The science of Matt Damon’s The Martian movie is being both praised and critiqued by real life scientists. One space botanist claims the fictional character Mark Watney, as played by Damon, probably would not have had much luck with that potato garden, but a real life rocket scientist loves the movie, despite some science errors.
In a related report by the Inquisitr, Matt Damon says Ben Affleck is “misunderstood,” claiming that Jennifer Lopez made him look like a “talentless meathead.”
Written by author Andy Weir, The Martian movie explores what would happen if an astronaut became stranded on the Red Planet after a disastrous Mars manned mission. A severe dust storm almost kills the entire crew, and Mark Watney is stabbed by flying debris and left for dead. But the astronaut survives, and must figure out how to survive on the unrelenting Mars surface.
Obviously, food is critical, and thus the Mars potato garden became the central means of survival for Watney. NASA has, indeed, been researching space gardens for decades, and the goal is to produce food for long term space missions in addition to recycling the air by turning CO2 back into oxygen. Unfortunately, a real life space botanist has noted at least two issues with the way The Martian‘s potato garden is portrayed.
According to Bruce Bugbee, director of the Plants, Soils & Climate Department at Utah State University, the Matt Damon movie managed to get the overall picture correct, but there are some niggling details.
“I could nitpick it and say this wasn’t exactly right and that isn’t exactly right. But, the concept is correct. He can grow potatoes like he did, and he can grow them from recycled waste [human excrement]. And, it’s possible to live up there a long time. So, the concepts were all correct,” Bugbee explained, according to CNET.
The largest issue with the Mars potato garden was the lack of light. Mars only receives about 60 percent of the light received by the Earth, yet Watney’s habitat was designed to block radiation.
“How would he get enough light for his plants? He didn’t go into that. But plants need bright, bright light,” Bugbee said. “We normally use a lot of solar panels and a lot of electric lights, but one of the things we’re working on now is fiber optics: big, concentrating mirrors and fiber optics to bring that bright light in to grow plants.”
The Mars soil would also need to be conditioned in order to be useful in a NASA hydroponics setup. But the astronaut managed to defy this detail.
“It’s mostly iron oxides. And iron makes stuff red, like rust. So it would be pretty hard to just take soil the way he did in the movie and put a little bit of composted human waste on the plants, and magically grow these great potatoes,” he said.
There are other science errors in The Martian movie. Matt Damon’s character is forced to pull water from the hydrogen and oxygen contained within the rockets. One problem, according to a real life rocket scientist named Olympia LePoint: Watney should have blown up.
“[H]ydrogen and oxygen would have been available for Matt Damon’s character to use. However, hydrogen is extremely toxic and hazardous to the human body in its pressurized form. And the oxidizer can be explosive, and it would have to remain in its pressurized container. So, Matt Damon’s character would not have been able to handle the elements easily or safely. In reality, an explosion would have occurred within the first few minutes of the experiment.”
There are also some other interesting science issues. The Martian movie portrays the astronauts quickly moving between zero gravity and full gravity environments that are located within inches of each other. In real life, such technology has yet to be invented, but quickly moving between such environments would “shock” the human body, since the spine tends to extend by an average of six inches when in space. When astronauts return to Earth in real life, they usually have days of rehab in order to acclimate to being in gravity again.
Still, the movie did get many things right. The rocket scientist also notes the “gravitational assist” used by the spacecraft could theoretically be used in real life. Other details like skipping the flight’s thrust and weight certifications can be a real scenario. But it was the scenes which portrayed the people, not the science, that caught LePoint’s attention.
“The movie accurately shows the environment within Mission Control. For nearly ten years, I was a scientist for NASA’s advanced rocket propulsion programs. I used mathematics and science to calculate the probability of catastrophic explosions within flight, authorized Space Shuttle Main Engine hot-fire tests, and supported Mission Control by monitoring data for 12-hour time spans. In the movie, the large TV screens plastered in every angle accurately captured the darkness, timing, and adrenaline involved in finding a solution within a 3-5 minute span before potential explosions were to cause deaths. I also appreciated how the movie featured the heroes as scientists who calculated behind closed doors.”
What do you think about Matt Damon’s The Martian?
[Image via 20th Century Fox]