Scientific mistakes in “The Martian” – Part 1

This is the first in a series of many on this subject, since this book was the main inspiration for the blog.

A recent entry into the hard science fiction literary genre has been the debut novel of author Andy Weir called “The Martian”

TheMartianfrontcover

Now “The Martian” has been described (by its author amongst others) as “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”.

The Story

A Mars expedition has to hastily leave after only 6 days on the Red Planet and in the chaos, one of the astronauts is injured and presumed dead and the remaining crew leave without him. Except that he is still alive and drags himself back to the ‘Hab’ to find that he is utterly alone and with no means of communication with anyone else.

The rest of the story is told mainly from the astronaut’s perspective as he “McGyvers” through series of technological and physical challenges to remain alive long enough to be rescued by a succeeding mission that he knows will land on the other side of Mars four (Earth) years later.

Critical praise

It certainly has got great reviews on Amazon (4.7 out of 5 stars at the time of writing). It appears to be a best seller and it is already in pre-production as a film to be directed by Ridley Scott with Matt Damon strongly tipped for the lead role.

More importantly, it is presented as hard science fiction – a relatively rare genre in a world saturated with space operas like Star Trek and Star Wars. All of the solutions to problems in the book are based on science with no magic tricks, space aliens or magical technological solutions.

What’s not to like? From my perspective as a science wonk, what could be better?

It even gets a rave review from a real astronaut:

“A book I just couldn’t put down! It has the very rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters and fascinating technical accuracy…reads like MacGyver meets Mysterious Island.” (Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth)

And yet…

And yet, though I tried to like the book, I found that its full of scientific mistakes.

Aaarrgh!

Why can’t I suspend my disbelief just this once and enjoy some science-based fantasy?

And so, dear reader, over the next few weeks and months I will be demonstrating some of the major scientific errors that I found in the book.

I don’t claim that I would be a better writer than Andy Weir, but I know a little bit more about space travel and Mars than some.

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