The film “The Martian” takes the work NASA and others have done exploring Mars and extends it into the future-- set in the 2030s-- when NASA astronauts are regularly traveling to Mars and living on the surface. Fiction mirrors reality. Right now NASA is working on the capabilities needed to send humans to the Red Planet. NASA Mars experts are here to answer your question about the realism of the movie plus NASA's journey to Mars!

Update: (12 p.m. PT / 3 p.m ET) Thank you for all of your great questions. Sorry we couldn’t get to everyone, but there were many similar questions asked throughout the AMA. Please read through the whole thread to see if your question was already answered. We will check back for the next couple of days and answer more as possible, but that’s all the time our Mars experts have today.

Participants will initial their replies:

  • Michael Meyer, Lead Scientist, NASA’s Mars Exploration Program
  • Todd May, Deputy Center Director for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
  • Brian Muirhead, JPL Chief Engineer and former Project Manager of Pathfinder


Real Martians Feature:

Proof pic:

Comments: 3705 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

tilsitforthenommage1320 karma

Long term, could life be sustained on the planet? With no plate tectonics or much of anything what could be achieved realistically? and beyond a milestone of human achievement what would be the good from it?

NASAJPL2318 karma

Yes, although there aren't any plate tectonics there is energy in the core and there is evidence of volcanoes. We can take advantage of that. Once we have an established atmosphere, everything else will follow. Our species is forever vulnerable to the fate of Earth. However, if we establish a sustainable colony on Mars, then we at least have the potential to continue the human species on another planet. MM

gruntothesmitey327 karma

I think the lack of any real magnetic field is the barrier to entry. Only the southern hemisphere has any sort of field, and it's very weak, like 1/3,000th as strong as ours.

Anyone on Mars for too long will get cooked.

NASAJPL614 karma

Yes, a lack of magnetic field making you vulnerable to cosmic rays is a real challenge, but we may find ways to mitigate it. One simple solution is to live on the subsurface or even establish our own magnetic field. MM

Endless_squire320 karma

When you say "establish a magnetic field" do you mean small scale to protect a colony or small settlement or large scale as in planet wide? Also how would we go about either?

NASAJPL709 karma

We can generate magnetic fields. We do it all the time, for example with motors. The difficulty is making the magnetic field large enough. It's a question of how much energy you have. There are magnetized rocks on the surface of Mars that provide mini "umbrellas" of a magnetic field. We may be able to take advance of these to enhance a magnetic field. MM

Hanasmf1188 karma

Are there any plans to deal with property rights issues? What if we develop a colony and another country shows up some day and says, "This part of Mars is ours now, you guys need to leave."

NASAJPL1908 karma

I don't think property rights on Mars will be an issue anytime soon. A good international model is current research on Antarctica. Although there are multiple countries with territorial claims on Antarctica, all have signed a treaty foregoing exercising those claims in order to preserve and promote international research there. I hope we can do the same for Mars. MM

lukistke1050 karma

Is Mars the best place to go, or just easier than the other places you would like to go, like Europa?

NASAJPL1557 karma

I am a big fan of Europa because there is no question it has a LOT of water, and where there's water, there can be life. TM

NASAJPL904 karma

Mars is certainly the best place to tell us about the origin and evolution of a terrestrial planet. It is, in my humble opinion, the only place in our solar system that promises a human sustainable environment. Europa is very interesting and a great candidate as a possible place to discover alien life, but the radiation environment is extremely severe. Where would you like to go? MM

workingtimeaccount900 karma

What's the biggest issue excluding funding preventing us from being able to do this today?

NASAJPL1360 karma

The technological challenges are huge. We know how to lift people from Earth, and how to survive in space. We need to figure out how to be truly Earth independent to survive a multi-year journey to and from Mars. TM

workingtimeaccount600 karma

What defines "truly Earth independent?" As in, what all would we need available to achieve that?

NASAJPL1322 karma

A simple answer is that we cannot come home quickly if something goes wrong. The deeper we go, the more we need to rely on the resources at the immediate disposal to the explorer. In the long run, it could also include being completely self-sustaining including crop growth and fuel generation in-situ. TM

spicypepperoni860 karma

Are you guys working with Matt Damon?

