As I watched the International Space Station receive a resupply shipment from Florida (most likely aided by my brother there) and controlled from the infamous Mission Control Houston this morning, I had to think of how all this is connected to Andy Weir’s “The Martian”.
Sure the astronauts were not in distress and stranded on Mars or anything, but part of the tons of cargo they will unload today is science experiments “for future use”. This led me to think about what future use may mean, and why we would be interested in it at all to begin with. In Weir’s “The Martian”, Mark Watney is a botanist who colonizes Mars by finding a way to create soil and grow his own food on the planet. Sure he still has to wear a pesky space suit because, well, you can’t BREATH on Mars, but he has a series of blow-up tents/greenhouses called Habs that provide enough Earth-like atmosphere for himself and the plants to be able to live outside of suits most of the time. In the book, Mark has a hard time communicating with Earth; in real life, NASA is live-streaming from space! You can watch NASA live here.
Since “The Martian” arrived, there has been a real interest in recreating the science of the book. (It helps that the book became a bestseller and Hollywood made a movie out of it.) There are kids–and adults–all over the US building rockets to go to Mars and reproducing the garden from the book in special labs replicating Martian soil conditions. Some scientists are even trying out different potatoes with soil from Peru because it is most like Martian soil. You can learn more it all here.
What does all this mean?
I believe we may be looking at the dawn of another Space Age. As the public opinion sways the use of the almighty federal dollar, we may see more federal funding return to Space travel. If this happens, our overall knowledge and society will progress. John F. Kennedy felt that way in the 1960s; he had numerous speeches explaining that space exploration could further medical research and so much more. He was a big supporter of space exploration, and it was his bold statement that we would be the first to put a man on the moon that ultimately got us there. In the 1960s, we cared about space enough to put our money where our mouth was. If we do that today, the return could be tremendous.
What “The Martian” taught us was that Mars can be a place for growth and expansion, and space itself can overcome some limitations such as contamination for experiments to learn more. What if we can find cures for diseases? What if we could learn more about the universe and finally figure out time travel? What if we could increase food production by growing in space? What if we could colonize another planet?
Andy Weir and NASA seem to think so.