Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Done: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

Done: The Martian by Andy Weir, 2014,will find ISBN later.

Very good.  Astronaut is stranded on Mars.

The third Mars mission gets to the planet, lands and the astronauts start their studies and experiments.  After only 10 days (or so) NASA sees a massive dust storm with high winds coming across Mars.  Mars dust storms are hundreds of kilometers wide. The canvas roofed living and working shelter - the HUB - is rated for high winds but the spaceship - the one-use ascender that delivers astronauts up to the orbiting spaceship that returns the astronauts to Earth - is fragile and cannot handle the winds.  NASA says, "Head to orbit!"  Astronauts say, "Dang, we took months to get here and now we have to leave. Okay, those are the breaks, lets get on our spacesuits and walk over to the spaceship."

On the walk over the high winds are throwing dust, pebbles and - uh-oh - pieces of antennae.  One of those pieces pierces Astronaut Mark Watney's suit and sends him tumbling along.  The impact damages his suit and his monitors checking heartbeat, blood pressure, air supply go dead.  Astronaut Watney is hidden by the swirling dust clouds.  Other astronauts cannot find him.  The ascender's spacesuit monitoring equipment says Astronaut Watney is dead.  The ascender is about to be blown over by the dust winds and would then be destroyed stranding everyone.  Remaining Astronauts take off (literally and figuratively).

Astronaut Watney comes to with his faceplate in the sand.  The antennae pierced his suit and stabbed him, but the material was twisted and his coagulated blood sealed the leak.  Astronaut yanks out the antennae from his suit, patches the hole with emergency sealant, walks back to the HUB. "Nuts," says Astronaut Watney "I missed the trip back.  I'm fucked. The crew is gone, the ship is gone, and the radios are broken."
The next 300 pages are fast and compelling.  Astronaut Watney is stuck on Mars but still alive and knows a fourth Mars mission is due to arrive in a couple years. How can I survive? Do I have enough food? Can I grow food?  Astronaut Watney solves all the problems Weir throws at him: no growing soil, no fertilizer, not enough water, breaking parts, finding communication, making and remaking and remaking plans.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA sees Astronaut Watney is still alive and also starts making and remaking and remaking plans to rescue him.

The great strength of the novel is that Weir takes a neat idea and explains the scientific and Mars conditions so well. How the spacecraft work, how the life support works, how to make Martian soil arable.  He gives Astronaut Watney a sense of humor and irrepressible spirit. 

1. I recommended the novel to my 11.5 year old who likes science topics but he went "humph" or "erm" or whatever that sound is that he makes when he does not want to answer.  I bet if I start reading it aloud he'll take it.  I can try reading it aloud to the 8.5 year old but will have to substitute the curse words and not let him read it himself so I can explain some of the adult concepts.

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