One of the more fascinating aspects of The Martian is that Matt Damon’s potatoes are more or less solid science. There’s water on Mars, and growing plants on Mars is tricky, but viable. Good thing too, because a newly released NASA study reveals that we’ll need to farm the heck out of Mars to survive there for even a short time.
NASA has issued a new report about Mars and long-term habitation there that more or less boils down to The Martian, but even more so. Essentially, long-term human habitation on the Red Planet will involve growing food there, mining the planet for everything from fuel to oxygen, and generally treating Mars less like a planet and more like a giant pile of Minecraft-style blocks to mine. That’s important for two reasons, the most obvious being that any Martian colony can’t be dependent on Earth launching supply drops at it every few months.
The second one, though, is that when we get a Mars colony up and running, and better yet, completely self-sustaining, it can quickly turn into a resupply station for further missions throughout the Solar System. For example, while Jupiter is a bit of a haul from Mars, it’s still a shorter trip than from Earth, and launching probes and scientific missions from Mars would be much easier for the outer solar system. Mars could also serve as a proving ground for certain technologies we can test and then use to colonize Venus. So in a hundred years, The Martian might be mistaken for an old-timey documentary.