“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”: How scientifically accurate is The Martian?


Image from @MartianMovie


Movie Title: The Martian
Genre: Science fiction
Based on: The Martian by Andy Weir (2011)
Release date: October 2, 2015
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara,Kristen Wigg, Jeff Bridges
Synopsis: Botanist turned astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is on a mission on Mars in 2035.  After a fierce storm, his fellow astronauts and NASA think he’s dead and strand him on Mars without any communications and very limited food. The next scheduled mission to Mars is four years away. So Watney is “going to have to science the shit out of [it]”.

With a catchphrase like that how could we not cover this movie on our blog?

But how valid is the science in this movie?

Making Oxygen
Movie: The movie uses as “oxygenator” to convert the atmosphere from Mars into breathable gas.
Real-World Science: NASA calls it MOXIE and it’s completely real and scheduled to be used in NASA’s real-life 2020 mission.

Cultivating Food
Movie: Watney has very little food but his botany skills help him grow a crop of potatoes.
Real-World Science: NASA has studied the soil on Mars and while Watney would have had to remove or neutralize salts, perchlorates and hydrogen peroxide, it contains the critical biologically–active form of nitrogen needed to grow plant life.

Finding Water
Movie: Watney burns hydrogen liberated from rocket fuel to get water risking a massive explosion.
Real-World Science: NASA confirms that they have evidence of water on Mars. Watney would have only had to dig up some ice or boil some dirt.

The Martian dust storm that stranded Watney
Movie: Watney is stranded after he’s thought to have died in a storm of  “hurricane-force winds”.
Real-World Science: Mars’s atmospheric pressure at the surface is 0.6% of Earth’s. Winds could reach hurricane speeds, but they would not move enough air mass to cause damage. In fact, a 150-mph wind on Mars would feel like a breeze.

As scientists we expect to have to suspend our skeptical nature when watching a movie or TV show so it’s really exciting when the entertainment industry can get (mostly) factual science in a big budget film that an audience without any science background can enjoy and be excited by.

I look forward to seeing it this weekend. Maybe I’ll see you there!

About the author:
Morra_ACEs_AvatarChristina is a Ph.D. candidate studying the interactions between gut bacteria and the human intestine. She is pursuing a career teaching undergraduates.

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