The Martian

The Journey to Mars

On the red planet of Mars, amid arid desert and rolling mountain ranges, six space-suited astronauts rush to their launch vehicle, fleeing a sudden and dangerous storm. Pelted and blinded by the sand storm, one is struck by debris and disappears. The others unable to communicate with their colleague and unable to stay any longer, blast off for Earth.

Later, the abandoned astronaut is snapped back to consciousness. He’s been skewered in the stomach by a sheared-off piece of equipment. Picking himself up, he staggers inside the group’s now-deserted habitation module. Digging with pliers inside his belly, he plucks out pieces of buried shrapnel. Stapling his wound, he realizes he is stranded, alone, on Mars.

So begins the journey of Mark Watney: astronaut, botanist, survivalist and unlikely hero. Adapted from Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian is the story of Watney’s attempt to stay alive long enough to be rescued. A remarkable science fiction story that is grounded in actual science and engineering.

The Martian Electric Rover
The Martian Electric Rover

In the book and movie, Watney is forced on a lengthy journey with the hope of rescue. While the astronaut’s path is fictitious, it takes place on real areas of Mars. Watney’s trek takes him across a wide range of remarkable Martian terrain, from flat plains covered in deposits from Mars’ watery distant past, to rugged highlands preserving some of the most ancient land on the Red Planet.

NASA has unveiled a new edition of its popular Mars Trek web tool. The new edition adds features that take you on fictional astronaut Mark Watney’s daunting 3,200 kilometre journey of survival across the Red Planet from Acidalia Planitia to the large crater Schiaparelli. Waypoints along the route provide you with expert commentary from Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The bookmark’s 2D view provides an excellent overview of the path of Watney’s odyssey and critical points of interest along the way. The bookmark’s 3D view lets you fly along Watney’s path at user-selected speeds, stopping along the way and panning across the remarkable terrain. As you explore, you’ll gain a better understanding of this fascinating terrain, the forces that formed it, and NASA’s plans for continuing exploration in its journey to Mars.

Mars Trek is one of NASA’s planetary mapping and modeling web portals. It makes it easy for mission planners, scientists, students and the public to visualize details on the surface of Mars, as seen with a variety of instruments aboard a number of spacecraft orbiting Mars.

NASA’s Journey to Mars

Moon and Mars Footprint. Credit NASA
Moon and Mars Footprint. Credit NASA

NASA is leading the world on a journey to Mars and the agency released a detailed outline of that plan in its report, “NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration.

“NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “… we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars plan and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. In the coming weeks, I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners, many of whom will be attending the International Astronautical Congress next week.”

The journey to Mars crosses three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth. NASA is managing these challenges by developing and demonstrating capabilities in incremental steps:

  1. Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the International Space Station. From this world-class microgravity laboratory, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep space, long duration missions.
  2. In the Proving Ground, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space—the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions—NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as at Mars.
  3. Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort between NASA and its partners—a global achievement that marks a transition in humanity’s expansion as we go to Mars to seek the potential for sustainable life beyond Earth.
Rovers to Humans. Credit: NASA
Rovers to Humans. Credit: NASA

“NASA’s strategy connects near-term activities and capability development to the journey to Mars and a future with a sustainable human presence in deep space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. “This strategy charts a course toward horizon goals, while delivering near-term benefits, and defining a resilient architecture that can accommodate budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, and evolving partnerships.”

NASA is charting new territory, and we will adapt to new scientific discoveries and new opportunities. Our current efforts are focused on pieces of the architecture that we know are needed. In parallel, we continue to refine an evolving architecture for the capabilities that require further investigation. These efforts will define the next two decades on the journey to Mars.

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