JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — In one scene of Ridley Scott’s upcoming movie, “The Martian,” a group of serious-looking NASA administrators meet in a video conference with a group of harried-looking engineers.

After being told that it would take nine months to send a batch of supplies to stranded astronauts on Mars, Jeff Daniels orders that it be done faster.

“You’re going to say it’s impossible and then you’re going to do the math in your head and say something like ‘The overtime alone will be a nightmare,’” Daniels says. 

The scene elicited a chuckle from Kirk Shireman, the program director of NASA’s International Space Station program.

“That’s pretty realistic,” he said in front of a crowd of NASA employees on Tuesday. “If it takes nine months, I’ll give you three.”

At NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Tuesday, the space agency tried to link the science and strategy portrayed in the movie, which is set in the near future, with the real life projects being worked on in Houston.

“It really highlights a lot of things that we work on,” Ellen Ochoa, the director of the Johnson Space Center and a former astronaut, said of the technology portrayed in the movie. Those things include devising ways to safely land objects on the surface of Mars and creating a closed-loop life support system. 

“The Martian,” in theaters Oct. 2, tells the story of fictional NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who is accidentally stranded on Mars after a storm on the planet’s surface, and his efforts to stay alive until NASA can come up with a plan to rescue him.

The movie is based on a novel by author Andy Weir, which was lauded for its scientific details and imagined ways a stranded astronaut might grow food on the Martian surface, or create a renewable water source.

The Mars mission portrayed in the movie is only “one version” of what a manned mission to the Red Planet could look like, officials said Tuesday, and there are aspects of Weir’s story that are still more science fiction than fact. 

NASA is working on changing that, but it will be a years long process.

“The reality is even if all those technologies were ready, if they were magically ready tomorrow, we would be a no-go for launch,” said Camille Alleyne, an assistant program scientist working on the International Space Station Program. “Because the human body is not yet ready for us to go to Mars.”

But, like space-based movies that came before it — “Apollo 13,” for example — NASA is hoping “The Martian” will generate interest in space programs.

“It helps the public feel the excitement that we feel,” said astronaut Rex Walheim, who flew the final space shuttle mission, and is chief of the Exploration Branch of the Astronaut Office. “For two hours they get to sit in a theater and see the excitement of space flight. But this is something that we get to live.”

As part of the media day, two actors from the movie, Sebastian Stan and Mackenzie Davis, were toured around NASA, given a chance to ride on a Modular Robotic Vehicle (a kind of precursor to a new lunar and Mars rover); sat inside a mock-up of the Orion capsule that could someday carry astronauts to the moon and beyond; and got to speak by videoconference to astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, who are aboard the International Space Station.

Kelly, incidentally, was being lauded for reaching the halfway point of his yearlong mission on the space station. His mission, officials say, is a vital piece of research in learning how the body adapts to living in space over long periods of time.

During the broadcast from space, Kelly was asked what he most missed about being on planet Earth — after 180 days away from home. His answer might resonate with the people who see the upcoming movie.

“The ability to leave here,” Kelly said. “Not having the ability to leave is an all-present feeling. It would be nice to get outside.”

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.

(2) comments

Kim Etheridge

Hey editor - it's "tries to link movie..." not "tires to link movie..."

Mike Trube

But it's forever in the paper edition. 😁


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