Stuck alone on Mars for far longer than intended, Watney finds himself in an inhospitable environment where, unlike on Earth, his body is not designed to survive. Naturally, Watney comes to rely on technology to keep himself alive, such as the Hab, the rovers, and EVA suits. While this technology keeps him alive, its very strength conceals two dangers: First, the technologies’ apparent reliability allows Watney to fall into a series of familiar routines that mask just how different, and dangerous, Mars is for him. Second, because the technology is so helpful, it is easy for Watney to underestimate how vulnerable the technology is to damage, and to forget just how dependent he is on this technology in order to survive.
In fact, Watney faces many of the novel’s greatest challenges when he fails to account for the differences between the Earth and the Martian environment, or when a seemingly minor mistake damages his equipment. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Watney’s nearly disastrous attempt to make water by separating hydrogen gas out from hydrazine fuel. During the process, Watney inadvertently leaves enough hydrogen in the air to risk an explosion. While removing the hydrogen from the air, he nearly suffocates by inhaling too much nitrogen. He then pulls on an oxygen mask, but, when he exhales, he adds enough oxygen into the air to cause an explosion in the Hab. Breathing oxygen and exhaling a combination of oxygen and carbon dioxide is, on earth, the most natural thing in the world. Yet on Mars, in the Hab, oxygen is dangerous—the very things Watney needs to survive could kill him.
The Betrayal of the Familiar ThemeTracker
The Betrayal of the Familiar Quotes in The Martian
Today was the memorial service for Mark Watney. The President had given a speech, praising Watney’s bravery and sacrifice, and the quick actions of Commander Lewis in getting everyone else to safety […] The administrator had given a speech as well, reminding everyone that space flight is incredibly dangerous, and that we will not back down in the face of adversity.
“The edge of the storm isn’t a magic line. It’s just an area where the dust gets a little more dense. […] It’ll be really subtle; every day will be slightly darker than the last. Too subtle to notice.” Venkat sighed. “He’ll go hundreds of kilometers, wondering why his solar panel efficiency is going down, before he notices any visibility problems. And the storm is moving west as he moves east. He’ll be too deep in to get out.”