“The Martian” isn’t due to hit theaters until Oct. 2, but the highly anticipated man-vs.-Mars movie is already sparking some scientific nitpicking. So here’s some advice from NASA astronaut Michael Barratt: Don’t get hung up on what the filmmakers got wrong.
“I would just ask everybody to get past that, because there are so many things they got right,” Barratt, a flight surgeon and two-time spaceflier who has been compared to Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy, said during a panel at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.
Thursday’s event was part of the museum’s Mars Week program, which continues through Saturday. The panel discussion, titled “Journey to Mars: Fact or Fiction,” featured NASA program managers who are working on technologies aimed at sending astronauts to Mars and its moons in the 2030s. It also provided an opportunity to gather expert opinions on “The Martian,” a Ridley Scott movie starring Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut who has to make do on the Red Planet.
The verdict at the museum, based on preview screenings, was definitely thumbs up.
“It’s one of the most science-factual movies I’ve ever seen,” said Doug King, the museum’s president and CEO.
Sharon Cobb, program integration manager for NASA’s Space Launch System, said she loved how Damon’s character MacGyvered his way through adversity. “He stood up to every challenge,” she said. “He thought out of the box. He used what he had.”
Sure, you can quibble about the movie’s Martian meteorology: The author of the book on which the movie was based, Andy Weir, acknowledges that he whipped up a fictional windstorm as a “deliberate concession for dramatic purposes.” In reality, the Martian atmosphere is too thin to generate winds strong enough to knock down an astronaut.
In a Q&A on the Inverse website, Weir also says the movie astronaut’s efforts to extract water were “needlessly complex,” because it turns out there’s more ice in Martian soil than had been previously thought.
Others have said the radiation threat on Mars would be more serious than depicted, even though data from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission (a.k.a. Curiosity rover) suggests the radiation environment is survivable.
Barratt noted that the movie makes no attempt to simulate Martian gravity, which is 38 percent of Earth’s. But to him, that’s preferable to the fake-looking leaps depicted in a far less believable Red Planet flick, “John Carter.”
What’s most believable about “The Martian” is the way astronauts, ground controllers and the other members of NASA’s team interact in the movie, Barratt said. “There’s a lot of NASA in there, which they captured quite nicely,” he said during an appearance on KING-TV’s “New Day Northwest” program.
At the museum, Barratt gave an even stronger endorsement — one that’s sure to warm any space geek’s heart: “One of the themes of the movie is, No. 1, nerds rock. And No. 2, nerds survive.”