In The Martian, Watney tries taking a laptop out of the hab to write down a message from Earth but:

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."


on the way to Schiaparelli (well after the hab breach), Watney uses a laptop to synchronise the videos of the solar panel output (he also watches tons of TV which I assumed he did on a laptop but I don't think that's explicitly stated).

How did the laptop survive? Is there any mention of this in the book which I missed?

  • 2
    Ouch. Good question... Jul 30, 2015 at 12:09
  • 4
    Did he maybe leave a laptop in one of the rovers?
    – DavidS
    Jul 30, 2015 at 13:04
  • @DavidS if he did, that's a FOD (Foreign Object Debris) nightmare! Can you imagine the hell that'll rain down on the poor soul who left a LAPTOP in the rover by accident?
    – iAdjunct
    Aug 3, 2015 at 14:49
  • @iAdjunct The rovers were barely being used, and certainly weren't making any wild trips at that time. Besides, by that point I think Mark was well past the usual safety behaviours :P
    – DavidS
    Aug 3, 2015 at 15:02
  • Looks like you remember a different book from mine.
    – Aron
    Oct 6, 2015 at 16:54

3 Answers 3


The laptop could possibly work or not on mars, as this will depend on the actual hardware and temperature on mars when the screen is exposed to the environment.

The highest temperature in 2012-2013 was 20°C and lowest −101°C. But from May - Dec the temperature was warm enough to use a conventional LCD screen without internal heating. (LCD screens need to be above 1.7°C while in operation, storage it can be lower as long as the temperature is raised before powering)

Now on the other side of this if the screen was heated other components in the system will also struggle to operate. (but it's unlikely a laptop would have that without heating in the whole machine.)

CPU -25°C to 100°C Battery -32°C to +60°C

So to answer the question it is possible that one laptop broke and the other work depending on the environment. Also the hardware in the second machine could be designed for extreme usage not a standard consumer device.

  • Thanks for your answer, in the book it's stated that the astronauts had their own laptops, I assumed that they were all the same model issued by NASA (everything else is interchangeable and standardised).
    – Motti
    Jul 30, 2015 at 13:57
  • 5
    Note that militarized laptops have greater temperature tolerances (for example lenovo.com/news/us/en/2009/02/rugged_computing.html). It's possible that the NASA laptops have even greater tolerances, but Watney's first laptop was a lemon.
    – Doug B
    Jul 30, 2015 at 14:45
  • Some OLED displays can operate down to -40°C. Jul 30, 2015 at 18:20
  • 2
    @Motti Yes. I mentioned in the question storage temperature is lower than the operating temperature. I am going to read the book to see if I can improve this answer, just in the middle of Xeelee at the moment though. Sep 9, 2015 at 7:46
  • 4
    Pressure matters, not just temperature. Water will boil at 1C if the pressure is low enough, as it is on Mars.
    – Shamshiel
    Oct 1, 2015 at 19:44

The answer is more simple than some of the other speculations here: the laptop display was only ruined when exposed to the Martian atmosphere. When the liquid in the laptop display "froze or boiled off", it was outside the airlock (as shown in the quote). However, when he downloads the data from the power loggers, there is no indication that he is outside in the Martian atmosphere (the book doesn't say either way). He probably dragged the loggers into his makeshift bedroom (built from the Hab canvas) before attempting to download data. This was the same location he used to perform calculations and trajectories, watch crappy seventies TV shows, etc. He was able to use the laptops as long as they were not exposed to the thin, cold atmosphere outside. He learned his lesson after his first experience and never took the laptops outside again.

In addition, it is a common theme of the book that NASA standardized absolutely everything, so one could safely assume that all the laptops were the same model.

  • 4
    My question was how did the laptop screens survive the great hab breach after which they spent over 24 hours in Mars' pressure and temperature?
    – Motti
    Aug 3, 2015 at 17:23

Either you are reading a different version of the book from which I read, or you completely misremembered that scene.

I needed a way to log the time of day the wattage of each solar cell. One of the cells would be with me. but the other two would be dropped off and left far away. And the solution was the extra EVA suit I brought along.

EVA suits have cameras recording everything they see.

As for the watching videos in the rover. We already know that the rover has a least some sort of display that was used to display text messages from NASA when it was hooked up to the Carl Sagan Memorial Station.

  • 2
    On log entry: sol 479 (page 302) it says: Both loggers worked the way I'd hoped. I downloaded each of their video recordings to a laptop and advanced them to noon. (emphasis mine).
    – Motti
    Nov 8, 2015 at 7:50

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