Last Updated on June 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512
The Martian by Andy Weir follows the story of Mark Watney, a botanist, engineer, and member of a NASA team that was supposed to have stayed on Mars’s Acidalia Planitia, a large plain, for a month. However, during a sudden storm that forces the team to evacuate at a moment’s notice, Watney is impaled by a dislodged antenna, an accident that disables his radio and places him out of the view of the other astronauts. Assuming Watney is dead, the crew continues their ascent out of Mars’s atmosphere.
Stranded alone with no means of communication, Watney is very much alive, with a minor injury. He first decides to devise a method for growing potatoes, using his botanical knowledge, burning hydrazine to create a water supply to irrigate his crop. During his time, he keeps a log of sols and documents his experiences.
At some point during his stay, NASA headquarters discovers Watney is alive based on satellite images, but the crew of Ares 3 is kept in the dark about Watney’s survival.
He finally determines to make a nearly two thousand mile trip to the planned site of the next Ares mission, which should land in four years. During a test run of the modified rover he has been working on in preparation for the journey, Watney comes across the Pathfinder and Sojourner, two former NASA projects that are now defunct. Bringing them back to the Hab (the crew’s Martian habitat), Watney devises a plan to communicate with NASA. Conflicted over how to save Watney, NASA tries several techniques. One includes an unmanned probe to send Watney supplies after the Hab becomes decompressed, nearly killing Watney and successfully killing his crops. Unfortunately, the probe disintegrates immediately after launch, leaving NASA with few remaining options.
Taking control of the situation, Mitch Henderson (the Ares 3 director) notifies the flight crew—who are on their way back to Earth aboard the Hermes—of a risky slingshot maneuver they can try in order to rescue Watney. The NASA director had vetoed the maneuver because it has never been done before, but once the crew hears about the plan, they decide to do it anyway.
Back on Mars, Watney has to make his trip in the modified rover because he has been told that he will have to lift off using the Ares 4 MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) in order to intercept the Hermes. Several other complications threaten to derail Watney’s rescue, such as a dust storm on his trip and the canvas coming off the MAV, making it fall far short of the rendezvous point. Lewis, the crew’s commander, improvises a plan to reach him, which includes detonating a makeshift bomb in one of the ship’s air locks and another crew member going out on a tether to fetch Watney. The story ends with a final log, in which Watney discusses how thankful he is to be back home.
The novel’s heavy scientific information frames Watney’s experience, but in the end, the story is about perseverance and hope.
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