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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.
- Publication date : July 11, 2017
- File size : 5452 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 402 pages
- Publisher : Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (July 11, 2017)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B072LBZJF1
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #36,935 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I teach psychology and there is so much psychology in here (stress and health, cognition, intelligence, problem-solving, resilience, group dynamics. . . ) that I have made it an extra-credit assignment in my Introduction to Psychology courses at an engineering school. My engineers typically do not 'get' why they have to take a social science course, and because this is not terrifically SciFi but more of an adventure story (very near-future, based largely on existing technology, no aliens) it demonstrates perfectly how psychology is relevant to engineers. Plus I figure they'll enjoy it because the protagonist is a botanist cross-trained in mechanical engineering, which is what many of my students are majoring in. It is just geeky enough while still being, as one professional reviewer called it, "a cracking good read."
My point in telling you all that, knowing that the vast majority of you are not undergraduate engineering students or psychology instructors, is that this is the kind of book that anyone, even people who don't particularly like SciFi or aren't even regular readers of fiction can LOVE.
But for the rest of us, it is an adventure story with a character you can immediately both admire and identify with, and it is told perfectly. Seriously. Weir keeps up the tension, and just when you think you can relax. . . BAM!! (Literally: Things explode.) The dialogue is pitch-perfect, the dilemmas faced by all of the characters, both moral and practical, involve you in their struggles and make you think.
It makes a good movie, but you should read the book even if you've already seen it. There's a limit to what you can pack into even a 2-1/2 hour movie, and watching it all unfold is not at all the same as getting into Watney's head the way you do when you read it (it's written in first person POV).
For some reason I thought the Matt Damon movie was coming out next year, but as soon as I heard it was THIS October, this rocketed to the top of my To Read pile (get it?).
I'm sure the movie will disappoint (they almost always do; that's why I usually try to watch a movie to enjoy it first and THEN read the book so I can enjoy both), but I don't care because the book was amazing. Loved every minute of it.
It's set in the near future after NASA has already sent two manned Ares missions to Mars. Mark Watney is part of Ares 3, but their mission gets cut short after less than a week thanks to a huge dust storm that forces them to abort and evacuate immediately. During their escape, a piece of antenna impales Mark directly through his bio-monitor and the entire crew assumes him dead. Luckily for Mark, the puncture wound wasn't too serious and his space suit never decompressed. Unluckily for Mark, the crew continued with their planned evac after not finding his body & seeing his flat bio-readings, taking all comm systems with them.
Watney is stuck on Mars with enough provisions to last six people about a month (or one person about six months). The next planned mission to Mars is 4 years away so Watney has to rely on his botany background to somehow grow food on the desolate red planet.
A series of unfortunate events occur, and the storytelling by Andy Weir is just fantastic. There's a short essay written by Weir in the end of the e-book that talks about how he chose to create problems from Watney's solutions. As I read the book, I kept expecting the worst to happen and was surprised when he didn't have a meteor land on top of him as he became a new crater! It was nice to read how Weir specifically avoided giving Watney the worst luck possible and tried to stick to more real life problems.
The Martian starts off as a simple first-person narrative in the form of Mark's journal entries. The first lines:
LOG ENTRY: SOL 6
I'm pretty much f***ed.
That's my considered opinion.
immediately drew me in. Watney is intelligent, charming, inventive, and hilarious! His diary entries often go day by day with a good mix of science, math, suspense and jokes. Another great journal entry [after Watney realizes everything he writes will be broadcast all over the world (if he's saved)] is, "Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)"
Without getting too spoilery, the novel does switch from first person journal entry narrative to third-person authorial narrative as we see how the guys at NASA & JPL deal with finding out Watney didn't die on Sol 6 and how his Ares 3 crewmates deal with the fact he's still alive. The story transitions from day to day journal entries to entries & narration that span weeks or months, but the suspense never really lets up. Watney almost dies like a dozen times but he's always cheerful/humble as he attempts to stay alive ("Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me"). Back on Earth, dozens of scientists band together to spend millions (if not billions) of dollars to save one man and eventually the whole planet watches their televisions as everything draws to an exciting conclusion.