NASAJPL1207 karma

If he really was waiting for us on Mars, we'd love to come bring him home. TM

NASAJPL833 karma

JPL and NASA have been working with the producers over the last couple of years. Some of the actors visited JPL during production to research their roles. Matt Damon visited JPL recently to take a tour and do media interviews. bkm

NASAJPL754 karma

NASA has been advising the film crew. The director wanted to get the science as accurate as possible and still have a big movie. MM

NorbitGorbit791 karma

are there exotic lines of research at NASA in modifying humans either surgically or genetically to better meet the demanding environmental issues?

NASAJPL1680 karma

Not that I am aware of...or that I can talk about...TM

LastSaskPirate691 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! My question is what can a current medical student do to get a career in space medicine/exploration, and potentially go to mars one day?

NASAJPL787 karma

We actually have a number of folks working in Houston on life sciences and human factors, in particular understanding the effects of space on the human body. Astronauts are also trained in medical skills, and for long-distance exploration missions this will be even more important as they will have to address any medical situations without help from Earth. TM

Afrothunderzx576 karma

How will the selection process work for sending people to mars with the hopes of colonizing it? Will you only use Scientists and Astronauts or will other occupations be used like engineers, agriculture specialists, and etc?

NASAJPL772 karma

I would think that the selection process for sending people to colonize Mars would involve making sure you have multiple occupations/experts participating. I'm curious: do you have any suggestions on the selection process? A lottery for all qualified people? How do you narrow it down? MM

OkiDokiTokiLoki546 karma

If you could write the first line spoken on Mars (ie- One small step..), what would you choose?

NASAJPL754 karma

I'd like to hear what the Reddit community thinks... bkm

smoke_and_spark518 karma

I guess my question is why?

What do we ultimately want from Mars?

NASAJPL997 karma

Right now we don't know how life started in our solar system. Evidence on Earth has been erased by plate tectonics and life itself. Because Mars is the only terrestrial planet that looks like was potentially habitable early in its lifetime, it could also preserve the best evidence of how life began in our solar system. MM

NASAJPL263 karma

From my POV it is to answer the question of are we alone? and provide a possible future home to humanity. bkm

NASAJPL117 karma

I kinda like Steve Squyres answers to this question. TM

suntansup3rman464 karma

What is a realistic time frame for a person to be sent to Mars?

NASAJPL856 karma

We're currently working toward the 2030s. There are many technical challenges that we are working on today, like the ability to send humans back into deep space with the Space Launch System and Orion Capsule. We are also working on long-term closed-loop life support systems on the International Space Station. We still need to work on a transport habitation system and, ultimately, a human lander. TM

thomasthegerman438 karma

Hey everyone! I was wondering how important you think the propulsion systems are for space exploration. For example, if somebody were to come up with a new propulsion system which gets you to mars within a month, would NASA all of a sudden fund more manned missions?

NASAJPL709 karma

YES!!!!! We spend a lot of time researching propulsion systems but their performance is dominated by the rocket equation. I'm working on a mission the uses solar electric propulsion, the asteroid redirect robotic mission, which is much more efficient for moving large payload in deep space than chemical. bkm

St-Jed-of-Calumet422 karma


Waking Pathfinder up, and using it to communicate in an emergency situation. How realistic was that scenario?

NASAJPL649 karma

Pretty realistic. The Pathfinder lander has a fully redundant pair of radios and an antenna that could talk directly to Earth. What wasn't realistic was the ability to just pull off a cover and plug in a connector and have that work. It's more complicated than that. bkm

St-Jed-of-Calumet229 karma

Do we have any idea if Pathfinder is in good enough condition to be restarted, or would the electronics have been destroyed by now?

NASAJPL455 karma

Pathfinder could realistically be restarted. Some troubleshooting, e.g., disassembly and adding a power supply would be necessary. -bkm

SheTypist399 karma

What's the long term maintenance and care plans for Martian clothes? As a sewing enthusiast, the astronaut suits and underclothes are going to need mending and maybe alterations for efficient longevity off Earth. Is there a "Space Sewing Machine" being developed? Poor Watney, I bet he would have appreciated some Hab canvas pj pants in that rover at one point or another.

NASAJPL612 karma

Great question! I can't speak to clothing, but I'll bet there will be a sewing kit on-board. We are also working on 3-D printing which will allow us to send up drawings for just about any part that breaks and have that part ready-made. We are currently doing 3-D printing on ISS today, and are printing rocket engine parts on the ground. TM

jwalterleavesnotes351 karma

Is it truly possible to grow food in martian soil?

