While 'The Martian' might not be entirely credible, science fact can still be exciting

Zoe Greszler • Nov 17, 2015 at 4:00 PM

“The Martian” has blasted off since it hit box offices on its initial release date of Sept. 11. Its opening weekend saw $55 million and has since grown to gross more than $200 million in the U.S.

But does the popular Matt Damon film of an astronaut left for dead on Mars stand up to true science?

One sci-fi author who majored in biology said in some areas at least, it does not.

Scott Jucha, author of the “Silver Ships” series, said those who enjoy sci-fis, “need to remember it’s science fiction, not science fact.”

“When you create science fiction, you need to reach out far enough, be inventive enough to make it believable, but you must you must have the under-pinning of science. You must pay attention,” Jucha said.

The author said, for him, “The Martian” just didn’t make that cut, on several matters. Despite being “a huge Matt Damon fan” Jucha said he read the book but “could not go see the movie.”

“The story is based on a sand and windstorm that sweeps Matt Damon away, stranding him on Mars. That’s impossible,” Jucha said. “Mars doesn’t have the right conditions for a windstorm. …the dust that does build up there is so minute. The dust builds up to a grain of thickness every 100 Sols (days on Mars).”

Then there was the problem with radiation.

“Mars’ atmosphere is dangerous to us,” Jucha said.

“Mars has solar energetic particles. Exposure to that is incredibly dangerous. One hundred Sols of that without the proper protection would weaken you and Matt Damon’s character was there for around 500 Sols. He would have been extremely weak and probably dead. It would be too much radiation.”

Jucha suggested Hollywood should have created a more realistic alternative.

“Watney (Damon’s character) was staying in a tent. In reality you would have to tunnel underground to escape the radiation or you would have to create a dome of a thick metal material to act as a shield, much like Earth’s atmosphere shields us,” he said.

Jucha said gravity was another issue.

“Mars’ atmosphere is 30 percent lighter than Earth’s,” he said. “Now, if you were on Mars, would you be walking across the whole planet or would you be bounding? I would be bounding if not for the time it would save, for the pure joy of the fact that I could bound. They never portrayed that in the film.”

“I know they want to make science look cool and get people, especially young people, interested in STEM fields, but really they are doing it a disservice by not sticking to science fact and leaving science fiction to (entertainment based on the) far future,” Jucha added. “They don’t help our young people. You can create good entertainment that uses science fact.”

Jucha said there are plenty exciting true-to-science topics on which to base books and movies, such as the move from space tourism to ‘space permanence’.

“I think everyone has heard of how someone was rich that paid a lot of money to take a ride in a ship out to space. It’s space tourism,” Jucha said. “(We could see) the possibility of moving away from space tourism and moving towards space permanence, to set up a long-term habitat, build it and make it grow and live there.”

The resources in space also have been a hot topic in astrologic talk.

“We’ve found that asteroids are full of minerals,” Jucaha said. “It’s a lot smarter to harvest an asteroid (to collect titanium) rather than mining in Australia. There’s no pollution. You just chew it up and who cares? We have two huge rings of asteroids.”

“The things that we used to see as science fiction are actively being done,” he said. “It’s exciting.”

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