In a bid to ensure accuracy in some aspects of the movie, “The Martian”, a film by Matt Damon consulted with NASA to acquire some of the aspects of space and space traveling(Scott 1).The movie has been heralded as one of the first genuine Mars movies created to depict human beings enduring the problems of exploring Mars. The movie can be denoted not to be stereotypical as most of the other Mars films that are mainly centered around magic, fantasy, and horror but presents one of the most realistic pictures of the human being grappling with life on Mars. Therefore, the paper seeks to decipher the accuracies of the movie in line with environmental science conceptualizations- how scientifically correct is The Martian movie?
The dust storm is the dominant feature at the beginning of the film(Scott 1). It sets the plot of the film in motion by allowing the other astronauts to leave Watney stranded. It can be highlighted that although Mars does have dust storms, the winds in the planet are negligible since Mars’ atmospheric pressure is barely 1% the density of theearth. It insinuates the notion that dust storms are not a normal occurrence in Mars. Due to the low atmospheric pressure on Mars, a 100-mph wind in the planet can only be likened to an 11-mph wind here on Earth, and this would not have the force or inertia to carry objects. The massive windstorm exhibited in the movie would thus not be possible in real-life, something that Scott, the director, contends as true. Also, not possible scientifically is Watney’s solution to the leak that causes his entire pod to blow up. The simple solution of patching the opening with aplastic tarp and duct tape would not hold up even for a day in such a windstorm in real life.
The supply of food to missions in Mars is almost an impossibility due to the orbital distance to Mars- 8 months. From the movie, Watney converted the Hab into a self-sustaining farm and matured the first potatoes. NASA denotes that the Martian soil has enough nutrients dependent on the landing site of the astronauts, and in one study the soil was found to work better than ordinary earth soil(NASA 1). Mars is characterized by high amounts of carbon-dioxide and intense sunlight, both of which are essential requirements for photosynthesis. Due to the fine texture of the soil and also due to the fact that it has perchlorates which have to be leached out, the crops would need to be grown in a controlled environment. Watney understands this and we see a controlled environment in the fi9lm in which stored human excrement is also used to enrich the soil.
To grow the crops, Watney would need water and on the planet, water can only exist as ice or vapor since the atmospheric pressure is at the triple point of water. In addition, there is no surface water (rivers, oceans, or lakes) and thus, astronauts would be forced to create their own water.Watney in The Martian achieves this through a water recovery system that recycled urine and excrement from other astronauts and his own. Since water is existent in Mars as ice, permafrost or soaked into the soil and thus, Watney would just have had to harvest it but the movie assumes that he did not have the resources to do this. It can, however, be concluded that with water harvesting and a controlled environment, the growing of crops shown in the film is possible on Mars.
While the above innovations are possible, some of the other innovations in the movie are not, such as the utilization of the oxidizer. Watney and his six-person crew were supposed to remain on Mars’ surface for 30 days meaning that the available oxygen would only have lasted Watney for 180 days. Watney thus needed to make additional oxygen to survive the 500-plus sols on Mars, something he did by mixing the carbon dioxide from the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) fuel generator with hydrogen. In a pressurized form, however, hydrogen is extremely hazardous and toxic to the human body while the oxidizer is also explosive. Watney would thus not have been able to handle the elements safely and an explosion would have occurred within the first few minutes of his attempt to generate oxygen.
The movie also fails to account for the role of radiation in both the design of the spacecraft as well as Watney’s roaming about. In the movie, we witness a big spacecraft that has lots of windows. It is appealing to the audience, but in real life such a configuration would present various radiation issues to the astronauts. The spacecraft is only protected from cosmic rays and solar flares by the earth’s magnetic field, and the spacecraft is not well-insulated to act as a shield. Watney would also have been exposed to solar flares and cosmic rays since his spacesuit is not enough to protect him from radiation on mars; whose magnetic field is not as strong as earth’s.
Besides these technical issues, the movie suffers from other credibility issues. Firstly, in a bid to rescue Watney, the other astronauts have to cancel their homecoming and use a gravity assist, something that in the film is achieved after a late-night brainstorm by a NASA technician running complex arithmetic. The technician then has to explain the idea to a skeptical Administrator of NASA. It should be noted, however, that NASA has used gravity assist in the past for interplanetary explorations and thus the notion that the Administrator of NASA is ignorant of gravitational assist is far-fetched. Secondly, in the movie Mars looks as bright as earth in the daytime despite the fact that it is roughly 50% further away from the sun than the earth is and thus expected to receive little insolation. Lastly, the movie fails to account correctly for gravity. Watney seems to walk around the Red planet comfortably despite Mars’ gravity being 30 percent that of earth. The low gravity also causes liquids to flow slower; but in the movie fluids like Watney’s ketchup or the recycled water used to grow crops flow faster.
As compared to other Martian movies, The Martian shows some of the technical realities that would face individuals intending to explore Mars and also accurately portrays the environment within Mission Control. It also intricately embeds thought-provoking science, futuristic applications, and real-life controversial decision-making that would be expected in such a mission. The movie may have some glaring omissions, but it should be acknowledged that for a science fiction movie, the directors have to make a compromise between truth and what the audience will find captivating. As such, it is my notion that The Martian is a great movie with a huge impact on the future of science and space exploration.
NASA. Nine Real NASA technologies in ‘The Martian’. 19 August 2015. Website. 23 October 2016.
The Martian. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Matt Damon. 2015. Online.