Space issue by Richard Jones

A look at The Martian (M)

MartianYOU just know that when you’re left behind, on your own, on a reasonably distant celestial body at the close of an interplanetary adventure it’s going to be a hard ask to get home to Earth.

Such is the case with astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon).

A NASA team on their Mars mission has to take off from the red planet’s surface because a wildly destructive storm is breaking.

Mind you, mission commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) walks her crew through the swirling sand – and flying rocks – to the spaceship and they only ditch astronaut Watney when he keels over and shows no sign of life.

Although presumed dead, Watney is merely unconscious. Albeit deeply, deeply out of it.

He’s really in a spot of bother because when he does come to an automated voice inside his helmet is warning the botanist space traveller: “oxygen level, critical”.

That’s a really big problem. Perhaps even more daunting is the fact that he’s stranded 11 months flying time – or space flight time – from Earth.

And the next mission’s not due to land for four years.

So it’s left to Watney to try and figure things out on his own. He’s not always successful as one experiment in which he tries to create water through his knowledge of chemistry is a real failure.

But Watney’s not a quitter. He can’t afford to be, of course, so when the face plate of his helmet cracks he applies duct tape across the cracks.

How’s he going to grow food on a planet which doesn’t sustain plant life?

Well, grow potatoes in a makeshift greenhouse fertilized with the solid waste left behind by the rest of the crew.

All the while, Watney’s speaking to us – the audience. He walks us through the food process as he re-liquefies the dried out waste and mixes it into the super arid Martian soil before inserting halved potatoes into crop furrows.

The crucial thing is: will there be little sprigs of green shoots?

On another occasion Watney, who has to constantly dampen down his fear and despair, drives several hundred kilometres in an abandoned Rover to dig up technology items left over from a previous Mars mission.

The big question on this excursion is: whether to turn off the heat in the cockpit to save power during the long journey or not.

He decides against turning it off because although the heater eats up juice Watney can’t function if his nether regions are frozen.

Of course back home there’d been a belated response from NASA once the mission controllers realise their man is still alive and kicking.

Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) has to steer a delicate balancing course with zealous mission controller (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a spin doctor (Kristen Wiig) wanting more direct responses from Sanders.

It falls to pilot Rick Martinez (Michael Pena) to try and steer the discussions away from how risky, fuel and time-consuming and mega-expensive a rescue mission would be back to the central point: NASA just has to mount one.


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