There was a point where Watney took a portable computer outside and the LCD was instantly destroyed. The assumption being it was permanently destroyed.

But after the HAB accident where it was opened to the extreme cold and near vacuum of the Martian environment, wouldn't the computer screens in the HAB also have been destroyed? But I'm under the impression that he continued to use the computers in the HAB.

Please let me know if I skipped over something or there might be other explanations.


Each crewman had their own laptop. So I have six at my disposal. Rather, I had six. I now have five. I thought a laptop would be fine outside. It's just electronics, right? It'll keep warm enough to operate in the short term, and it doesn't need air for anything.

It died instantly. The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the "L" in "LCD" stands for "Liquid." I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I'll post a consumer review. "Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10."

Chapter 15:

[09:31] WATNEY: Duh. Oxygenator functioning perfectly. Water reclaimer is completely offline. Best guess is water froze up inside and burst some tubing. I'm sure I can fix it. The Hab's main computer is also functioning without any problems. Any idea what caused the Hab to blow up?

  • 6
    possible duplicate of Survival of laptops in Mars' environment Sep 29 '15 at 14:19
  • Don't think it's a duplicate. The asnwer there doesn't seem to fit the HAB situation. Sep 29 '15 at 15:03
  • It's not a duplicate, the questions are asking about different computing systems.
    – user1027
    Sep 29 '15 at 16:00
  • @Jack Thanks for adding the quotes. The one from Chap. 15 is what bothers me. I'm sitting in front of a desktop machine that has an LCD display and it seems reasonable that HAB systems would also have LCD displays.
    – Jim
    Sep 29 '15 at 20:20
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    @Jim Presumably they do have LCD screens, it's just they're purpose-built ones that NASA had designed for Mars.
    – user1027
    Sep 29 '15 at 20:33

The Hab was designed to be on Mars, unlike the laptops, which are implied to be off the shelf (or close to it). As the book mentions, the Hab was constructed on Mars. So it's safe to assume that the computers that are built into the Hab were components of the Hab that the Ares 3 team installed into the Hab's structure. The computers would then not be off the shelf, they'd be designed to work on Mars, especially under crisis situations like being exposed to the Martian atmosphere.

Also, as part of the Hab, we know from their construction methodology that the Hab computer would have been just sitting there on the Martian surface for an extended period of time prior to being installed in the Hab. Ergo, it is resilient enough for the Martian atmosphere. From Chapter 20 of the book: (thanks to hobbs for pointing this out)

Then I did a controlled shutdown of the Hab. The critical components are designed to survive a vacuum. Hab depress is one of the many scenarios NASA accounted for. One system at a time, I cleanly shut them all down, ending with the main computer itself.

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    The computer systems (controllers) can certainly survive the Mars environment especially if not running. I just read that LCD displays can survive being immersed into liquid nitrogen. (vartechsystems.com/whitepages/LCD-optemp-whitepage.asp). Maybe LCDs just need to survive exposure to a vacuum, in which case your suggestion would work for displays if they were encased in a vacuum proof case?
    – Jim
    Sep 29 '15 at 20:29
  • I added a quotation from the book that supports your answer in my answer below.
    – hobbs
    Dec 28 '15 at 8:30
  • @hobbs Good find.
    – user1027
    Dec 29 '15 at 6:46

The book mentions this:

Then I did a controlled shutdown of the Hab. The critical components are designed to survive a vacuum. Hab depress is one of the many scenarios NASA accounted for. One system at a time, I cleanly shut them all down, ending with the main computer itself.

So it doesn't give any details on how, but it makes pretty clear that the main computer and any mission-critical displays are designed to survive vacuum.

As a side note, I don't think there is any mention of Mark using the personal laptops after the airlock incident. If there was, that would probably be a mistake.

  • Could have been stored in the rover that he used to drive (not the modified one). They had airlocks. I don't recall that one being exposed to vacuum?
    – Jim
    Jan 12 '16 at 20:01
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    @Jim I considered that, but a rover definitely isn't heated while unoccupied. Although we never actually established whether the LCD boiled or froze (or both) in the first place. If it can handle cold but not vacuum, that would be an out.
    – hobbs
    Jan 12 '16 at 20:38
  • -excellent point.
    – Jim
    Jan 13 '16 at 5:17

The personal laptop he took outside immediately died in the Mars atmosphere, or rather, the Liquid Crystal Display did.

Presumably the main Hab computer and the Rover computers are designed to continue to work even in the event of loss of pressure. Throughout the book Watney is likely entering his logs on either the main Hab computer or the Rover computers (or the suit audio logs), but not on the personal laptops which the crew had brought.

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