‘The Martian’: What Happened When NASA Got Involved

The Martian is an Oscar-nominated movie based on the book by the same name written by Andy Weir. The story is about an astronaut thought to be dead and left behind on Mars, only to be alive and have to figure out how to survive.

Here are a few facts about The Martian that few people are aware of.

1. Space.com reports that one page of the script from The Martian actually went to space. The page was put on the test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a ship that might one day fly people to Mars.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays NASA mission director Vincent Kapoor in The Martian, was happy to have NASA scientists visit the set during filming. The visit came during the time the Philae lander was touching down on a comet and Ejiofor was able to watch and study their reaction.

“The excitement of that was so palpable. For [ESA] of course it was a very exciting time. It was also a way for me to observe that there was a kind of calmness as well. Only when they landed did you see the dude scream. Before that he was [very calm].”

3. It was a challenge to turn the book into a movie script because the majority of the book consisted of the internal dialogue of the main character, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon). Producer Simon Kinberg explained the difficulty.

“In a book, you’re inside the head of a character. So you have the luxury or the crutch of being able to say what the character is thinking. And in a movie, usually you need dialogue between characters to express that and we didn’t have that. And [Goddard and Scott] figuring out how to do that, to me, was the biggest challenge.”

4. Mark Weir did a lot of research to make science in The Martian book as accurate as he could, but the windstorm at the beginning of the book was not actually something that would realistically happen due to the thin atmosphere of Mars. NASA reviewed the script, and the windstorm was the only thing they had an issue with. It was hard to come up with an adequate alternative, so they left it in. Ridley Scott explained.

“The alternative was terrible. So NASA said, ‘What the hell, it’s only a movie.'”

5. IFL Science! reports that while the dust storm was inaccurate, the travel time from Earth to Mars was bang on. ESA project manager for Mars Express, Rudi Schmidt, who acted as a consultant on the movie, said Weir did the computations himself.

“This is not just a story, the author has done real computations.”

6. It is actually possible to grow food in the Martian soil. Dave Lavery, Program Executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA headquarters, also consulted for the film and he explained.

“In terms of basic mineral content and chemical content, yes it would be possible to grow plants in Martian soil. We actually have experiments going on right now using simulated Mars soil, and it indicates that’s a very realistic idea.”

7. Lavery also said it is possible that Watney could have repurposed the old Pathfinder and Sojourner equipment to communicate with earth.

“Theoretically, it would absolutely be possible. The spacecraft has been sitting up there since 1997, and it stopped operating because the batteries finally drained and gave out. But if you replaced them and repowered it, everything else should still be functioning.”

8. Movie Details, Facts and Trivia reports that NASA had to give its permission to be featured in The Martian, as with any movie that wants to involve the space agency. An amazing 50 pages of the script are strictly NASA material.

[Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images]