The Science Of The Martian

If you would get marooned on  a desert island, how confident
are you that you would survive? How  about if the desert island is Mars?
Let’s talk more about this on today’s episode!
What’s the worst you’ve ever been stranded on?  Have you been lost in a place you’re extremely
unfamiliar with? Or some rural area where  there isn’t any internet or even electricity?
Or maybe you’ve gone somewhere extreme. Have  you ever been lost on an island due to some
circumstances beyond your control?
Well, if you’re that last one. I have nothing  but mad respect for you, sir…or maam!
If you’re watching this, it’s most probably that  you survived that ordeal and that’s awesome!
I’m not saying any struggle is comparable  against one another, but I think Ridley Scott’s
The Martian will definitely show you the worst  possible level of being stranded you can ever get!
I personally prefer this one, as  this is one of the best works of
sci-fi that didn’t settle down  for complete fantasy over facts.
In fact, one of the screenwriters, Drew Goddard,  specifically mentioned that they “weren’t going
to dumb the movie down”, since they know they will  have a smart audience. And boy, did they deliver.
The movie describes the experience  of astronaut Mark Watney, as he was
left for dead on Mars. Before  you get mad at his mission crew,
it is important to note that it’s  not their fault entirely. I mean,
Mark was basically hammered away by some  debris as there was a gigantic storm ongoing.
Their commander had to make a tough decision  on the spot, and that’s not always a happy one.
But enough about that, today let’s learn about  Matt Damon’s solitary experience on Mars.
Today, let’s list down tips that will serve as a  guide on how to survive if ever you get stranded
on the red planet! Of course while exploring the  science behind each item as we go through them.
Who knows? Maybe the first person  who will actually be stranded on Mars
is one of the viewers of this show! At least,  whoever that is, will have a hint of what to do.
Tip Number 1: When there’s  a storm, always wait it out!
The Martian wasted no time and kicked  off the movie with a gigantic storm
that resulted in the main conflict of the  film: Watney being separated from his crew.
But it’s not like they didn’t know this was  coming. They detected this on a forecast,
and deliberated whether they will stay or  they will go. And if you have seen the movie,
I think you already know how that discussion went.
I think it wouldn’t take a genius to know that  you shouldn’t get out when there’s a storm
forecasted to strike you down 8600 Newtons  of force, making this our tip number 1.
However, do storms like the one in  the movie really happen on Mars?
According to studies, despite having only 1%  of our own atmosphere, which means they have
a really small amount of gas, it is possible to  have dust storms on Mars. It was even said that
these storms could get so wild that they cover  the entire planet. But these winds are not that
strong, as they can only go between 15 to 30 m/s.  This speed can carry small particles like dust,
but is highly unlikely to cause a storm  that can topple down a towering spacecraft.
The science isn’t looking good so far,
but come on. You gotta give the creatives  a lot of room to move the story, right?
Tip Number 2: Keep Calm and Do the Science
It wouldn’t take a genius to realize  that the best part of the film is how
composed and collected Mark Watney was  despite facing the largest predicament
of his life. As he beautifully stated in  the film, he had to “science the cheese”
out of it. Of course he didn’t say cheese.  We had to change that for obvious reasons.
He knew that he was going to be waiting for the  next manned mission for an absolutely long time,
so what steps did he make? He sat down  and did an inventory of his supply,
he found a way to stretch  whatever limited resource he had,
and he devised a way to communicate with  Earth and tell everyone “hey, I’m alive!”
This is a very refreshing take for scientists,  right? In movies, they are almost every time
depicted as weirdos that are sometimes disabled  by their own human nature. Sometimes they can
get too evil, too greedy, or too nihilistic.  But the movie didn’t show folks that way.
It’s important to note that it’s not just  the lead character that has this attitude,
but also the rest of the Ares crew aboard Hermes,  and the ground crew. A problem is affront,
and instead of scrambling, they gather  themselves and work towards a solution.
And if you ask the scientists in JPL, they will  tell you how happy they are that astronauts are
depicted with this level of care and accuracy  in the movie. Truth is, when you’re in space,
there isn’t going to be much room to be a burden  and compromise everybody because of your emotions.
It’s going to be as harsh and unforgiving,  so you better bring your A game!
Tip Number 3: Stretch your resources
As soon as our protagonist realized that  he’s going to be on Mars for a long time,
he immediately counted his rations and forecasted
how long it can sustain him before the next  mission arrives on the planet. And the result?
He didn’t like what he found out. His supply  will run out long before Ares IV arrives.
Luckily, he found potatoes that the  crew has been saving for thanksgiving.
And did he turn it to fries  immediately? Not by a long shot.
Being the mission’s resident botanist,  he knew he had to turn these to crops
using Martian soil and his own excrement.  A real stinking experience, if you ask me.
And growing crops doesn’t end with just  cultivating the crops and laying down your plant.
You will need water in order for this to  work, and that resource is limited too.
So, how does our hero tackle this problem? Did  he look for a well, or maybe did he find a lake
where he can carry a pail and fetch some water to  bring to his hab? Did it rain on Mars, sometime?
We’re gonna answer the question, but let us  know what you think about the video so far!
Leave us a like if you’re enjoying it, and  a dislike if you think we can do better!
Okay, so where did Watney get his water? If  you’re constantly getting your updates about Mars,
then you will know that there isn’t any available  natural source of water on the red planet yet.
However, our main guy solved this  problem by taking some excess
hydrazine from their ship, and with a little help  of some chemistry knowledge and a few explosions,
he managed to create a room with  the necessary amount of water vapor.
Now, it’s time to tackle the  science presented. First,
is it really possible to grow potatoes on  Mars? And admit it, if you’ve seen The Martian,
this is definitely the prime thing  that you’re desiring to get verified.
