During the time when the Ares 3 crew has direct video contact with Earth, Johansen has a uncomfortable conversation with her father in which she implies that Commander Lewis had told her that in the case of the supply mission failing, the rest of the crew would commit suicide so Johansen could survive (presumably by cannibalism).

Later, during the preparation to receive the supplies, Martinez jokes to Johansen about who she would eat first, saying things about himself tasting the best and remarking "I thought you liked Mexican."

When I first read the book, I thought it was a deliberate joke on Johansen and the reader, as one gets very somber while hearing the conversation with her father, but then the reader is surprised to hear Martinez joke about it like nothing. I assumed that it was because the crew was playing a trick on Johansen to make her feel uncomfortable for being the "chosen one" and make her squeamish. It also fits the structure of the rest of the book where Watney will think one thing and the next chapter be surprised at the outcome.

However, when I was listening to Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project's spoilercast of the book, they seemed to act like the plan for cannibalism was a serious one, with one host Norm remarking "at least that's only in there for one chapter"

Which one is it? Are they seriously considering suicide and cannibalism, or were they just trolling Johansen?

  • 3
    My impression was that they were serious, but I don't know what I could for as evidence.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:21
  • 4
    Semi-serious, I think. I have the impression that NASA mission planners pride themselves on having a plan for everything from first contact with aliens to, presumably, rules for cannibalism.
    – Joe L.
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:52
  • 1
    It look like an extension of the "custom of the sea" -- agreed cannibalism with the donor chosen by lot. I suspect it wouldn't be in NASA's written manual ...
    – sjl
    Sep 8, 2015 at 7:07
  • 1
    @sjl - everytime I think I've seen the weirdest possible topic explained on Wikipedia, someone comes a long with a link to something even weirder. Thanks!
    – davidbak
    Jan 28, 2016 at 22:24
  • Looks like meat is back on the menu! i.stack.imgur.com/rfUGG.gif
    – RichS
    Feb 22, 2017 at 20:32

5 Answers 5


It was serious. They only make jokes about it after they know it won't be necessary.

You (depending on how I interpret your phrasing) might be misremembering the order of events. They aren't preparing to receive the supplies at the time Martinez makes the joke, they've just got them. Martinez is cracking wise to break the tension after a dangerous mission and awkward situation.

Here is the relevant passage:

Lewis pressed a button on her headset.

“Houst- er... Jiuquan, probe docking complete. No complications.”

“Glad to hear it, Hermes, ” came Mitch's voice over the comm. “Report status of all supplies once you get them aboard and inspected.”

“Roger Jiuquan,” Lewis said. Taking off her headset, she turned to Martinez and Johanssen. “Unload the probe and stow the supplies. I'm going to help Beck and Vogel de-suit.”

Martinez and Johanssen floated down the hall toward docking port A. “So, ” he said, “who would you have eaten first?” She glared at him.

As you can see, they've just captured the needed supplies and docked with them, rendering the cannibalism last resort unneeded. Futhermore, Martinez doesn't joke about "who she would eat first", but "who she would have eaten first". Big difference there.


For those saying they can't see NASA giving the go-ahead, you are correct. The book states that NASA probably doesn't know about it.

She fell silent for several seconds. Finally, she said “They have a plan.”


“There's always have a plan, ” she said. “They work out everything in advance.”

“What plan?”

“They picked me to survive. I'm youngest. I have the skills necessary to get home alive. And I'm the smallest and need the least food.”

“What happens if the probe fails, Beth, ” her father asked. This time, he was uncharacteristically firm.

“Everyone would die but me, ” she said. “They'd all take pills and die. They'll do it right away so they don't use up any food. Commander Lewis picked me to be the survivor. She told me about it yesterday. I don't think NASA knows about it.”

  • 8
    Given the proposed method of suicide, I don't think cannibalism was intended, just conservation of resources.
    – Martha
    Oct 9, 2015 at 18:53
  • 5
    @DavidS Geek jokes often come out of nowhere. It's part of the genre. Nov 7, 2015 at 8:14
  • 10
    @Martha the book spells it out completely. Cannibalism was the plan. "With a reduced diet I could stretch [available food] to nine [months]. But it'll be seventeen months before I get back." Her father didn't get what she was implying. "So how would you survive?" "The supplies wouldn't be the only source of food," she said. He widened his eyes. "Oh... oh my god..." "Just tell Mom the supplies would last, okay?"
    – steveha
    Nov 15, 2015 at 6:09
  • 9
    @Martha it looks like you assume that taking poison would make the corpses inedible. This is not the case: while some poisons accumulate in tissues and are deadly "second-hand", others don't propagate beyond their first victim. Arsenic would be dangerous to Johansen, but cyanide would be completely safe. The most likely method - painkiller overdose - might leave the bodies contaminated with the drug, but a single serving of astronaut steak would only contain a small dose.
    – IMil
    Jan 14, 2016 at 15:12
  • 7
    @IMil Just want to call out that "a single serving of astronaut steak" has not received enough love, and also, no one has suggested a proper pairing
    – user31178
    Feb 16, 2017 at 18:24

The Ares 3 crew were absolutely serious. As far as NASA was concerned, the crew was already beyond the pale as they committed to the return trip by completing the return to Mars maneuver - which NASA did not approve.

Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man.

The writing of the passage where Johansen talks to her father has all the horror of "The Cold Equations". If it came about, whether or not she would choose to live or follow her shipmates into death - who knows. Survival is an option for a human, not a necessity.

  • "The Cold Equations" - A truly under-appreciate bit of literature.
    – Harabeck
    Sep 30, 2019 at 22:07

It was serious. No one joked about it until after the idea was rendered unnecessary, and depending on how they killed themselves, the flesh wouldn't necessarily be contaminated. As far as not being able to eat people you knew well...starvation can make even the unthinkable an option. The survivors of the 1972 Andes crash survived by eventually eating the passengers who had been killed in the crash--and they were mostly classmates and friends.


In reality, I can't see NASA giving the go-ahead to Johansen to eat her crew mates. There are certain lines that aren't crossed. Even if they were serious - eating people who you've spent the last several years with is unthinkable.

I find myself thinking that Johansen simply wouldn't be able to do it; and if that be the case, there isn't much NASA could do about it, millions of miles away from Hermes.

In a hypothetical, it's easy to theorize about what the most efficient and logical solution is. But when the rubber meets the road (or in this case, when the titanium hits the ether - that is, if there is an ether ;) eating crew mates for your survival is worse than the alternative, and something that I can't see NASA ever authorizing.

  • 2
    I agree. Seems like composting the bodies and growing something under grow lights would be more acceptable to everyone, wouldn't it? Sep 8, 2015 at 16:33
  • Death by ethics is a sad fate. Dead crew = steak and stew.
    – Ihor Sypko
    Sep 8, 2015 at 18:46

My interpretation, which while it includes a lot of "I thinks" and "I don't thinks" does fit in with the observed facts, and it is that Johansen was winding up her father.

Why do I think this?

Well even if there was 'A Plan,' I don't think it would make any sense to tell Johansen about it before it was absolutely necessary.

But more crucially Johansen only mentions it to her father after her father had, effectively, been berating her for being a bad daughter in putting herself at risk. I think Johansen was giving her father some 'needle' at this point - while also in a bizarre way reassuring him.

I think that the other crew members found out about this, maybe Johansen mentioned it e.g. "I feel bad, but Dad was being such a jerk . . ." and Marinez was just teasing her about it.

Well, that's my interpretation anyway. :-)

Now, as said my answer is based upon my interpretation of the written dialogue. Andy Weir (AFAIK) hasn't said definitely if it was joke or not. But there are more "objective" reasons as to why I think it was a joke/wind up.

NASA claims a small woman would need 1,900 calories per day. Now Mark Watney was getting by on 1500 a day, say 1200, or even a 1,000, for Johansen being the smallest of the crew? So . . . would four dead astronauts really provide the 240,000 - 456,000 calories Johansen would need for the extra eight months? Well . . .

A quick Google says one pound of "meat" gives 600 calories. (I'm a bit too squeamish to go into details.) So eight months would mean 400-760 pounds of meat. Okay this the just the, according to Martinez, prime "corn fed" stuff and ignores offal and the popular, in tales of cannibals, cracking open the bones to extract the marrow. But even at the low end of the scale, I just don't think 'The Plan' would have worked.

Basically I don't think 'The Plan' would have worked, so there never was 'A Plan.' Okay this is all just back of an envelope stuff, but those are my thoughts on the subject.

  • 2
    This is a good answer however is lacking canonical evidence. Are there any sources you can find for your answer to provide evidence for you thoughts to strengthen your answer? Also take a look at our tour and get on the way to earning your first badge!
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 16, 2017 at 17:59
  • Glad you liked my answer. Supporting it with canonical evidence . . . hmmm . . . tricky. As said my answer is based upon my interpretation of the written dialogue. Andy Weir (AFAIK) hasn't said definitely if it was joke or not.
    – Fruitbat44
    Feb 18, 2017 at 10:04
  • You could possibly add that into your answer, using sources to explain yourself is just as valid, and it seems like you've done a significant amount of maths to calculate this! +1 from me
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 18, 2017 at 11:37
  • I've taken your suggestion and added the comments into the answer, and subsequently deleted them. As I said, the math is back of an envelope stuff. But there is something about 'The Martian' which really makes you appreciate mathematics. :)
    – Fruitbat44
    Feb 22, 2017 at 20:30
  • Good to see you've stuck around, sadly I can't upvote again. Hopefully some other people come in and appreciate your answer, but in the mean time, ask a question or two to get your rep up and really get involved! I've edited your answer slightly for neatness
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 22, 2017 at 21:05

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