The Martian

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the martian

Mark Watney is a “space pirate” who figures out a way to survive on a barren planet, cool plot right. The success of Andy Weirs “Martian” perfectly encapsulates the wonder we hold towards space. And amidst an atmosphere where we are frequently hearing news about inhabiting the red planet its movie sales accounting upwards of 600 million dollars makes sense.

There is a lot of pretty cool stuff in this book, let’s go over a few

Can you create water?

Water is created by the oxidation of hydrogen so – “I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn.” – should work.

Mark used hydrazine, a chemical compound made up of 2 nitrogen atoms and 4 hydrogen atoms, as his hydrogen source.

As he says – “All you have to do is run it over a catalyst and it will turn into nitrogen and hydrogen. ” Here is the chemical equation for the process —

mage result for hydrogen from hydrazine chemical eq

For the oxygen, his plan of pulling it from the atmosphere is based on an actual piece of tech that you can read about here – https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25986-next-rover-will-pull-oxygen-from-martian-air/

Which brings us to the soil itself. Is growing plants in Martian soil possible?

“Once I get some Martian soil in here, I can mix in the sh*t and spread it out. Then I can sprinkle the Earth soil on top.”

The organic matter helps cultivate bacteria for nitrification of the soil among other things but the Martian soil play an important role too. Beyond just providing enough soil for the potatoes to grow in, it has the same minerals (magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride ions) as earth soil. Some students tried creating and growing food in Martian soil here – https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/some-plants-grow-well-in-martian-soil/

Enough biology, there is quite a bit of physics in this book too. What is an ion engine?

“Hermes is powered by ion engines. They throw argon out the back of the ship really fast to get a tiny amount of acceleration. ” To break this down, an ion engine basically accelerates charged particles (ions) through an electric field to generate enough force to create a thrust in the opposite direction. A more efficient version based on this tech called VASIMR is currently being built, look it up here – http://www.adastrarocket.com/aarc/VASIMR

Communications. This was basically what the plot centred around for the first half of the book and he solved it using hexadecimals – “Each character has a numerical code between 0 and 255. Values between 0 and 255 can be expressed as 2 hexadecimal digits. By giving me pairs of hex digits, they can send any character they like, including numbers, punctuation, etc.” This is essentially what it is. Here is an ASCII table/generator if you want to write in code – https://www.rapidtables.com/convert/number/hex-to-ascii.html

Martian dust is maybe the only villain in the book, it messed with communications and “The solar cell array was covered in sand, rendering it useless (hint: solar cells need sunlight to make electricity). But once I swept the cells off, they returned to full efficiency.” So what’s up with the atmosphere in mars. Apparently there are these planet wide dust storms every five and a half years that circulate red soil everywhere which is what caused the Opportunity rover to shut down. But while these storms can be a nuisance -“The atmosphere is very thin—less than 1 percent of the pressure on Earth. ”

Which makes the storms not deadly, to say the least.  In this video, the writer, Andy Weir basically admits to the inaccuracy at 32.30 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1965&v=gMfuLtjgzA8&feature=emb_title

If I sat down to analyse this book line by line, we would be here forever but if you are interested check out these links

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