The Martian

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Themes and Colors
Science, Human Ingenuity, and the Fight to Survive Theme Icon
Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Theme Icon
The Betrayal of the Familiar Theme Icon
The Media Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Martian, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Media Theme Icon

Watney’s apparent death, the discovery that he is alive, and the effort to rescue him are, for the duration of the novel, the biggest news story on Earth. People from around the world are caught up in the story of his against-all-odds survival, and CNN dedicates a new show, The Mark Watney Report, to keeping the public up-to-date on Watney’s life on Mars. NASA is keenly aware of the news coverage and the public’s emotional investment in the story. As events unfold, the news media put pressure on NASA to bring Watney home safely; in doing so, they hold NASA (a publicly-funded organization) accountable to the public.

Throughout the novel, Annie Montrose, NASA’s director of media relations, tries to balance her responsibility to keep the public informed of ongoing events and her duty to “spin” stories so that the public’s confidence in NASA remains high. As NASA Administrator, Teddy Sanders is the public face of the organization in a different way from Annie; he is well aware that both the public and the US government see him as responsible for both NASA’s successes and failures. What’s more, he knows that, since NASA is a publicly funded government organization, public opinion plays a critical role in whether or not future NASA missions receive funding. The American public has to believe that Mars explorations are worthwhile, or else NASA will cease to operate. It’s Teddy’s job, then, to make sure that news coverage and the public’s concern for Watney allow him to secure the emergency funding from Congress that the rescue mission needs.

While the funding for the rescue mission is an instance in which NASA and the news media’s interests align, their interests are more at odds when NASA’s top managers meet to discuss potential rescue strategies for Watney. Instead of simply pursuing the strategy that would be best for Watney, Teddy sees it has his job to make choices that do not further endanger NASA’s reputation. While he feels genuine concern for Watney, he also wants to make choices that avert any possible PR disaster, particularly because of the high-profile nature of the case. Teddy is unwilling, then, to risk the lives of the Hermes crew to save Watney, both because he would rather save five lives than one, and because the death of six astronauts would be worse for NASA’s reputation than the death of one astronaut. Mitch, the Ares 3 Flight Director sees Teddy’s preoccupation with NASA’s public image as cowardly, but Venkat, Director of Mars Operations, tends to support Teddy’s more cautious decisions. Ultimately, Weir suggests that only the Hermes crew can make the decision to risk their own lives in order to save Watney, though Weir is not unsympathetic to the difficult position that Teddy is in regarding NASA’s public reputation.

At first, Watney’s apparent death bodes poorly for the future of Ares missions, but by the end of the novel, his survival and rescue come to symbolize the pinnacle of hope, exploration, and scientific achievement. In The Martian’s final chapter, Weir describes people around the world gathering around televisions and in public places to watch news coverage of Watney’s rescue; spontaneous celebrations break out when the public learns that Watney is safely aboard Hermes. Watney himself marvels at how many people have been rooting for him during his year and a half on Mars, and Weir shows how media coverage not only keeps NASA accountable to the public, but creates the kind of collective cultural moment that occurs when Watney is rescued.

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The Media Quotes in The Martian

Below you will find the important quotes in The Martian related to the theme of The Media.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Okay, consider this: Sympathy for Watney’s family is really high. Ares 6 could bring the body back. We don’t say that’s the purpose of the mission, but we make it clear that would be part of it. If we framed it that way, we’d get more support in Congress. But not if we wait a year. In a year, people won’t care anymore.”

Related Characters: Venkat Kapoor (speaker), Mark Watney, Teddy Sanders
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Venkat (Director of Mars Operations) attempts to convince Teddy (NASA Administrator) to approve his request for satellite images of the Ares 3 site. Venkat wants to see what equipment is still intact because, as the Ares 3 crew left much earlier than intended, their remaining supplies could be used for a yet-to-be-funded Ares 6 mission. Teddy is hesitant because he knows that Watney’s body will show up in the images, and Watney’s death has already resulted in bad press for NASA.

Weir uses this passage to show the complexity of NASA’s relationship to the public, the press, and the federal government. NASA is a publicly funded organization, so their missions need to be approved by Congress, and Congress responds to public opinion. Venkat’s argument for taking photos of the site (and of Watney’s body) takes into account how public opinion, the media, and the news cycle, influence politician’s decisions. Venkat knows that there’s a limited window of time in which people will be engaged with Watney’s story. During that period, NASA be able to use the story to their advantage.

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This was going to be rough and Annie knew it. Not only did she have to deliver the biggest mea culpa in NASA’s history, every second of it would be remembered forever. Every movement of her arms, intonation of her voice, and expression of her face would be seen by millions of people over and over again. Not just in the immediate press cycle, but for decades to come. Every documentary made about Watney’s situation would have this clip.

Related Characters: Mark Watney, Annie Montrose
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

After satellite images of the Ares 3 site show that Watney is actually alive, NASA has to make a public statement. Weir uses the omniscient 3rd person narrator to give readers a glimpse of Annie’s thoughts as she prepares for the press conference.

