In the film how does NASA manage to accomplish the complex engineering task of getting a group of people to mars but are seemingly unable to to build a spacecraft that does not blow over in a strong wind? Seems like this might have been captured in some initial requirement for the mission given the atmospheric conditions on mars would have been known long in advance?

  • 2
    You're essentially asking "how could NASA have made a mistake?" It was an extreme circumstance, and for the most part, it worked out. Everyone except Watney made it back to the ship and was able to get off Mars. Space exploration is dangerous, NASA can't account for literally everything
    – Scrotinger
    Feb 25, 2016 at 15:08
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    This is not a question, this is a rant posing as a question.
    – SQB
    Feb 25, 2016 at 16:02
  • "for the most part, it worked out" .... not sure I agree with that Feb 25, 2016 at 16:07
  • Putting aside the issue of the storm being unrealistic, but if the storm is strong enough to tip the vehicle then its strong enough to pick up debris which could cause damage to said vehicle even if it was securely tied down. The storm did infact cause damage to the Hab, which nearly resulted in the death of one of the team. In such circumstances, having a contingency plan of "abort the mission" is one that is perfectly acceptable to have, as otherwise you might end up with an ascent vehicle that can't go anywhere due to damage!
    – Moo
    Feb 25, 2016 at 16:17

1 Answer 1


First problem with the entire movie and the book plot:

Are there any glaring scientific inaccuracies in the book or movie?

The biggest one is the sandstorm at the beginning. It’s not realistic at all.

Mars does get 150 km/h winds, but the atmosphere is so thin that the inertia behind the wind is super gentle: it would feel like a slight breeze. It couldn’t knock anything over or cause damage.

I knew this when I wrote it but I decided, screw it—this is more exciting. It’s a man-versus-nature story, and I wanted to make sure nature got the first punch in. There are some things we now know are inaccurate which we didn’t know when I wrote the book.

In the last six years we’ve actually learned a lot about Mars. There’s a lot more water in the soil than we suspected. Every cubic meter of soil contains about 35 litres of water as ice. So all Mark would’ve had to do was take the sand and heat it up to boil the water out. No need to do the dangerous hydrazine reduction.

Another issue that I kind of skirted is the radiation in space. On earth we’re protected by the magnetosphere and the thick atmosphere. But on the surface of Mars there’s a thin atmosphere and no magnetosphere. It would be a very serious dose of radiation for him to be on Mars for 500 days. The kind of dose where you definitely get cancer.

I have two paragraphs in the book where I was just like, everything is shielded somehow. Turns out there’s no such thing as thin light flexible radiation shielding. It takes a centimeter of lead or 10 cm of water or a full meter of rock to protect you from galactic radiation. So I made up a fake material that doesn’t really exist. I actually calculated the orbital trajectories that they needed to take to get from Earth to Mars. That’s a real thing that would work. But the movie changed how long the crew spent on the planet for a funny reason.

In the book they left after sol six, but in the movie they leave after sol 18. Ridley wanted Mark to stir a nice big bucket of shit when he was creating the fertilizer for the crops. Ridley said, after only six days of six people shitting that’s 36 packets. He wanted them to stay longer, so that the bucket of shit could be full.

Says Andy Weir, the author of the book.

But if we are thinking in movie-verse, it was not just a simple storm. The storm was way too strong (and unexpected) for the mission and the equipment. They could leave immediately but they wait for Mark and the storm gets too strong for them to not surpass the tipping point.

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