Interview with Andy Weir, author of “The Martian”

cover

 

[Version française sur le site de La Recherche]

 

This post is quite different from previous ones: it is an interview with Andy Weir, author of the best-seller book “The Martian”.

 

If you haven’t read the book yet: Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut, is  stranded on Mars after being presumed dead and left behind by his crewmates. The book is about him trying to get his ass out of there. There might be many novels on similar topics, but this one stands out: Andy Weir managed to make it both highly entertaining and scientifically accurate.

 

Here is a piece of advice: read it before Hollywood fixes images in your head. A movie, directed by Ridley Scott and where Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon, is about to be released. An impressive outcome for what used to be a story on a blog. To make it easier to download, Andy Weir sold it on Amazon at the lowest possible price: $ 0.99. But the novel novel suddendly became one of Amazon’s best-selling science-fiction books. A publishing company contacted Andy Weir. A few days later, it was Hollywood.

 

When I read it (actually, listened to it; it was my first audiobook), it was easy for me to identify with the protagonist: he was on Mars, I was about to take part in a simulated Mars mission. We are both biologists. And he was trying to produce food and other resources from what can be found on Mars, which is essentially what my research work is about.

 

There were a few questions I wanted to ask Andy Weir. I also asked family, friends and crewmates what question they would ask him if given the opportunity, and I added the most frequent and most interesting ones to the list. Thank you all. Below are the answers he kindly provided.

 

walking
Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon.

THE INTERVIEW

How did you teach yourself about Mars exploration?

I’ve been a big fan of the space program my whole life. So I didn’t really teach myself about it so much as absorb it over a lifetime of watching every documentary about space I could get my hands on.
What real-world technologies, research projects, missions or people were your most important sources of inspiration for “The Martian”?

Apollo 13 was the biggest inspiration. It was NASA in crisis mode, dealing with problems one at a time until they found a solution that brought the astronauts home alive.

 

What is the most rewarding thing for you about the movie coming out? The hardest?

The best thing is seeing my characters come to life and sharing the experience with an audience. The hardest thing for me is the media events and interviews. They’re pretty much endless. I’m looking forward to when things calm down and I can get back to writing.

 

“The Martian” is generally speaking scientifically sound. The most criticized element is the storm in the beginning, given the low density of Mars’s atmosphere.  What would you respond to this?

I knew at the time I wrote it that the storm was inaccurate. I made the decision to sacrifice accuracy for drama. I had an alternate beginning where an MAV engine test causes an explosion, leading to all the problems, but it just wasn’t as interesting. In a man-vs-nature story, I wanted nature to get the first punch in. An interesting side effect is that the general public now knows Martian sandstorms aren’t very damaging (because it’s so often pointed out as the largest accuracy flaw in the film), and they didn’t know that before. So I inadvertently taught millions of people an essential piece of information about Mars. 🙂

 

Was it your intention, or your hope, to contribute to Mars exploration by inspiring readers?

No, my only intention when I write is to entertain the reader. I never have any moral, agenda, or point to make. I hate preachy writing and I won’t do it to my readers. That having been said, if The Martian helps inspire people then that’s fantastic! But it wasn’t a goal of mine while writing it.

 

Given the opportunity to be part of a mission to Mars, would you go? What about a long-term simulated Mars mission in an analogue like HI-SEAS, or the Mars Society’s MDRS or FMARS?

No I would definitely not go. I write about brave people, I’m not one of them. I wouldn’t be interested in the simulated missions, either. I just don’t have the psychological makeup to handle them.

 

Why explore Mars? What would be the benefits for our society?

I believe we should have a self-sufficient human population somewhere other than Earth. It could be the Moon, it could be Mars, or even somewhere else. But somewhere. Until we do that, we have a small, but non-zero chance of extinction because the entire race is in one place. Once we have humans on another world, our odds of extinction pretty much disappear.