Through Annie’s thoughts, Weir reminds readers that a press statement can be just as historic as the event that that statement is describing. News media in the present and historians in the future will analyze not only what happened to Watney and why, but also how NASA handled the event. The way that Annie makes this announcement will influence public perceptions of NASA and of Watney’s story for years to come.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“What about the RTG? Does the public know about that yet?” Teddy asked. Annie leaned forward. “So far, so good,” she said. “The images are public, but we have no obligation to tell them our analysis. Nobody has figured it out yet.” […] “How dangerous is it?” Teddy asked. “As long as the container’s intact, no danger at all.”

Related Characters: Venkat Kapoor (speaker), Teddy Sanders (speaker), Annie Montrose (speaker), Mark Watney
Related Symbols: The RTG
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

NASA has been tracking Watney using satellite images, so they know that he has dug up the RTG and that he is using it in the rover. Earlier, Watney imagined that NASA would cower in fear and horror if they knew he was using the RTG, but in this scene, we see that they are relatively unconcerned. Teddy, Annie, and Venkat know that the RTG is unlikely to endanger Watney—they are more concerned with public perceptions of nuclear power and radiation.

Weir uses this scene to show that NASA’s tendency to err on the side of caution is actually the result of pressure from the media and the public. Of course, Teddy wants to keep NASA astronauts safe, but he also wants to avoid any action that might appear to endanger an astronaut (even if it is actually relatively low-risk). In this way, the public and the media protect astronauts and act as a check on NASA—but NASA’s awareness of public opinion can also prevent the kind of risk-taking on which Watney’s survival now depends.

“When facing death, people want to be heard. They don’t want to die alone. He might just want the MAV radio so he can talk to another soul before he dies. If he’s lost hope, he won’t care about survival. His only concern will be making it to the radio. After that, he’ll probably take an easier way out than starvation. The medical supplies of an Ares mission have enough morphine to be lethal.”

Related Characters: Dr. Irene Shields (speaker), Mark Watney, Cathy Warner
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, NASA believes that Watney is modifying the rover so that he can drive to the Ares 4 MAV, where there’s a radio he can use to contact NASA. In an interview with Cathy Warner, anchor of CNN’s The Mark Watney Report, NASA flight psychologist Dr. Irene Shields gives an analysis of the emotions that Watney is likely experiencing.

Watney rarely references his own emotions, and when he does, he tends to play them off as inconsequential, so his feelings are almost as much of a mystery to the reader as they are to CNN’s studio audience. In an earlier log entry, Watney has already mentioned that he would rather take a lethal dose of morphine than starve to death, so Dr. Shield’s mention of this possibility gives credence to the rest of her analysis, including her assertion that hope is essential for human survival.

Weir uses the scene to emphasize that connection with other people is a basic human need, and that the human capacity for hope can push people to survive in seemingly impossible circumstances. This basic desire to be heard may, in fact, explain why Watney is keeping a detailed log that he knows may never be found.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“I need something, Venkat,” Annie said. “You’ve been in contact for twenty-four hours and the media is going ape shit. They want an image for the story. It’ll be on every news site in the world. […] This is all anyone cares about right now. In the world. This is the biggest story since Apollo 13.”

Related Characters: Annie Montrose (speaker), Mark Watney, Venkat Kapoor
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

The day after NASA makes contact with Watney, Annie asks Venkat to get Watney to do a photo-op. Venkat thinks this is absurd—the communication process is already slow, and asking Watney for a photo will use up valuable time that could be spent discussing more substantial issues. Nonetheless, Venkat ultimately agrees to do a photo.

Weir uses Annie’s fervent insistence that a photo is necessary to show just how much pressure NASA is under from the media. When Annie says, “This is the biggest story since Apollo 13,” she references a 1970 mission in which astronauts had to improvise repairs to the ship’s life-support mechanisms—a heroic story that inspired a 1995 film and laudatory news coverage for NASA. Favorable news coverage of Watney’s story is good for NASA’s reputation, and Annie is well aware that the photos taken of Watney will become iconic images representing NASA’s success and the human ability to persevere against all odds.

Chapter 22 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Venkat Kapoor (speaker), Cathy Warner (speaker), Mark Watney
Related Symbols: The Dust Storm
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

CNN reporter Cathy Warner is interviewing Venkat on The Mark Watney Report when she asks him about the dust storm that Watney is driving towards. Once Watney enters the storm, his solar panel efficiency will begin to gradually decrease, and NASA has no way to warn him about it.

The dust storm is one of the last major problems that Watney must solve before he reaches the Ares 4 MAV, but it’s set apart from the other challenges he’s faced while on Mars because he likely will not know that the problem exists until it’s too late to solve it. The true threat to Watney is not the storm itself, which would be easy to drive around if Watney knew about it, but the limitations on what he knows and what he can observe.

For all his problem-solving skills and creative thinking, Watney is helpless in the face of his own ignorance. Weir uses the dust storm to emphasize how helpless NASA is, too. Without any way to contact Watney, the NASA team can make all the observations and perform all the analysis they could dream of, and they still won’t be able to come to Watney’s aid.