NASAJPL586 karma

I'd love to find out! TM

NASAJPL2 karma

I'd love to find out! TM

lupusmagnus11300 karma

Are you planning on making one launch to get to Mars, or building a ship in orbit with several launches?

NASAJPL712 karma

We will need multiple launches of the Space Launch System to deliver all the payload and propellent need to send and return people to Mars. We will have to do in-space assembly robotically to build up some of the vehicles we'll need before we send the crew. bkm

mossman85290 karma

What are some interesting facts about Mars that the average person might not know?

NASAJPL708 karma

Mars has 1/100th the atmosphere of Earth. It's almost totally CO2, which is what we exhale. Pure water (not salty water or brine) is not stable on the surface because of the low pressure. Mars has about one-third of Earth's gravity, so you would weigh one-third as much. Jenny Craig would love this place. MM

shda5582267 karma

I remember reading an article a year or so back about how the first people to make it to Mars are essentially going to be marooned there and not brought back to Earth. Is that still the game plan or are there plans on the drawing board to bring people back?

If there is no plan to bring people back, where do I sign up?

NASAJPL522 karma

NASA has been working on full round trip missions to Mars not one way. bkm

JustJJ92247 karma

Will there be a botanist trying to farm potatoes with his own feces? or do you have another crop in mind?

NASAJPL551 karma

I sure hope there are more food choices and more music choices than in the movie. Disco sux! TM

LostVoodoo218 karma

What kind of rocket propulsion would be used, I hear good things about the vasmir engine, any ideas?

NASAJPL385 karma

For the time being, chemical propulsion will be how we lift from the Earth's surface into space. Once you get into space, we are working on a number of technologies for the long-distance legs. These include Solar-electric, ion propulsion, thermonuclear, and solar sails. TM


What is the best possible future outcome for space exploration in the next decade?

NASAJPL319 karma

Astronauts to low Earth orbit are launching from American soil. Humans have returned to deep space (beyond the Moon), and the development of the pieces for Mars missions are in full development. TM

agmcleod171 karma

While going to mars would allow us to learn much about Mars itself, do you perceive us being able to learn much more about the universe that we maybe don't already know?

NASAJPL372 karma

Mars, as a terrestrial planet most like Earth, also has an ancient surface. Because of that, it has a record of the first billion years of our solar system. Because of this, studying Mars tells us about the origin and evolution of our solar system. Studying Mars can teach us about ourselves. MM

AlarmedPanda158 karma

What is a normal day like for you?

NASAJPL738 karma

I wake up at 5:15 and do Reddit AMAs. TM

Traubster155 karma

You're the first human to step foot into Mars. What's the first thing you say?

NASAJPL392 karma

Anybody home? TM

Engr89146 karma

With the discovery of water, coupled with the fact that we also know of organic compounds like methane on Mars, how much has the probability of discovering life increased?

NASAJPL300 karma

The probability of discovering life on Mars has increased in that our interest is growing in learning about the possibility of life on Mars. We're barking up the right tree. The actual probability of life being on Mars - past or present - hasn't changed. It's just that our likelihood of discovering it has. MM

sdhillon143 karma

  1. Can I get a tour of JPL?
  2. What's the single most difficult part of a mars mission?

NASAJPL271 karma

  1. Yes, JPL offers public tours and they fill up quickly. At this time, they are fully booked about five months in advance. You can reserve your spot here: We also have an Open House one weekend every year and it happens to be this coming weekend. Open House is very popular, we had 40,000 people show up last year (if you want to come, arrive EARLY).
  2. Besides getting the funding? Landing! Landing on Mars is much harder than landing on the moon or on Earth because it has just a little atmosphere, not enough to slow you down but enough to hurt you. -bkm

K24dizzle140 karma

Hi! I was wondering what you guys thought of Matt Damon's movie? What impact do you see "The Martian" having on the general public?

NASAJPL314 karma

I think all of us "space-geeks" loved it!!! We know how hard space travel is and the director, Ridley Scott, did a great job of showing how much individual skill and team effort is required to be successful. I hope it will inspire more interest in the study of science and engineering by making it look as exciting and sexy as it really is!! bkm

Chino1130119 karma

A trip to Mars has many dangers. Which part of the trip do you think is the most dangerous?

