Matt Damon in The Martian Matt Damon in The Martian Matt Damon in The Martian

How would humans live on Mars? Matt Damon’s ‘The Martian’ inspires NASA

150 scientists come up with plan that's quite similar to the one portrayed in the movie.

It seems to be a case of fact mirroring fiction. "The Martian," starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars, was the No. 1 movie at the box office again this weekend. And it's not just America's movie-going public that's taken notice.

NASA seems to be paying close attention as well. In the film, Matt Damon's character resorts to cleverness and botanical know-how to survive on Mars for four years by growing his own potatoes. At the core of his ingenious plan is his use of materials he finds on the planet. One hundred-fifty scientists and engineers at NASA just reached the same conclusion.

As part of its new plan to travel to Mars, the U.S. space agency held a four-day workshop last week at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston to discuss various aspects of an upcoming mission to the Red Planet. The more supplies a ship has to carry on the long trip from Earth to Mars, the more complicated a mission becomes. "Every drop of water collected on Mars is one drop less that needs to be launched from Earth and propelled through 100 million kilometers of space," writes space journalist Eric Berger in a blog post titled "Hollywood or Houston" about last week's conference. "This ultimately could save NASA tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars in launch costs, potentially making a Mars plan affordable."

Concurrently, this is one reason NASA recently entered into a partnership with Israel to help on upcoming missions to Mars. Israeli space technology is known for being extremely light in weight. It's an important factor to consider when planning trips to Mars, where conserving energy will be top of mind. That same attention to space-travel efficiency is what's driving an Israeli team to lead the first private mission to the moon with nothing more than a dishwasher-sized spacecraft.

Matt Damon's potato-growing prowess is not the only idea from the movie that NASA is hoping to utilize. The space agency recently held a "3D Printed Habitat Challenge" aimed at generating innovative new ideas for deep space exploration, including habitats for living on Mars. Some teams created inflatable habitats that were quite similar to the one used in "The Martian."

But there's one aspect of the film that space enthusiasts hope people don't take too much to heart. Legendary astronaut and Mars evangelist Buzz Aldrin told From The Grapevine that he hopes the story of a man, lonely and stranded millions of miles from home, doesn't turn off the American public. "I hope that the trials and tribulations of a stranded astronaut are not assumed to be typical of the activities they anticipate," he said of the movie's influence. "It does point out the necessities, in a extreme way, of the ingenuity of the human race to be able to deal with such extreme situations that point out the habitability, the limitations and the opportunities that do exist."

And if NASA needs even more ideas, perhaps they could look to Matt Damon's next movie. Called "Downsizing" and co-starring Reese Witherspoon and Alec Baldwin, the film is a social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself. With an eye toward efficiency, it's safe to say that might actually come in handy on a mission to Mars.

Attendees pose for a group photo at last week's conference which discussed human travel to Mars.Attendees pose for a group photo at last week's conference which discussed human travel to Mars. (Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA)


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