The Moon is a good option for colonization, but Mars is even better, if we can find ways to overcome the technological hurdles to transport large amounts of mass there. Mars has carbon dioxide, water, and nitrates in practically infinite abundance. That, plus human waste products, is all you need to grow plants. And that means the colonization opportunities for Mars are truly endless.

 

What would be your guess regarding the future of SpaceX, Mars One and NASA’s respective missions to Mars?

I suspect SpaceX will continue to drive down the price of getting mass to orbit. NASA and other space agencies will eventually use commercial launch companies like SpaceX to put all their stuff into space in the same way that they use commercial trucking companies to ship things across the country. NASA will shift focus to spacecraft and away from launch vehicles.

And once commercial booster companies get the price to orbit low enough for a middleclass person to afford a trip to space, there will be a space boom and the industry will develop similarly to the commercial airline industry.

 

When do you foresee the first human landing on Mars? What challenges are in the way?

I’m guessing around 2050. The primary challenges are (in my opinion)

  • Dealing with radiation in space
  • Developing much more powerful ion propulsion systems
  • Developing centrifugal artificial gravity
  • Mastering ISRU (making fuel from stuff found on Mars)

 

 

Do you think there will ever be a permanent colony on Mars?

Definitely. But not in our lifetime.

 

What is one tangible, actionable thing that a regular person can do to help make humans on Mars a reality in our lifetime?

Learn science. The larger the general public knowledge is of science, the more scientists we’ll have inventing the technology to make it happen.

 

How would Mark Watney behave in a mission like HI-SEAS IV? What research project would he conduct? What would he accomplish? What would he do during his free time in the dome?

He would probably do botany experiments with simulated Martian regolith. In his free time, he would probably listen to music that isn’t disco.

 

movie

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Interview with Andy Weir, author of “The Martian”

  1. Jeong Kim says:

    Hello,
    My name is Jeong Kim.
    I am a journalist of a kids science magazine ‘Kids Science Dong-A’ in Republic of Korea.
    ‘Kids Science Dong-A’ is an educational science magazine for elementary school students in Korea. (Reference site : http://kids.dongascience.com/)

    I’m preparing a special issue about the movie .
    So I’m covering the real Manned mission to Mars and HI-SEAS.

    I would like ask you to give me an opportunity to interview you(HI-SEAS4 crew) through E-mail, so I can introduce HI-SEAS life to students in Korea in October.

    Can I interview about your current Mars mission on Earth?

    I am very looking forward to hearing from you soon!

    Thank you.
    ———————————————————————————————————-
    [Interview]

    – It’s past 19 days since the beginning of the Mission. How’s your current life? Are you satisfied with these days?
    – Do you get along with your team?
    – You are living without fresh air, fresh food or privacy… What are the most difficult point?
    – I saw in some articles HI-SEAS crews really can’t prevent interpersonal conflicts over these long-duration missions. What did you quarrel about? and How do you get over that?
    – What kind of things do you eat? What would you most want to eat?

    – What did you do to take part in this mission?
    – Do you have a plan to apply the real Manned mission to Mars later?
    – What is your role in this mission?
    – Recently, the movie has become the talk of the town. Did you see? What do you think the key to survive Mark Watney in Mars? Outstanding scientific knowledge? Positive mind? …
    – What would you do if you are Mark Watney?
    – Mission is 346 days left. Please tell your aspiration for the rest of this mission.

    Like

      1. Myriam says:

        Bonjour Cyprien,
        je suis, comme Jeong Kim, en charge d’un dossier consacré à “Seul sur Mars” pour un quotidien français, et nous aimerions avoir vootre témoignage. Pourriez-vous soit me transmettre les réponses que vous avez envoyé à Jeong Kim, soit me contacter par mail pour que je puisse vous envoyer d’autres questions en MP ? Merci !
        Myriam

        Like

  2. SebLyon says:

    Hello
    This book is awesome !

