Anticipation for The Martian is building up in the final countdown to the film's release. Andy Weir's surprisingly popular ebook has received much more than the big screen treatment with NASA enthusiastically advising on the script, and even inviting the stars and director to visit NASA complexes and learn more about the realities of Mars missions.
The space agency is so excited about this film that NASA director Dr Jim Green is sure that The Martian will get people interested in space exploration again, and even inspire real life manned missions to Mars! In an era when unmanned probes are more financially viable, and the public seems to have lost interest in space exploration, can The Martian turn the tide of opinion and inspire real life missions?
More Science Than Fiction
The Martian has a realistic depth to it that is pretty rare for sci fi, and with NASA advising on everything from the technology to the conditions on Mars, it's easy to see how this film is set to stand out from the crowd. But it's not just going to be 2 hours of exposition about how a trip to Mars might work: the new TV commercial gives us a glimpse of the lighter side of the story, proving that The Martian is as much about humanity's unfailing sense of humour as it is about the real science behind the mission.
Matt Damon sees this as crucial to the story. For him, telling the tale of human fortitude helps endear his character Mark Whatney to the audience, as he is the kind of person who "keeps their sense of humour and thinks logically through things one step at a time." The Martian is ultimately a story about people, grounded in reality while looking to the stars.
"Humanity's survival is dependent upon getting off of this planet and getting out there. Hopefully, the message in a movie like this is one that really kind of galvanizes participation in stuff like this and makes people excited about science."
Despite its vaguely futuristic setting, The Martian is not far from the truth, drawing from NASA's Mars mission simulations. But don't go buying your spacesuit just yet: it might be a while before we establish our first Mars colony.
The Road To The Red Planet
Overcoming the practical hurdles of manned Mars missions is still a major factor in NASA's research, but Mars project manager Sean Erikson is optimistic.
"Getting someone on Mars is not science fiction. It's there, we just have to do it."
NASA's predictions place sending people to Mars in about 20 years. They're still calculating how to send a probe twice the size of the Curiosity Rover without crashing it on the planet's surface. But when we do eventually reach the Red Planet, Whatney's farming techniques will prove essential to human survival there.
Recently, astronauts on the International Space Station managed to grow the first space-grown lettuce... and apparently it was delicious! But that's far from achieving growing crops from Mars' acidic soil. We'll need to find a way of sustaining human life on such an arid world which will take time, not to mention billions of dollars. Unfortunately, as big as our dreams are, the reality of space travel is not nearly as glamorous as the movies make it seem, though The Martian is much more practical in its approach to the idea.
NASA are aiming to send a manned mission to asteroids close to Earth before they risk a Mars mission. Solitude and mental health is also a major concern. Although in The Martian Whatney manages to stay chipper in the four years he has to wait for rescue, the longest NASA simulation has a group of aspiring astronauts sealed in a dome for 8 months without fresh food or natural light, in order to test the mental health effects of deep space travel.
Of course, this all costs billions of dollars and it'll be a while before we see the human race establish colonies on other planets. But with The Martian helping to get people excited for space exploration again, holidays to Mars may become a reality within our lifetimes! For now we can only dream, and eagerly await The Martian's release in cinemas.