In celebration of the release of Ridley Scott’s The Martian on Digital HD, 20th Century Fox invited a select group of journalists to visit NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston. What followed was an epic tour of the real science at work behind the science-fiction of one of the year’s biggest box office performances. In addition to getting to talk with the actual men and women of NASA – some of whom are bona fide rocket scientists – we also had a chance to chat with producer Aditya Sood and astronaut Dr. Drew Feustal about fact versus fiction in the film itself. You can watch that interview here.
As for the actual exploration of the science of The Martian, let me sum up my experience as follows: Yes, the vehicles Mark Watney (Matt Damon) drives in the movie are every bit as cool (if not cooler) in real life. Yes, the technical expertise and mathematical reasoning Watney used to survive is just part of the everyday mission planning for NASA folks. And while Dippin’ Dots may be “The Ice Cream of the Future”, NASA’s food department is doing some cutting-edge science to keep the world’s space travelers fit and fed. The best part of the whole experience is that the general public has just about as much access as we did and can visit these same exhibits whenever they want!
On arriving at Space Center Houston, you can’t help but notice the massive Boeing 747 looming over the entrance to the Smithsonian Affiliate and nonprofit-run facility. This particular aircraft just so happens to be the very same one that carried the space shuttle, and visitors will get to explore both vehicles when the new attraction “Independence Plaza” opens on January 23rd. Guests will be able to enter the shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft, and then explore the giant plane itself, making this the only attraction allowing the public to enter both:
Inside, space junkies of all ages can delight in a number of attractions that range from current missions and the astronauts who are performing scientific experiments in space, to the history of the space program, to explorations of various spacecraft over the years. The space also boasts the Destiny Theater, where guests can enjoy an archival history of NASA’s missions over the years, or if you’re lucky, a special screening of The Martian’s Blu-ray special features.
Screening of Blu-ray Special Features:
This behind-the-scenes look featured director Ridley Scott and Matt Damon discussing how the film went from novel to feature film, told the “real” story of the Ares Program seven years after the events took place, and chronicled the history of the Ares Program. There are plenty more special features on the Digital HD, DVD, and Blu-ray versions, as follows:
- SIGNAL ACQUIRED: WRITING AND DIRECTION (included on Blu-ray and DHD): Learn how the producers brought an acclaimed novel, a master director and a stellar cast together for THE MARTIAN.
- OCCUPY MARS: CASTING AND COSTUMES (included on Blu-ray and DHD): Matt Damon and his ensemble of incredibly talented actors discuss their roles in THE MARTIAN.
- GAG REEL (included on DVD, Blu-ray and DHD): Launch into laughs with these hilarious outtakes from the film.
- ARES III: REFOCUSED (included on Blu-ray and DHD): Seven years after the events of Ares 3, we take a deeper look at the true story behind Mark Watney’s daring rescue.
- ARES III: FAREWELL (included on DVD, Blu-ray and DHD): Mark Watney records an intimate tour of the Hermes and introduces the Ares 3 crew as they prepare to say farewell to Earth.
THE RIGHT STUFF (included on DVD, Blu-ray and DHD): Get to know the Ares 3 crew through a NASA-declassified psych debriefing the crew underwent before leaving for Mars.
- ARES: OUR GREATEST ADVENTURE (included on DVD, Blu-ray and DHD): Travel to the future as Neil deGrasse Tyson breaks down the Ares 3 mission in this episode of StarTalk set in the year 2035.
- LEAVE YOUR MARK (included on DVD, Blu-ray and DHD): Mark Watney’s pre-mission training program highlights the rigorous emotional, physical, and mental preparation required of astronauts.
- BRING HIM HOME (included on DVD, Blu-ray and DHD): The world unites to show their support for stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with an unprecedented display of global unity.
- PRODUCTION ART GALLERY (included on Blu-ray and DHD): View Concept Art from the film’s three main locations, Earth, Hermes and Mars.
Test Drive in NASA’s S.E.V. and M.R.V.:
We didn’t exactly need NASA’s vehicles to help us reach a rendezvous point on Mars, but getting to ride in them was a once-in-a-lifetime experience just the same. In an expanse of arid land out behind some of the Houston facility’s buildings, a makeshift arena of sorts has been constructed for testing and training of NASA’s modular robotic vehicle (M.R.V.) and their space exploration vehicle (S.E.V.). From deep pits of loose gravel, to hard-packed mounds with up to a 40-degree incline, to fields of jagged, over-sized rocks, the S.E.V. can handle just about any terrain the Martian landscape can throw at it. And as the video below reveals, there’s much more to this crawler than just its locomotion.
Here’s a look at the S.E.V. in action:
While we got a chance to ride in the S.E.V., the smaller M.R.V. was idling away off to the side in a tempting fashion. Unfortunately we didn’t get to take this little cruiser for a spin, but you can see its capabilities in the following video:
A Chat with “The Martian” Author Andy Weir:
As an added bonus to our coverage of The Martian’s release on Digital HD, I got a chance to have a brief chat with the author responsible for the source material, Andy Weir. Fans of his work can rest assured that he’s got a lot more irons in the fire and hopes to get more of his work adapted in the future. As for what he’s been up to since enjoying the success of The Martian:
“Working on my next book, I’m going to be working on some Hollywood screenplays, I’m pitching a TV show.”
As for his next book, it turns out that it’s not the one that had been previously reported on:
“The information you have on this is probably out of date. I’m not working on the soft sci-fi book, “Zhek”, anymore. I’ve back-burnered that. Instead I’m working on a different book about a city on the moon. It’s going to be another technically accurate sci-fi story.”
When asked if this book would be optioned by Fox, Weir said:
“This is a relationship with Random House. If Fox likes it, then sure, I’d be happy to sell that. But right now I’m concentraining on that book. Related to that, I’m pitching a TV show and working on a movie screenplay, but I’m not up for talking about either of those just yet.”
Since The Martian has received acclaim for its scientific accuracy, I asked him what place he thinks entertainment has in inspiring young minds to take an interest in scientific and mathematical pursuits:
“I think, if you check with any scientist, NASA, physicist, anything, you’ll find one of their main motivations is that as a child they were really into science-fiction. I think it helps.
It brings science and the benefits of science into public awareness, and it causes people to consider that as a career. Also, it makes people more interested in it over time.
It’s certainly not a goal or anything of mine, but if ‘The Martian’ has a side-effect of increasing public interest and manned Mars missions, and that in turn causes NASA to get better funding or that sort of thing, then I’d be thrilled. It’s possible that that could have that kind of effect.”
Science fiction obviously inspired Weir to create works of his own, so I asked him about the inspirational works from his past, and what new TV shows and movies he was looking forward to:
Back in the day when I was a pre-teen, I was reading my Dad’s endless science fiction collection, so I actually grew up reading sci-fi books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, so I’m kind of one generation off. My holy trinity are Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke; those are the authors that I like a lot.
In terms of movies, of course, I’m a Star Wars dork, and a Star Trek dork, and I’m actually a huge fan – more than Star Wars or Star Trek – I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who. Those are some inspirations for me.
In terms of modern sci-fi, I’d say that one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read is “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.
The new “Independence Day”, looking forward to that. I like pretty much all of the superhero movies, so the 10,000 or so of them that are coming out, I’ll probably watch all of them.
We’ll have more from our visit to NASA when The Martian arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this January 12th. Until then, be sure to check out The Martian on Digital HD, available now!