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The Martian Paperback – October 28, 2014
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8 Tips for Surviving on Mars from Andy Weir
So you want to live on Mars. Perhaps it’s the rugged terrain, beautiful scenery, or vast natural landscape that appeals to you. Or maybe you’re just a lunatic who wants to survive in a lifeless barren wasteland. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you should know:
1: You’re going to need a pressure vessel.
Mars’s atmospheric pressure is less than one percent of Earth’s. So basically, it’s nothing. Being on the surface of Mars is almost the same as being in deep space. You better bring a nice, sturdy container to hold air in. By the way, this will be your home forever. So try to make it as big as you can.
2: You’re going to need oxygen.
You probably plan to breathe during your stay, so you’ll need to have something in that pressure vessel. Fortunately, you can get this from Mars itself. The atmosphere is very thin, but it is present and it’s almost entirely carbon dioxide. There are lots of ways to strip the carbon off carbon dioxide and liberate the oxygen. You could have complex mechanical oxygenators or you could just grow some plants.
3: You’re going to need radiation shielding.
Earth’s liquid core gives it a magnetic field that protects us from most of the nasty crap the sun pukes out at us. Mars has no such luxury. All kinds of solar radiation gets to the surface. Unless you’re a fan of cancer, you’re going to want your accommodations to be radiation-shielded. The easiest way to do that is to bury your base in Martian sand and rocks. They’re not exactly in short supply, so you can just make the pile deeper and deeper until it’s blocking enough.
4: You’re going to need water.
Again, Mars provides. The Curiosity probe recently discovered that Martian soil has quite a lot of ice in it. About 35 liters per cubic meter. All you need to do is scoop it up, heat it, and strain out the water. Once you have a good supply, a simple distillery will allow you to reuse it over and over.
5: You’re going to need food.
Just eat Martians. They taste like chicken.
6: Oh, come on.
All right, all right. Food is the one thing you need that can’t be found in abundance on Mars. You’ll have to grow it yourself. But you’re in luck, because Mars is actually a decent place for a greenhouse. The day/night cycle is almost identical to Earth’s, which Earth plants evolved to optimize for. And the total solar energy hitting the surface is enough for their needs.
But you can’t just grow plants on the freezing, near-vacuum surface. You’ll need a pressure container for them as well. And that one might have to be pretty big. Just think of how much food you eat in a year and imagine how much space it takes to grow it.
Hope you like potatoes. They’re the best calorie yield per land area.
7: You’re going to need energy.
However you set things up, it won’t be a self-contained system. Among other things, you’ll need to deal with heating your home and greenhouse. Mars’s average daily temperature is -50C (-58F), so it’ll be a continual energy drain to keep warm. Not to mention the other life support systems, most notably your oxygenator. And if you’re thinking your greenhouse will keep the atmosphere in balance, think again. A biosphere is far too risky on this scale.
8: You’re going to need a reason to be there.
Why go out of your way to risk your life? Do you want to study the planet itself? Start your own civilization? Exploit local resources for profit? Make a base with a big death ray so you can address the UN while wearing an ominous mask and demand ransom? Whatever your goal is, you better have it pretty well defined, and you better really mean it. Because in the end, Mars is a harsh, dangerous place and if something goes wrong you’ll have no hope of rescue. Whatever your reason is, it better be worth it.
Remember Man Plus, Frederik Pohl’s award-winning 1976 novel about a cyborg astronaut who’s sent, alone, to Mars? Imagine, instead, that the astronaut was just a regular guy, part of a team sent to the red planet, and that, through a series of tragic events, he’s left behind, stranded and facing certain death. That’s the premise of this gripping and (given its subject matter) startlingly plausible novel. The story is told mostly through the log entries of astronaut Mark Watney, chronicling his efforts to survive: making the prefab habitat livable and finding a way to grow food, make water, and get himself off the planet. Interspersed among the log entries are sections told from the point of view of the NASA specialists, back on Earth, who discover that Watney is not dead (as everyone assumed) and scramble together a rescue plan. There are some inevitable similarities between the book and the 1964 movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but where the movie was a broad sci-fi adventure, the novel is a tightly constructed and completely believable story of a man’s ingenuity and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Riveting. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
The main character, Watney, presumed dead, is accidentally left by his crew mates when an intense Martian dust storm forces them to abort their mission. What follows for part of the book is a logbook style narrative that describes in great technical detail Watney's efforts to extend his life until the next scheduled mission arrives in 4 years. After reading just the first 20% of the book (my Kindle has no page numbers) one can't help but be impressed by the author's depth of knowledge in this regard. In fact, the entire book is an astronaut's primer on extraterrestrial and deep space survival and rescue.
