The Martian is what I just learned is called a robinsonade: a story in the vein of Robinson Crusoe, a survival story of some kind, usually, but not always, involving a desert island. I can’t think of anything that better fits that description than Mars.
Six days into the Ares 3 mission, a storm strikes the base where the team is. Since it looks to last longer than is feasible, NASA decides to abort the mission. As they make their way from the Hab (what they call the Habitat), the main communication dish gets blown off. Along the way it crashes into the reception antenna array, and one of those antennae punctures astronaut John Watney’s suit as well as his side. Thanks to the position he lands in, and the dryness of Mars, his blood makes a temporary seal against total oxygen loss, but he also loses consciousness and is left for dead by the rest of the team.
Mark doesn’t blame them. He would have done the same thing, under the circumstances.
But now he’s faced with surviving until Ares 4 comes—four years from now. And he’s only got, at best, a year’s worth of food.
I picked this book up because, having read a lot of science fiction, I know there’s considerable travel time involved in going to Mars (if that wasn’t a factor in this book…well, there wouldn’t be this book), so I wanted to know how he resolved it. And how he lived until he was rescued.
See, in any near-future scenario of Mars missions, there is a habitat involved. Unlike going to the Moon, which isn’t near the undertaking a Mars mission would be, the astronauts will need something to live in and supplies to live off of. And, because of the distances, involved, they’ll need to stay there much longer than we ever stayed on the Moon during any of the Apollo missions to make it worth the trip. You don’t drive from the Arctic Circle to Cape Town, South Africa for a one-day visit. And the distances involved in going to Mars are even greater. According to Space.com, the closest the planet has ever been is over thirty-four million miles.
You ain’t makin that trip in your spacesuit.
But, more importantly, how is he going to keep from going nuts? Four years all alone, faced with the very real possibility that you may never see Earth again, would weigh heavy on the mind.
Of course, there are mitigating factors. Mark is a trained astronaut, and since a mission like this means you’d need crew members with more than one discipline, it turns out Mark is a mechanical engineer and botanist. He’s able to use both skillsets to devise something that might allow him to live out his time until the next mission.
Assuming it’s not cancelled due to his “death.” NASA is pretty good at scrapping things when the first little mishap occurs. And since they think Mark is dead, there’s no real reason to go back until they can clean up the PR mess it probably made back on Earth.
I want you to imagine being stuck in that situation for just a moment. You’re literally millions of miles from home, with no way back and one slim chance you’ll ever make it back. Seeing how the character deals with it should be interesting.