The closest answer we got is from a collaborative  study by NASA and the International Potato Center.
In this experiment, they attempted to grow  potatoes on an emulated Mars-like environment:
the temperature, the day-night cycles, gases,  air pressure, and the sand were all supposedly as
close as the actual thing on the red planet. The  results they got? They managed to grow a sprout!
However, this doesn’t validate the possibility.
Keep in mind that this is emulated.  All the experiment says is that it is
definitely highly likely, but until we’re  there, there’s no way of telling for sure.
Okay, so how about the water?
Well, yes…and no.
Yes, technically, you can create water  through hydrazine. You heat it up to 1073.15
Kelvin — yes, I used Kelvin because that’s  how we should discuss temperature — while in
contact with either platinum or iridium.  This gives you nitrogen and hydrogen,
which you collect in droplets, let that  combust with oxygen and boom! You have water.
Then, there’s the no. Actual science  suggests that the amount of heat needed
to generate that amount of water  would have burned down the hab.
There’s this suggestion that he could  have just extracted water from the soil,
but that’s another story. So  much for being a botanist, huh?
But the effort dedicated for both these  scenes checking out is definitely outstanding!
And hey, if you want to see how that water  extraction is possible, why don’t you leave
a message in the comments section down  below? Who knows, we might just cover that.
Tip Number 4: Find a way to communicate
So, one of the next steps that  Watney performed after he established
sustenance is finding a way  to connect with home base.
He realized he could salvage Pathfinder,  an old retired probe from an older mission.
Now, you may not have heard about this little guy,  but this is one of the most memorable missions
of NASA’s JPL, since this is the first time they  have to utilize a new more cost-efficient way
to land on Mars, precisely without using so  much rocket propulsion. Why did they have to
do that? Well, there was this issue about  budget, but let’s not go to that tangent.
So, what JPL did instead is that they  just covered Pathfinder with balloons,
and just practically dropped it off Mars. I  swear that happened. Look it up on YouTube.
Okay, let’s go back to The Martian.
Watney’s recovery of this probe was a challenge.
First, the rover that he has only has a  battery life good for about a few kilometers,
so he had to scavenge and engineer a power  system using a battery from another rover.
Then, driving there, he had to deal with the  problem of the night drives being extremely cold.
How did he deal with the second one? Well,  space missions come with a radioisotope
thermal generator, or an RTG for short.  Basically, a naturally decaying Plutonium-238.
No controls needed. It’s just a nuclear  reactor that’s been converted as a heater.
Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to wonder  if this is even safe to do, right?
I mean, we are all aware what happens when  a place is exposed to a nuclear breakdown.
Well, Watney wouldn’t be a survivor if he  hasn’t thought about it. Theoretically speaking,
as long as the protective graphite sheet covering  the Plutonium remains intact, he’ll be safe.
Okay, so he recovers Pathfinder, sets it up,
and voila! He has a way of communicating to  Earth with the limited technology that he has!
I hope you’re taking notes so far  because we’re now going to the last item.
Tip Number 5: Patiently wait for help to arrive
So you got your supplies set,  you got your message for help,
I think there is nothing else to do but  to wait for rescue to arrive, right?
The movie didn’t make it that easy.  Supposedly, JPL was going to send some
supplies to Mars to help Watney survive until  the next manned mission arrives. However,
it wouldn’t make a great movie if they  didn’t add more drama to it, right?
Watney accidentally blew up the hab,  which destroyed his beloved potato crops,
which means that the crew here on Earth had to  double the speed of producing the suppy payload
and launching it into space. And  that speeding up had consequences:
the Iris rocket blew up just  before it exited the atmosphere.
Now, we have a lot of tension. Watney came  to terms that he is going to die soon.
However, there’s still one gambit up  NASA’s sleeve: Hermes can still pick
up the payload in exchange for more time in  space. This is where it gets interesting.
There isn’t really anything special on the way  that Hermes picked up the supplies for Mars,
it’s just beautiful astrodynamics executed.
In the movie, the crew pulled off a  move called the Rich Purnell Maneuver.
What they basically did is instead of slowing down  as they enter the Earth’s gravitational field,
they accelerate so that they can get  captured with just the right amount of grip
to effectively spin them around and then slingshot  them towards Mars. Sounds pretty easy, right?
I know a lot of you highbrow science fans  will say “They just added it there to make
the film more interesting, I doubt that it’s even  accurate.” Well boy do I have a surprise for you.
In 2015, Laura Burke’s study confirmed that  this move in The Martian is definitely accurate
and wouldn’t be beyond the laws of physics.  However, and if you’re a real fan of science,
you know there’s always a however, it won’t be  economically efficient. There’s this chance of
the Hermes getting a bit of influence from Venus’  orbit and messing everything up for the crew.
But still, you have to give it  to Andy Weir for sitting down
and doing the math, and making  sure the science is right!
With all these tips that we gave in today’s  show, I hope if ever you’re the one that gets
to be the real Mark Watney in the future, you’ll  have a little idea of how to handle yourself,
and pushing yourself to survive in one of the  harshest locations you can ever be left behind.
At this point, if you’re a regular of the show,  I know you know that now is the time where I’m
gonna pass the ball to you, guys: what did you  think of The Martian? Do you think it’s the best
of its kind in terms of being accurate with  the science used? Let us know in the comments
section down below! Also, let us know if  you want us to discuss more movie science!
Thank you so much for spending time with us  today! Leave us a like if you think this is one
of the best ones we did so far! Or, if you think  we shouldn’t do any of these in the near future,
leave us a dislike instead! Anything will be  extremely helpful in making our future episodes.
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Till next time, guys! Stay insanely curious.

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