In the closing pages of The Martian, Watney declares that, to the public, his story of survival represents “progress, science, and the interplanetary future.” This is true: The Martian is indeed a story of scientific progress on a grand scale. However, Wier’s detailed descriptions of how Watney uses basic chemistry, biology, math, botany, and engineering to survive on Mars makes it clear that science is only as powerful as the logic, creative thinking, human ingenuity, and determination of the people who wield scientific knowledge.
If The Martian were simply a story of “progress” and “science,” then it would probably be a pretty boring story. But the novel makes clear again and again that, though Watney’s scientific background in botany gives him a critical base of knowledge from which to work, his ability to survive rests more on his ability to plan ahead, to creatively develop solutions to the issues he encounters, to tolerate risk, and his determination to do everything he can to stay alive. Without realizing that he could grow the potatoes, and without conceiving and executing a plan to retrieve the Pathfinder radio, for example, Watney’s survival and rescue would have been impossible.
Similarly, the Purnell Maneuver that results in Watney’s rescue is not just a matter of science, but one of ingenuity and creativity. If it were just a matter of science, then anyone could have come up with it. In order to develop a solution for Watney’s rescue, though, NASA needed a creative thinker like Ralph Purnell, an outsider who wasn’t assigned to work on the problem but who was determined to tackle it anyway. Time and again, the novel makes clear that, while the public might see the “interplanetary future” as the inevitable result of scientific progress and the curiosity of the human spirit, this progress, in fact, requires a messy and risky marriage of science, curiosity, ingenuity, and adventure.
Science, Human Ingenuity, and the Fight to Survive ThemeTracker
Science, Human Ingenuity, and the Fight to Survive Quotes in The Martian
LOG ENTRY: SOL 6 I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked. Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
Why did NASA send twelve whole potatoes, refrigerated but not frozen? And why send them along with us as in-pressure cargo rather than in a crate with the rest of the Hab supplies? Because Thanksgiving was going to happen while we were doing surface operations, and NASA’s shrinks thought it would be good for us to make a meal together. Not just to eat it, but to actually prepare it.
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.
“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.”
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.
The RTG is a generator. It’s a paltry amount of power, compared to what the rover consumes, but it’s not nothing. It’s one hundred watts. It’ll cut an hour off my total recharge time. Why not use it? I wonder what NASA would think about me fucking with the RTG like this. They’d probably hide under their desks and cuddle with their slide rules for comfort.
“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.”
“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.”
It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? Frist guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years! I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first! I wasn’t expecting to be first at anything. I was the fifth crewman out of the MDV when we landed […] Man, I miss those guys. Jesus Christ, I’d give anything for a five-minute conversation with anyone. Anyone, anywhere. About anything. I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet.
For the first time, I think I might get off this planet alive. With that in mind, I’m taking soil and rock samples every time I do an EVA. […] It just feels nice to be an astronaut. That’s all it is. Not a reluctant farmer, not an electrical engineer, not a long-haul trucker. An astronaut. I’m doing what astronauts do. I missed it.
Earth is about to set. Resume 08:00 my time tomorrow morning. Tell family I’m fine. Give crew my best. Tell Commander Lewis disco sucks.
“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.”
“Holy shit,” Beck laughed. “Holy shit! Commander! He’s alive!” “I left him behind,” Lewis said quietly. The celebrations ceased immediately as the crew saw their commander’s expression. “But,” Beck began, “we all left togeth—” “You followed orders,” Lewis interrupted. “I left him behind. In a barren unreachable, godforsaken wasteland.”
Now that NASA can talk to me, they won’t shut the hell up. They want constant updates on every Hab system, and they’ve got a room full of people trying to micromanage my crops. It’s awesome to have a bunch of dipshits on Earth telling me, a botanist, how to grow plants. I mostly ignore them. I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the best botanist on the planet.
But my favorite email was the one from my mother. It’s exactly what you’d expect. Thank God you’re alive, stay strong, don’t die, your father says hello, etc. I read it fifty times in a row. Hey don’t get me wrong, I’m not a mama’s boy or anything […] It’s totally manly and normal for me to cling to a letter from my mom. It’s not like I’m some homesick kid at camp, right?
Guo Ming, director of the China National Space Administration, examined the daunting pile of paperwork at his desk. In the old days, when China wanted to launch a rocket, they just launched it. Now they were compelled by international agreements to warn other nations first.
“If this becomes a negotiation by diplomats, it will never be resolved. We need to keep this among scientists. Space agency to space agency. I’ll get a translator and call NASA’s administrator. We’ll work out an agreement, then present it to our governments as a fait accompli.”
“Space travel is dangerous,” Mitch said. “We can’t make this a discussion about what’s safest.” “I disagree,” Teddy said. “This is absolutely a discussion about what’s safest. And about how many lives are at stake. Both plans are risky, but resupplying Watney only risks one life while the Rich Purnell Maneuver risks six.”
There’s still soil everywhere. No point in lugging it back outside. Lacking anything better to do, I ran some tests on it. Amazingly, some of the bacteria survived. […] it only takes one survivor to stave off extinction. Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die any more than I do.
Since Sol 6 all I’ve wanted to do was get the hell out of here. Now the prospect of leaving the Hab behind scares the shit out of me. I need some encouragement. I need to ask myself, “What would an Apollo astronaut do?” He’d drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the Launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.
“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.”
If I could get Opportunity’s radio working, I’d be in touch with humanity again. NASA would continually tell me my exact position and best course, warn me if another storm was on its way, and generally be there watching over me. But if I’m being honest, that’s not the real reason I’m interested. I’m sick of being on my own, damn it!
They gathered. Everywhere on Earth, they gathered. In Trafalgar Square and Tiananmen Square and Times Square, they watched on giant screens. In offices, they huddled around computer monitors. In bars, they stared silently at the TV in the corner. In homes, they sat breathlessly on their couches, their eyes glued to the story playing out.
I think about the sheer number of people who pulled together just to save my sorry ass, and I can barely comprehend it. […] Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But, really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out.