them to return safely, and to do that they need a rocket to lift off the planet. Liquid oxygen propellant is something we could make there and not have to bring with us. One idea would be to bring an empty oxygen tank and fill it up on Mars.

Michael Hecht, Principal Investigator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Figure 06: MOXIE

In order to test the quality of Mars-made Oxygen on Mars, we use the test model MOXIE. To prepare for future Mars expeditions, MOXIE will be a demonstration to produce oxygen for propellant and breathing as well.

The Martian’s protagonist, Mark Watney
Figure 07: The Martian’s protagonist, Mark Watney

Colonization on Mars has always been a topic of discussion both fiction-wise and factor-wise.  With these technologies aforementioned and many others, the vision of inhabiting Mars is becoming a reality. The Martian gives a conventional but unique picture of what future space travel will look like peering into the human expeditions to Mars.

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