Can't lie—near the end I got a little misty-eyed. And I laughed out loud several times throughout. I think Ridley Scott (director of Alien) is going to do great with this. Can't wait to see Matt Damon use his funny bone as Watney. The whole cast (Mara, Wiig, Chastain, Bean, Ejiofor, Daniels, Peña, Glover, et al) looks great. I really want to just read the book again since the movie isn't coming out for another month...
Top reviews from other countries
I knew that The Martian by Andy Weir was achieving high ratings and that it was to be a movie starring Matt Damon (excellent choice) but I had no idea it was going to be so engaging and so frequently hilarious. Author, Andy Weir, certainly has a witty way of expressing himself and as Weir's words appear in Watney's mind and tumble out of Watney's mouth, all I could do was laugh. There is some tension in the book (will Watney survive or not) but not much. Mostly it's an awful lot of scientific explanation as to how Watney strives to survive and NASA strive to help him. I found that fascinating but if you aren't the least bit interested in even basic science, I cannot imagine you'll get much out of this book. I appreciated the way Andy Weir used science fact to get his character both in and out of the tightest corners and to make the story more plausible. What was sadly lacking was a glossary of terms at the back of the book. Weir uses a lot of scientific terminology, not to mention acronyms, and mostly without any explanation. While reading, I did wonder though why Mark Watney had a problem with his space suit only giving him oxygen?
I also wondered how a botanist and mechanical engineer, would know so much about chemistry and physics—but it's a good thing he did! I expect that the author did resort to at least some artistic license here.
Before buying the paperback, I had bought the Kindle version. There is a map at the front of the book (printed and ebook). On the ebook, if you click on the map you can zoom in, in order to be able to see detail better. The Kindle dictionary came in useful, as did the facility for highlighting and making notes, as well as doing searches of the book. But I still wanted a printed version on one of my bookshelves, so I bought that recently. I once had a movie blog and actually wrote myself a guide to the terms in the book because, well, I'm no scientist and I wanted to understand the science behind everything that Weir threw at me! I've pasted in a text version here. All errors are undoubtedly mine, so please forgive!
Acidalia Planitia - A large flat region on Mars where the Ares 3 team landed, and Mark and the Hab is located.
Aeroshell - Protective shell during launch and landing (in this case, the Iris probe).
Ammonia (azane) - A chemical compound of Nitrogen and Hydrogen - NH₃ (one atom nitrogen, three atoms hydrogen). A colourless, corrosive, and irritant gas with pungent odour.
Arabia Terra - One of the dustiest areas on Mars.
Ares programmes - NASA missions to Mars. Mark Watney arrives on Ares 3 mission, Sol (day) 1. 124 days journey from Earth to Mars. Three years to execute mission. Ares 4 expected to arrive at Sciaparelli crater on Sol 1425.
ASCII - American Standard Code for information interchange, a set of digital codes representing letters, numerals and other characters.
Atmosphere - Gases surrounding Earth and other planets.
Atmospheric Pressure - The pressure exerted by the weight of the gases surrounding a planet (atmosphere).
Atmospheric Pressure on Mars - Less than 1% of Earth’s pressure
Atmospheric Regulator - The Hab atmospheric regulator ensures that the balance of gases (air) within the Hab are safe to breathe.
CAPCOM - Capsule communicator
Carbon DioxideCO₂ (one atom carbon, two oxygen) - A colourless, odourless gas produced by plants (at night), and animal respiration; decay of organic matter; burning of fossil fuels; volcanic and geyser activity. According to Mark Watney, 8% of CO₂ will ‘eventually kill you’.
Carbon Dioxide filters - Absorb carbon dioxide until saturated. They are not cleanable or reusable. Used on Rovers and Spacesuits. Mark Watney has enough for 1500 hours of CO₂ filtration.
Carbon Dioxide liquid - Formed by compressing and cooling carbon dioxide.
Centripetal gravity - Artificial gravity caused by centripetal force.
Deep Space Network - A scientific telecommunications system -
Deimos - Smaller of Mars’ two moons
Deneb - A very bright star
Dinitrogen (or molecular nitrogen) - Diatomic molecule ‘N₂’ (two nitrogen atoms). A colourless, odorless, gas.
Dioxygen (or molecular oxygen) - Oxygen gas - O₂ (diatomic molecule of two oxygen atoms). A colourless, odourless, gas. An oxidizer (a chemical that fuel requires in order to burn).
