“The Martian,” is a what if movie that attempts to show how one man’s ingenuity, wit and spirit enable him to subsist in the harsh environment with only 31 days of supplies.
The film is directed by Ridley Scott, best known for his work directing the “Alien” movies and more recently “Prometheus” a story about deep space exploration in search of humankind’s origins.
Scientists roundly criticized “Prometheus” because of a number of inaccuracies and impossibilities in the movie.
“The Martin” features a star studded cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover.
Central to the movie, is Watney’s ability to grow his own food. So Martian dirt figures prominently in the movie. But would it actually be able to yield crops?
As it turns out, a major study was conducted in the Netherlands a few years ago and discovered that plants would not only grow, but could thrive in the Martian soil just like here on earth. But how could they prove that without actually going to Mars?
Simple, scientists used data from soil samples collected and analyzed by the Mars Viking One lander to simulate the Martian soil. Samples taken from near a volcano in Hawaii was nearly identical in composition. The also tested simulated lunar soil as well. A close match was found in the Arizona desert.
Incidentally, a company called Orbitec sells identical samples to the public for their own experiments. Check out Orbitec’s Web site.
As part of the experiment, scientists planted 14 different plants– carrots, tomatoes, wheat, some common weeds, and four plants that turn atmospheric nitrogen into plant food. As a control measure, they also test poor quality soil found on earth near the Rhine River in Germany.
“The results showed that plants are able to germinate and grow on both Martian and moon soil for a period of 50 days without any addition of nutrients,” according to the study.
Surprisingly, Martian soiled did the best. More than 60 percent of the seeds planted germinated. Lunar soil produced results but yields were poorer.
But the experiment was limited. It was impossible to determine how Mars’ low gravity, and other conditions might affect the plants’ ability to grow. Also unknown is whether heavy metals in the Martian soil might be absorbed by the plants and make vegetables poisonous to humans.
All in all, however, the central premise of “The Martian” is accurate enough to pass muster with ardent science fiction fans.
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