The Martian

Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015) is the best Mars movie I have yet seen. Genuinely faithful to Andy Weir’s popular novel, The Martian chronicles astronaut Mark Whatney’s struggle to survive on Mars, after being accidentally stranded there, and the efforts by NASA and Whatney’s crew to rescue him. The story emphasizes the problem-solving character and skill of scientists and engineers in the celebrated tradition of the Apollo 13 rescue.

Actor Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Whatney marooned on a largely realistic Mars

Actor Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Whatney marooned on a largely realistic Mars

I especially like the scenes of Whatney living, farming, walking, and driving on a mostly realistic Mars, with a near-terrestrial day-night cycle, authentic dust and sand and sky, including high wispy clouds and dust devils. I’d prefer less atmospheric pressure and sounds in Mars’ thin air (and space’s vacuum), more radiation protection and dust mitigation, and water from heating regolith (= soil) rather than catalyzing and burning hydrazine (= N2H4). I’d also like more accurate 0.38g surface gravity on Mars and more natural microgravity aboard the Hermes interplanetary spaceship (whose size and complexity I’d decrease while reducing the crew from 6 to 4).

Indeed, The Martian makes me eager for more, especially for the real thing. I remember pausing one night to stare at the moon when people briefly lived on its surface during the Apollo program, and alongside that thrilling memory is the longing for another: to gaze at the ruddy dot of Mars amidst the stars while knowing other people live there — or to live there myself. As SpaceX founder Elon Musk said, it would be wonderful to be born on Earth and die on Mars*.
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* But not in the landing.

About John F. Lindner

John F. Lindner was born in Sleepy Hollow New York and educated at the University of Vermont and Caltech. He is a professor of physics and astronomy at The College of Wooster. He has enjoyed multiple yearlong sabbaticals at Georgia Tech, University of Portland, and University of Hawai'i. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, celestial mechanics, and variable stars.
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One Response to The Martian

  1. Mark Wilson says:

    The spectacular scenery is Wadi Rum in Jordan. I’d love to match the landscape shots with the desert scenes in Lawrence of Arabia.

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