The Martian: a perfect balance of scientific accuracy and gripping fiction

Matt Damon is feeling lonely on Mars. 20th Century Fox
“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this,” says astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, after being stranded on Mars. That pretty much sums up the tone in Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian, adapted from Andy Weir’s novel, which appears in cinemas this week. Many have already commended the movie for its scientific rigour and Scott has said himself that it is as “accurate as we can possibly get it”.


So does the movie live up to its expectations? Well, the mission design and the hardware are based on actual NASA capabilities and an existing plan to get humans to Mars known as Mars Direct. However, there are parts that are less scientifically accurate. But what the story lacks in scientific rigour, it makes up for with great fiction that could inspire new interest in science.

Growing food in space

The main challenge for Watney is to find a way to grow food on the planet in order to stay alive the four years until NASA’s next planned mission to Mars. While this has of course never been done in real life, it is not entirely unrealistic. In August 2015 astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) ate lettuce that they had grown in space. This was the first time that humankind had grown and eaten food away from home.

In these so-called “VEGGIE” experiments the crew had been provided with everything they needed: soil, seeds, specific lamps tuned to the requirements of the plants. In The Martain, however, Watney had none of this specially-prepared equipment and, crucially, no soil.

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