I recently had the absolute pleasure of watching the American science fiction film, based on the novel of the same name, The Martian.
In 2035, the crew of the Ares III manned mission to Mars is exploring the Acidalia Planitia on Martian solar day (sol) 18 of their 31-sol expedition. An unexpectedly strong dust storm threatens to topple their Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), forcing them to hastily leave the planet. During the evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney is struck by debris and lost in the storm; the last telemetry from his suit indicates no signs of life. With Watney believed dead, mission commander Melissa Lewis orders the remaining crew to return to their orbiting vessel Hermes without him.
Watney awakens after the storm to a low oxygen warning, in pain, and makes his way to the “Hab,” or “habitat,” the crew’s base of operations. He removes a piece of antenna from his suit’s biomonitor—which caused the erroneous life-sign readings—and his own torso, stapling himself up. He begins a video diary and realizes that his only chance of rescue is the arrival of the Ares IV crew at the Schiaparelli crater, 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi) away, in four years.
Calculating that he has enough food to last only 300 sols (roughly 309 days), Watney, a botanist, improvises a farm with Martian soil fertilized with human waste, water produced by extracting hydrogen from leftover rocket fuel, and potatoes saved for a Thanksgiving meal. He begins to modify the only functional rover to make long journeys across Mars to reach the rescue spot.
Reviewing satellite photos of Mars, mission director Vincent Kapoor and satellite planner Mindy Park see evidence of Watney’s activities and realize that he has survived. Despite the objections of Hermes flight director Mitch Henderson, NASA administrator Teddy Sanders decides not to inform the Ares III crew, believing it would distract them from their mission.
Watney takes the rover to retrieve the Pathfinder probe, which fell silent in 1997. Using the lander’s camera, he establishes rudimentary communication with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team using the hexadecimal system. NASA instructs Watney to modify the rover to link with Pathfinder so they can communicate via text. Watney becomes angry when he learns that the crew has not been told of his survival, and Sanders authorizes Henderson to inform them.
Henderson and JPL director Bruce Ng formulate a plan to send a space probe to Mars and resupply Watney with enough food to survive until Ares IV’s arrival. When the Hab’s airlock malfunctions and explosively decompresses, destroying Watney’s crop, Sanders orders the team to speed up the supply mission by skipping the safety inspections. As a result, the supply probe explodes shortly after liftoff.
The China National Space Administration offers NASA the “Tai Yang Shen”(太阳神, the God of Sun), a classified booster rocket that can carry a payload to Mars. Meanwhile, JPL astrodynamicist Rich Purnell devises a trajectory to send Hermes back to Mars more quickly, using the Chinese booster to instead resupply it for an additional eighteen months. Sanders rejects the plan, refusing to risk the crew, but Henderson surreptitiously sends the details to Hermes. Lewis and her crew vote unanimously to execute the plan, and NASA—powerless to stop them—proceeds with the resupply as Hermes flies by Earth, using its gravity to slingshot them back to Mars.
After 461 sols, Watney begins the 90 sol journey to Schiaparelli, where the MAV for the Ares IV mission has been prepositioned. To rendezvous with Hermes, Watney makes drastic modifications to reduce the MAV’s mass, removing equipment including the windows, nose cone, and exterior panels. With Watney on board the gutted MAV, the Hermes crew launches it remotely, but it does not reach the planned speed and altitude.
Lewis has Hermes use its maneuvering thrusters to change course and explosive decompression of its own internal atmosphere to adjust its speed. When even that is not enough, Lewis uses a Manned Maneuvering Unit to approach Watney’s vessel, but still cannot reach him. Watney pierces the glove of his pressure suit and uses the escaping air as a miniature thruster to reach Lewis. The crew is reunited as crowds around the world cheer the news.
After returning to Earth, Watney becomes a survival instructor for new astronaut candidates. Five years later, on the occasion of the Ares V mission launch, those involved in Watney’s rescue have begun new lives.
It was a superb film, directed fantastially by Ridley Scott. The score was incredible, and the visuals put on display were very impressive. The way the entire film was put together was a pice of art, and very enjoyable. Everyone involved gave terrific performances, including Benedict Wong, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels. A special mention goes to the always entertaining Sebastian Stan for his wonderful portrayal of Dr Beck. However, the standout in the film was most definitely Matt Damon in the lead role – he gave an honest, raw performance for his character and it was a joy to watch. The Martian is a beautiful, excellent film – and one that I can’t recommend highly enough.
Thanks for reading.