NASAJPL270 karma

I asked that very question of Sally Ride many years ago. She was most concerned about how we'd maintain the mental health of the crew. We can test for physical effects but understanding how a small crew would behave under the conditions of long duration spaceflight away from the home planet under such a high risk/stress conditions is not testable. Picking and training the crew will be a very hard problem. bkm

THEAFKRager112 karma

Can I go to mars? :D

NASAJPL335 karma

That depends. Do you know Matt Damon or John Carter?

liamquane96 karma

Hi What is the estimated time left before the first manned mission? :~)

NASAJPL160 karma

The first manned mission to Mars is slated for the the math. :) We can't wait too! MM

colm4488 karma

Would it be possible to eventually terraform Mars by doing things like trying to grow plants all over the surface, and trying to bring tons of water in? If so, how long would this process take?

NASAJPL155 karma

James Lovelock and Michael Allaby wrote a book about the greening of Mars. This science fiction book was based on the scenario of taking all the CFC's and cold war rockets and sending them to Mars to create a greenhouse atmosphere. This is conceivable, though I'm certainly not advocating it. How long would it take? Hmmm...more research is needed, as any good scientist would say. MM

mysteriouskat80 karma

Sending someone to Mars takes a lot of resources. (Let alone bringing back Matt Damon) What justifies such expensive trips to, say, Mars? Is it just about human exploration or is there a practical benefit?

NASAJPL186 karma

Sometimes these things are hard to predict up front. We are still benefiting from the technological advancements achieved during the Apollo program. TM

shireboy75 karma

What do you need? What technical innovation, feasible in the next 5 years, would be most beneficial to the Mars program? Put another way: what products and research currently being worked on would most reduce the risks and/or costs of the mission?

NASAJPL108 karma

The tricky part to this question is "feasible in the next 5 years". Technology on the order of what we're talking about takes a little longer than that to bring to fruition. Propulsion systems for deep space such as nuclear thermal or solar electric are big enablers. Robust closed-loop life support will be important. A Mars lander sized for human descent is also a big challenge. TM

scantron300014 karma

If a child wanted to be on one of those manned missions to Mars when they grow up, what do you suggest they study?

NASAJPL21 karma

Whatney was a botanist. That said, an engineering background is always a good thing. I'm a materials engineer by trade. Good luck! TM

massivepickle2 karma

Okay, so at this point in time it appears that the biggest challenge for a human mission to Mars is creating a Mars Ascent Veichle (MAV), that is also capable of entry, descent and landing (EDL) on Mars.

Now, so far the biggest thing we've managed to land on Mars is a 900kg rover, a fraction of the mass of any required ascent veichle. The low density supersonic decelerator (LDSD) may be good for landing crew and crew habitats, but I doubt it would work for something as large as a (MAV).

So my question is this, is there any work in progress yet on the monumental task that is designing an (EDL) system for the (MAV), or the (MAV) in general? And what other ideas do you guys have for landing large payloads on Mars, other than (LDSD) and propulsive landing?

NASAJPL3 karma

You're right that one of the biggest challenges for human exploration is landing large payloads, in the 10's of tons class. We have done multiple studies of different entry vehicles and MAVs. One of the key technologies is supersonic retro propulsion which is being used by SpaceX to attempt to land their first stage Falcon 9 boosters. bkm

Dotrue1 karma

In The Martian, we see the Chinese space agency work with NASA to save Matt Damon. How likely is it we will be working with other countries on the mission to Mars?

NASAJPL1 karma

Very likely. We are currently working with many space agencies today on the International Space Station. TM

gerrysaint331 karma

Whats more important, Humans on mars, or exploring the oceans on Europa?

NASAJPL2 karma

Can we do both? TM

Dotrue0 karma

In many space movies, I've seen space stations and ships have sections that spin to produce artificial gravity. Is this something you guys are planning to use? Is it even feasible/realistic?

NASAJPL1 karma

Artificial gravity could be important and the way it's shown in most movies, including 2001 Space Odyssey, is reasonably realistic, but it won't be that easy to build. One of the questions we have is how much artificial gravity is needed to prevent unacceptable physical degradation. Part of the research going on the ISS right now is to understand better the long term impacts of 0'g. bkm

Motomattia0 karma

Hi Nasa! How do you think to avoid the solar flare radiation effects on astronaut's body? (edit)

NASAJPL1 karma

One technology we are currently working on is 3D printing of protective structures in-situ using Martian Regolith. TM

you1122330 karma

What would be the biggest difference between living on earth vs living on Mars that most of us wouldn't think of?

NASAJPL1 karma

Phoning home to Earth from Mars would have at least an 8-minute delay, making conversation nearly impossible. MM