Interview with Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN, on SFSignal.com
My interview with Andy Weir, author of the bestseller THE MARTIAN, is live on the two-time Hugo award winning SFSignal.com.
LARRY: In the Ares 3 mission team in THE MARTIAN, you have a Commander, Pilot, Doctor and three “mission specialists” (to use the NASA term). Could any of the others have coped with being stranded better than Watney?
ANDY WEIR: Excellent question. I’ve actually put some thought in to that. I think most of them would have died under the circumstances, with the exception of Johanssen. Johanssen is a software engineer and electrical engineer. She would probably know how to fix the communication system and get back in contact with NASA right away. So she would have had all of NASA to come up with ideas to keep her alive.
LARRY: Agreed, but without the botany skills, it would have been a race between how long it would take her to get comms back online versus when she started to run out of food. One of my favorite employees came to me one day and said she’d been offered her dream job and could no longer work for me. I told her I could outbid them, but she said it was working in video/images/audio for NASA. I cried and asked her to hire me in the future. In recompense, she sometimes regales me of astronaut stories (and has shown me the refrigerated vault where the original Mercury, Gemini and Apollo films were kept before they were translated to digital!). One astronaut story was of an ISS astronaut who would put signs in front of the cameras (which the world could see eventually, via the Freedom of Information Act, as you use in your book) some that would say “Please make up room.” Astronauts are smart asses. So is your Mark Watney. What research did you do for his character? Who did you speak with?
ANDY WEIR: I didn’t do any research at all on astronaut personalities. I had no contacts at NASA or JPL before the book came out. I made his personality up for the story.
At the time, I figured it was unrealistic. I assumed real astronauts were much more serious and professional. But after the book came out, I got emails from NASA personnel and actual astronauts saying the personalities of Mark and the other Ares 3 astronauts were very plausible. So I guess I stumbled in to that one with luck.
LARRY: The type of hobbyist passion for space one has to have to make a simulator to make sure orbital dynamics are correct seems to be making a resurgence. That passion and enthusiasm may head toward the levels it hit during the space race days (which I enjoyed experiencing while my Dad was chasing Apollo rocket stages in the South Atlantic working for RCA) which spawned many industries and general interest from citizens. Then most of the world and most Americans went into a lull, with only events/accidents similar to what you portray in your book (Apollo 13, the Space Shuttle tragedies) re-kindling any interest. Now with SpaceX, Planetary Resources and other companies in the news, and with other countries pushing themselves into space, interest seems to be flaring up again. THE MARTIAN and books like it could be nice fuel for this, since your book is ‘near-future’, describing technology that is mostly in-hand and could be used. As an enthusiast, what levers and buttons do you think need to be pushed to get Americans and the world excited about the need for space travel, and a Mars landing in particular?
ANDY WEIR: I’m not sure how to get Americans excited over the prospect. The truth of the matter is that there is no profit motive for going in to space, so it’s hard to justify spending the tens of billions a manned mission to Mars would cost. Though there is one thing we Americans have a history of valuing over money, and that’s national pride.
The Chinese are working on their space program and have a manned Moon landing planned for the 2020s or 2030s. If they see that through, you may see Americans start to demand a better space program.
Read the entire interview at SGSignal.