The Martian: Science versus Engineering
I could go on
for quite a bit discussing the differences between the book and the movie. In
fact, I was just on a panel at a science fiction convention where we discussed
that topic. The panel also discussed things that either the book or the movie
Here I will just
consider two lines of dialog.
The first was
in the book, but was not used in the movie. It occurs in Chapter 5, in the log
entry for Sol 40. Mark Watney is explaining all of the various problems encountered
when burning the hydrogen extracted from the hydrazine to form the water needed
for the potato plants. The line is “Everything
went great right up to the explosion.” I consider it the best line in the
entire book. Obviously, it made more sense in the movie to simply show the
explosion, but I feel that in doing so they lost a great line.
I am more concerned about the second line of dialog. It was not in the book, but was created for the movie. It occurs when Watney
is contemplating the many things that he will have to do to make it to the MAV (Mars
Ascent Vehicle) at the Ares 4 site, which is 3200 kilometers away. He then says
“I’m gonna have to science the s**t out
of this!” You can go online to any number of websites and purchase a t-shirt
with the uncensored version of that line.
It is a great
sounding line, but I have one major problem with it. Consider the censored
version of the variation that I am proposing:
I have a
couple of reasons for this change.
In the book,
Watney explains that everyone on the mission has two specialties. He is the
botanist and the mechanical engineer.
His second specialty was not mentioned at all in the movie.
occurred after he had begun the process of growing the potatoes to
supplement his supply of rations. Let us look at some of the things he did
during the course of the book or the movie. He extracted the hydrogen from the
hydrazine and then burned the hydrogen to form water. He dug up the RTG (Radioisotope
Thermoelectric Generator) and used it as a heat source for the Rover as an alternative
to wasting precious battery power. He recovered Pathfinder, got it working, and
set up basic communications using hexadecimal notation. Under direction from
NASA, he then modified the Rover communications software to permit him to
communicate more efficiently. He performed all sorts of modifications and
additions to the Rover. This work involving the Rover (actually both Rovers in
the book) is spelled out in great detail in the book, but was glossed over in
the movie. In the book, he developed small sensors that enabled him to determine
the extent of a huge sandstorm and safely detour around it. He also recovered
from a rollover of the Rovers caused by shifting sand. Finally, he performed
the required modifications to the MAV to permit it to rendezvous with the
Hermes spacecraft. Is there anyone that will dispute that those activities should
be considered Engineering, as opposed to Science?
I am not
going to present a comparison of definitions. I will simply ask you to consider
the following quote by Theodore von Karman (1881-1963), who was the leading
aerodynamic theoretician of the 20th century and who was, among
other things, the first Director of the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL):
discover the world that exists;
Engineers create the world that never was.
to the above quote, I am aware that at least a half dozen versions may be found
online, with minor variations in wording.)
that the case could be made that by growing the potatoes he proved that it was
possible to grow things on Mars. After all, this was one reason that he was
sent, as a botanist, to Mars. But I maintain that this result, as a scientific
discovery, was incidental to him solving a real, practical problem – keeping
himself alive. Everything else he did was Engineering.
I wonder if
the person who created the line for the movie was aware of the distinction.