Dreideling - Action like a ‘Dreidel’, a Jewish spinning top. I think this refers to the wobble that a spinning top has just before it falls over.
EagleEye 3 Saturn probe - Fictitious but the ‘Cassini-Huygens’ Saturn probe certainly exists and was launched on 15 October 1997.
Earth atmosphere - 21% Oxygen, 78% nitrogen, other 1%
Earth distance to Mars - 34 to 250 million miles Average 140 million miles.
Earth distance to Moon - 238,000 miles
Earth distance to Sun - 93 million miles
Earth temperature - Average: 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.899 celsius)
EO - Earth orbit
EVA - Extravehicular Activity
GC - Ground Control
Hab - Habitation, canvas dwelling – 92 square metres
Hermes - Ares missions spacecraft, powered by ion engines – transport between Mars’ and Earth’s orbits.
Hohmann Transfer Window - Window of opportunity to utilise the Hohmann Transfer Orbit
Hydrazine - N₂H₄ (two atoms Nitrogen, four hydrogen). A colourless, volatile, toxic, flammable liquid; a derivative of ammonia. 292 litres found in MDV tanks. Each litre of hydrazine has enough hydrogen to make 2 litres of water when combined with oxygen.
Hydrogen - Chemical element ‘H’ (one hydrogen atom). A colourless, odorless, highly flammable gas. Hydrogen is a chemical element in Hydrazine.
IR camera - Infrared camera used for thermal imaging.
Iridium - A silver-white metal with catalyctic (increase rate of chemical reaction) properties
JPL - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Lander - A protective shell which, during landing, protects a Rover, for e.g. Pathfinder’s Sojourner Rover.
Launch Status Check - Terms used at beginning of American space mission.
Liquid Oxygen - LOx - Liquid O₂ (liquid dioxygen). Stored either end of Hab in high pressure tanks to feed space suits and Rovers.
Mars - 4th planet from the Sun. Mars atmosphere - Mostly Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) about 95%.
Mars distance from sun - 142 million miles
Mars temperature - Average: minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62.78 Celsius)
Mars water - Found as ice at polar ice cap.
MAV - Mars Ascent Vehicle
MAV fuel tank - Collects CO₂ (from Mars atmosphere) and converts hydrogen and CO₂ (by [Sabatier] chemical reaction) to fuel for MAV ascent to the spaceship, Hermes. MAV takes 20 hours to fill 10 litre fuel tank with CO₂ - ½ litre per hour. For every 1kg of hydrogen it makes 13 kgs of fuel. (Mark uses Hab oxygenator to remove oxygen from the CO₂, so he can use the oxygen and hydrogen to make H₂O (water).
Mawrth Vallis - A valley area of Mars carved out by major floods in the distant past.
MDV - Mars Descent Vehicle
MDV fuel tank - Holds hydrazine - N₂H₄. MDV makes its own fuel by way of an iridium catalyst in the engine (reaction chamber) which turns hydrazine into nitrogen and hydrogen. Mark finds 292 litres of unused hydrazine. One litre of hydrazine has enough hydrogen to make 2 litres of water when combined with oxygen.
MDV reactor - Separates hydrazine into hydrogen and nitrogen.
MGS - Mars Global Surveyor satellite
MMU - Manned Manoeuvering Unit
Molecule - Electrically neutral group of two or more atoms
Nitrogen - Chemical element ‘N’ (one nitrogen atom)
NSA - National Security Agency.
Oxygen - Chemical element, symbol ‘O’ (one oxygen atom)
Oxygenator - Removes oxygen from Hab’s CO₂.
Pathfinder - A space shuttle. It was launched December 4, 1996 and delivered the Sojourner Rover to Mars.
Phobos - Larger of Mars’ two moons.
Plutonium 238 - A radioactive isotope of plutonium, used in the RTG.
Polaris - A seemingly motionless bright star around which the northern sky revolves.
Pop Tent - Emergency rescue tent (inflate like air-bag) on Rovers
Precession - Precession is a change in the orientation of the rotational axis of a rotating body
Probe - Unmanned aircraft.
Rover - Transport vehicles on Ares 3 base, Acidalia Planitia, Mars. Same as the spacesuits, the Rovers use CO₂ filters rather than an oxygenator.