    I read it several weeks ago, I didn’t read something like this book before. It is so well-documented and accurate. I wish anyone to read it before seeing the movie.
    Anyway, it’s funny you mention this book, because in one of your precedent posts (and still so rewarding, thank you for that), you say you do not really realize the impact of learning morse language with a colleegue of yours, whereas Mark Watney survives thanks to this skill in “The Martian” 😉

    Thak you for sharing your experience, this is really rewarding for us all. So good luck and hold on !

    Like

    1. Cyprien Verseux says:

      Haha, very good point. The crewmate who convinced me to learn Morse code read your comment. You made her smile.

      If you enjoyed “The Martian”, you might enjoy the “Mars” trilogy from K. S. Robinson. It is much more of a time commitment, though.

      Like

      1. SebLyon says:

        ·−−· ·−·· · ·− ··· · −·· − −−− −− ·− −·− · −·−− −−− ··− ··· −− ·· ·−·· · −−· ··− −·−− ··· 🙂

        “Mars” trilogy will be my next challenge then. I’ve already been told about this book but I’ve always put it aside because of its huge size.
        Anyway, how do feel aftert almost a month in the hab ? How about your crewmates ? Doesn’t Earth gravity deprive you from a full Martian experience ? Any progress in first plants in “fake martian soils” ?

        Sorry for the questioning, but hey ! Such a fascinating experience !

        Like

        1. Cyprien Verseux says:

          – …. .- -. -.- … ..-. — .-. – …. .. … — .–. .–. — .-. – ..- -. .. – -.– – — .–. .-. .- -.-. – .. -.-. . .-.-.. .-.-..

          So far so good. We’ll see after a few months.

          The plant experiments is making progress, but more time is needed to get meaningful results. I cannot decribe all results here before they are published, though.

          Simulating Mars gravity would be awesome, but we have no way to do that on Earth for an extended period of time.

          Enjoy the trilogy!

          Like

  3. Marion says:

    Bonjour Cyprien,

    En voilà une bonne idée de lecture! Je vais essayer de lire le livre avant d’aller voir le film!

    Et dans la même veine, as-tu déjà lu la trilogie Mars la Rouge, Mars la Verte, et Mars la Bleue de Kim Stanley?
    Il est question dans ces livres de terraformer Mars. L’histoire est très prenante et crédible scientiquement (en tout cas de mon point de vue de non spécialiste^^).
    L’as-tu lue? Qu’en as-tu pensé?

    Like

    1. Cyprien Verseux says:

      Bonjour Marion,

      Oui, je te le conseille ! Et il est très rapide à lire.

      J’ai lu les deux premiers tomes de la trilogie Mars, et la moitié du dernier. Malheureusement, j’ai perdu le livre pendant les préparatifs de la mission. J’essaierai de m’en faire envoyer un ebook pour le finir ici. En tout cas, j’ai beaucoup aimé ce que j’ai lu jusqu’ici. Ces livres sont même la meilleure fiction sur l’exploration de Mars que j’aie lue (cela dit, ma culture en science-fiction est encore très limitée ; ça surprend souvent, mais ce sont mes travaux à la NASA qui m’ont donné envie de lire de la science-fiction, et non l’inverse). Et oui, c’est très crédible scientifiquement. Certaines des technologies mentionnées sont inspirées de projets sur lesquels mes collègues travaillent actuellement. Certains aspects de mes recherches sont très proches des travaux d’Hiroko et de Sax (pour éviter les ambiguïtés : Robinson ne s’est pas inspiré de mes travaux, et l’inverse n’est pas vrai non plus).

      La lecture de la trilogie Mars et celle de Seul sur Mars sont deux expériences très différents. La première est très longue et l’histoire est complexe, la seconde est très courte et l’histoire est simple. Mais les deux récits sont très crédibles scientifiquement (mise à part la tempête au début de Seul sur Mars) et très agréables à lire.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s