The Martian – Andy Weir

 Summary (Amazon): Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: hilarious

We picked this book for book club this year, and I have been VERY IMPATIENTLY waiting to read it. My husband read it. My dad read it. It feels like the entire population except for me had read it. But finally! I joined the club. And it was worth the wait.

The simple summary of this book is that Mark Watney was accidentally abandoned on Mars by his crew during a storm because they thought that he was dead and they needed to get out of there before they were all dead.

The long summary is a nerdy hilarious story of Mark Watney’s attempt to stay alive. Hilarious both because Mark has a great dorky sense of humor that made me laugh out loud multiple times, and also because of his sometimes disastrous attempts at making things work.

Once he realizes that he is alive and was abandoned on Mars, he manages to seal his spacesuit and assess the situation. He has no way to contact Earth. The next mission isn’t expected for 4 years, and he only has food for 300 days. On the plus, he has solar cells, water, and oxygen as well as plenty of vitamins. He also has terrible 70s television and disco music. He realizes that he was sent to Mars with some actual potatoes so that they can have a Thanksgiving. He decides to plant the potatoes using a combination of poop and Mars soil. He has to collect quite a lot of both to fill the space he has for crops (which is inside the Hab). He also has to figure out how to generate more water, which he does, although he almost blows himself up in a hydrogen bomb in the process.

Eventually a low level employee at NASA realizes that Watney is still alive due to various things moving around. They can’t contact him, but they keep track of him with their camera. They decide to not tell his returning crew because there is great concern of their morale of leaving a crew member behind on a long trip back to Earth. (Eventually they are told though.)

This is my favorite quote from the book: Teddy swiveled his chair and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Night was edging in. “What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense!

While Mark’s potatoes are growing, his next task is to trick out the Rovers so that he can take a journey partly as a test run for his 3200 km journey to the area where Ares 4’s MAV has already landed. And partly so that he can find the Pathfinder probe from 1997 for communication. He takes the battery from one rover so that he can swap out. He loads up the solar cells, and takes it for a test run. It gets far too cold so he decides on a crazy idea–using the radioactive power cell to supply heat. Once he works out the bugs, he heads out with Houston (and the rest of the world) watching remotely. A fairly uneventful trip, he recovers the Pathfinder and upon returning to the Hab, he manages to get it up and running.

With contact from Houston, things get better but also way more complicated. Mark can’t be a maverick doing whatever he wants any more. He has a world’s worth of scientists analyzing his every move. They have him double-check that all the safety mechanisms are still operating correctly, and they evaluate his farming. Everything is good. Everyone sets on finding a way to get Mark off of Mars. In the meantime, a fluke accident occurs causing a tear in the Hab, which ruins many of the potatoes–causing the situation to be much more urgent.

The main problem is that the planets are not lined up in a way that is optimum. NASA hurries a probe full of food to keep Mark until he can be rescued as food is the major issue. Unfortunately due to rushing it, it doesn’t launch properly, and now situations are really dire.

Luckily the sneaky Chinese have been developing a probe, and they are willing to cut a deal with the Americans. If NASA promises to put a Chinese astronaut into the next Mars mission. NASA agrees. In the meantime, one of the engineers at NASA has come up with an alternate proposal. They have to decide whether to launch the Chinese probe to land directly on Mars six weeks after Mark is scheduled to run out of food -OR- to reroute the returning Ares 3 to pick up Mark as he launches in the MAV adding over a year to their journey. With much debate, the decision is made to go with the first option so as to only endanger one life.

However, one NASA employee thinks otherwise and decides that there’s a way to force option two. He sends an encrypted message to Ares 3; they take a vote and decide to turn back. Once they have turned back, it’s too late to change. Mark begins his preparations for traversing to the MAV. NASA provides him with a plan to convert the second rover, which will be hitched to the other, so that he can carry everything that he needs for the journey. As he is doing the conversion, he short circuits his communication home. They can still see him, but he cannot communicate with them. Periodically he lays out rocks to spell out things in Morse code to communicate back, but it takes time and he has a lot to do. Eventually he gets everything ready to go and he heads out to the MAV. It is a long journey, but without too much disaster. He avoids a sandstorm (you’re humming that song too, aren’t you?) which is slowly making his solar cells not achieve a full charge (thus reducing the distance he can travel each day). He also has a small accident where he careens into a bit of a crater due to some powdery soil upsetting both his truck and trailer. But he makes it.

Upon arrival, he can again communicate with Earth, and they begin to communicate instructions on modifying the MAV so that it can be lightweight enough to make contact with Ares 3. It is ghetto. Mark cuts most of the roof off of the expensive piece of equipment to reduce the weight, and then reseals it with tarp from the Hab. He is using his urine along with a lot of his other water supply to generate fuel to power the MAV (hydrogen). “If I survive this, I’ll tell people I was pissing rocket fuel.”

Upon launch, everything starts according to plan. However, the makeshift roof does not hold up, and causes the aerodynamics of the MAV to be severely hindered. It causes the MAV to miss its target and Mark is passed out inside due to the severe g’s that he encountered. The crew of the Ares 3 decides to use the atmosphere as thrust to get to Mark to intercept him. They blow a section out which allows Beck to have an appropriate velocity to get Mark and return to the ship. Hooray! Everyone’s saved.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was great. It was nerdy and funny, but I was a little wishy washy on the ending. I get it. You have to end a book somewhere, and maybe it’s set up for a sequel. But the crew has so long remaining in space with a damaged ship. It made the ending seem a little preemptive. But I guess it is called The Martian and not The Astronaut so once they leave Mars, the title and thus the book can end. I may have to assume that they all made it back and that Astronaut Johanssen didn’t have to eat them all. That certainly changes things if that was actually the real ending. Happy Halloween!

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Filed under 4 stars

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