RTG - Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
SAFER Unit - Simplified Aid for EVA rescue, worn like a backpack.
SatCon - SatCon Technology Corp.
Schiaparelli crater - 3200 miles from Acidalia Planitia, and where the Ares 4 mission will land.
SETI - Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Sojourner Rover - Mars MicroRover delivered by Pathfinder space shuttle.
Sol - Solar Day (on Earth it's 23 hours 56 mins, on Mars it's 24 hours 37 mins as it takes longer to rotate 360 degrees on its axis.
Solar Cells - Used to convert sunlight into energy and store by way of hydrogen fuel cells.
Spectroscopy - “Spectroscopy is a scientific measurement technique. It measures light that is emitted, absorbed, or scattered by materials and can be used to study, identify and quantify those materials.”
Telemetry - is the highly automated communications process by which measurements are made and other data collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring.
Tetris - A tile-matching Russian puzzle game.
ULA - United Launch Alliance.
VASIMIR (4) - Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket.
Water - H₂0 (two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen). Mark wants 600 litres of water. He uses the CO2 from the MAV and the Oxygenator to create oxygen, and the MDV reactor to create hydrogen.
Water reclaimer - System in the Hab for pulling humidity (water) out of the Habs atmosphere.
Zirconia Electrolysis Cell - Used by the Oxygenator to remove carbon atoms from CO₂ and thus create oxygen.
I think one of the reasons this book is so popular, and certainly why I liked is it that Mars feels so tantalizingly close. I hesitate to classify this as sci-fi, simply because technically speaking most of the stuff in the book is feasible now - it's more an engineering problem to be solved, and political will that stops us solving that problem. There are no warp drives, lasers, aliens (hope that's not a plot spoiler) or other staples of sci-fi - just a guy trying to get home after getting stranded far from home. Reading this made Mars feel even closer - I hope some day soon we get there.
The book and is carried on the witticisms and banter of main character Mark Watney, the titular Martian, and are jam-packed with pop culture references, science-y bits, and one-line zingers. And whilst I appreciated them, even found them amusing, this is also the story’s downfall. It sounds like the kind of dialogue I’d exchange with my equally nerdy friends on a Saturday night meet up – not Apollo 13 on Mars as it was billed to me by the hype. As a result it feels like it’s missing a sense of epic scale, and the stakes just don’t feel that high. At no point did I ever feel awed, or gripped, or really worried for Watney. Whenever something went wrong I simply wondered how he was going to fix it this time and what amusing commentary he’d provide. I never worried for a minute about his ultimate survival. Fun and entertaining? Yes. Compelling and thrilling? No.
The writing is competent, not outstanding. Apart from the complicated science-y bits, the language is kept simple, which is good for accessibility of the average reader, but for me I felt it lacked a little bit of creative flair – the language is very functional and to the point, there’s very little evocative imagery or creative description. The characters are largely functional too. Outside of Watney, everyone else basically boils down to their job at NASA or their role (e.g. Mark’s parents, Vogel’s wife, etc.). Watney himself is interchangeable – his vital stats could be swapped out for someone older/younger male/female American/non-American and there be no difference whatsoever to what happens in the plot.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. It’s amusing, it’s entertaining, it’s interesting – it’s just not the most amazing, earth-shattering book ever written, so don’t go into it expecting that. It reminds me a lot of an old classic actually – The Moon Is Hell by John Campbell – in its diary format and its functional problem-solving (minus the crime solving that also goes on in Campbell’s novel).
Once Mark is abandoned in the godforsaken planet, it is a relentless series of life threatening problems thrown at him one after another, right till the end. But with his resourcefulness, intelligence and willpower to survive he finds some or the other solution to each of those situations.
One thing I would have liked is a better character development of Mark. Given his strong personality type, some background of Mark's earlier life, some personal stories would have been better for the readers to connect to his character. It would have also been a nice break from all the technicalities in the narration, which at times, I felt, was getting to a saturation.
Other than that, it is a phenomenal work of sci-fi, even better than the movie, I would say. Must read if you like science fictions or survival stories.
As far as Amazon's service is concerned, the book was delivered on time and in great condition. So full marks for that!
PS: Please hit "Yes" if you like my review.