They were simply walking through the storm. If storm was strong enough to move the MAV, humans who are a lot lighter should've just flown away, no?

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    I don't have the math to prove it, but I imagine that in such a thin atmosphere surface area makes a big difference in the effective force of the wind.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 13:48
  • 5
    this is from the face book off Andy : Someday, Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to either read “The Martian” or see the film adaptation of it. When he does, he’s going to immediately know that the sandstorm part at the beginning isn’t accurate to physics. He’ll point out that the inertia of a Martian storm isn’t enough to do damage to anything. The knowledge that this is going to happen haunts me.
    – Bigben59
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:05
  • Buildings sway in the wind, while people standing on a balcony don't get tossed around. It's a function of greater surface area and higher center of gravity.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:40

3 Answers 3


The Real Answer, as from Andy Weir himself: There isn't. While the book is grounded in science, there are no such storms of record that could create the effects that are shown in the book or movie. It is a large, windy, atmospheric MacGuffin. The storm is solely there to move the crew off the planet, leaving a presumed-dead Mark Watney to a disco-themed purgatory. (I'd link to the Triangulation podcast episode where he talks about that, but don't have access atm. I'm sure he says it elsewhere.)

The in-universe answer: All of the landing sites are in craters, for the sole reason to mitigate impact of wind. The MAV is the highest point of the landing site, it's large enough to be caught by the wind, but with a small enough base to actually be able to be tipped over. That is why there is a decided plan on how to react to windstorms of various magnitudes already in place while they were in the HAB.

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    Given how well-researched the novel is, I'm surprised the author couldn't find a better plot device than the dust storm, like a freak volcanic eruption or a collapsing lava tube.
    – RobertF
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 16:20
  • You would think. I did find that interview - it's Triangulation 163. I'll update this with the time when I can review it
    – Vogie
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 16:38
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    @RobertF: Keep in mind that it needs to force them off while leaving the Hab intact, and also create some event that destroy's Watney's biological monitor. It also needs the time/immediacy factor, where they're forced to leave without searching for his body. Additionally, the novel was originally posted in a serial format, and the windstorm event is right at the start. So by the time the rest got researched, he might have felt he was stuck with it. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 19:05
  • So basically the real reason is the same as the real reason Mark doesn't enjoy hos own entertainment that he would have surely brought along.
    – Chahk
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 18:25
  • See also the Google Tech Talk video where Andy Weir was the speaker. Someone asked whether dust particles could help the thin atmosphere push hard enough to be a threat, and Andy Weir said no, Martian dust is like talcum powder.
    – steveha
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 6:26

Due to ground friction, wind speed close to ground is slower than at higher altitude. That's why wind turbines are so tall. Wind speed at the height of the MAV should be a lot higher, because of that.

  • True wind sensor height should be 33 feet off the ground to get an accurate reading due to ground effects. That being said the astronauts don't seem to be fighting that hard against the wind in the movie, and the MAV doesn't seem to be as tall as a wind turbine either.
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 3:25

The MAV had a higher surface area exposed to the storm and therefore was exposed to more force. It may have been top heavy and is less able to correct it's balance against the storm. A human can lean into the wind and shift around to find a balance point.

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