The Martian isn't without its typos and editorial glitches, and I'm not sure if this was a result of a bad Kindle conversion or just a shortsighted editor. For me, though, typos and editing issues paled in comparison to the snowballing storyline, which I gladly admit is not for everyone.
This is not a touchy-feely book about love, romance or relationships. There is no overpowering angle between characters. No good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. There's no room for cliches. It's all very business like and scientific. So, if you're looking for Twilight in Space. Or Fifty Shades of Mars. Or Tom Hanks making himself a friend by drawing a face on a soccer ball, you'll probably want to skip this one. This book is simply about the mission, and the cold reality of working hard to turn a wrong into a right.
Another thing you won't find in this book is a lot of heartfelt reminiscing or reflection. There are no flashbacks of our main character fishing with Dad at the old water hole, or him riding his first bicycle without training wheels. This is a book about a guy with a keen intellect surviving on a hostile planet and doing so by making the most out of a given set of resources.
About a third of the way through the book, the author adds third person narratives from mission control and the Hermes space craft, the latter manned by the crew that left our hero behind -- and make no mistake, hero is the operative word. Again, we don't follow our mission control cast of characters back too their respective homes and meet their wives and husbands and get served up cliche insights into their innermost thoughts. Blech! I hate those stories! Which doesn't mean these characters are cookie cutter or superficial. On the contrary, I found the characters sufficiently individuated and interesting.
I highly recommend this book to people who are into reading hard sci-fi of the not-too-distant future, sci-fi without blasters and ray guns or 9' tall aliens that bleed acid. (Btw, I like those stories, too, but good ones are hard to find.)
Somebody did their homework on this one -- and that's what stands out above all else.
The story of our protagonist, Mark Watney, opens with him waking on the Martian landscape. He is part of an exploratory team from NASA, the third such team to arrive on Mars, and on their sixth day on the red planet a violent windstorm hits. As the other members of the crew flee to their escape ship, Watney is hit by a piece of stray debris, which punctures his suit and knocks him unconscious. Assuming he is dead, his team leaves the planet. Watney, however, is not dead; his blood quickly coagulated and managed to partially seal the suit tear. Watney then manages to get back to the temporary shelter the team had established.
Over the next few hundred days, Watney must survive by using whatever resources he has available. The fact he must extend supplies intended for only a few months for close to three years before the next rescue ship can arrive by itself highlights the likelihood of him starving or suffocating to death. Despite this, Watney maintains a relatively humorous tone throughout the work. This matches with what many mental health experts who say that in perilous situations, an ability to maintain some sense of levity is vital to key to preventing despair overwhelming the person at peril.
Eventually, NASA realizes through flyover photographs that Watney is alive and they manage to establish radio communication with him. They work on a plan for him to migrate to another landing site to receive fresh food and other supplies, but Watney is posed with a new challenge when his shelter rapidly depressurizes from a tear in the lining. With his garden destroyed, starvation becomes a much closer threat and NASA revises it plan. Instead, his crew will slingshot back to Mars using Earth’s gravity, along with a rocket supplied by the Chinese, and pick him up.
While I will not reveal the ending, it is one that I expected early on from the tone of the book. This novel is significantly more accurate than most science fiction, and it is clear the author consulted with many experts in constructing this scenario. Although the connection is only briefly alluded to once, throughout the story my mind recalled the events surrounding Apollo 13 and those three men’s desperate struggle to survive. The book has been adapted into a film starring Matt Damon that was recently released. Although I generally find movie adaptions fail to match, with as great as this story was it will be difficult for it to be ruined on the silver screen.