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Andy Weir, born in California in 1972, worked as a software engineer for various companies like Blizzard, Palm, and AOL. In his mid-twenties he had already started writing and had been continuously publishing his works on his website. Having always been a “space nerd” and a devoted hobbyist in subjects like physics, orbital mechanics and the history of manned spaceflight, Weir thought of himself as a writer trapped in a software engineer’s body. The reason was that writing was still more of a hobby for him rather than a source of income back then. As the computer geek with a chronic fear of flying came to the idea to also publish his book THE MARTIAN as instalments on his homepage back in 2009, he was completely unaware of the kind of success the novel would later on enjoy.
OeWF: Mr. Weir, we are very happy that you are taking the time to speak with us!
In September 2015 we took part in the German Aerospace Day in Cologne. Together with specialists from the ESA and the DLR, the Austrian Space Forum presented its „Aouda.X“ spacesuit simulator. The trailer for the movie THE MARSIAN was running throughout the entire day along with the presentation of our colleagues from the ESA, as the visitors there were being informed about possible plant cultivation on Mars. This was such a wonderful and lucky coincidence that we wish to ask you right away:
You like to solve problems. Is this what you have in common with Mark Watney?
Yes, I love problem-solving. It’s a lot of fun. The research and math I did for the book was the most enjoyable part of writing it. The hard part was the actual writing.
OeWF: How much of the real Andy Weir hides behind the character of Mark Watney?
Mark is based on my own personality. Though he’s smarter and braver than I am and he doesn’t have my flaws. I guess he’s what I wish I were like.
OeWF: The closeness to reality and attention to detail in THE MARSIAN has thrilled many. As I was preparing for this interview, I read that you haven’t had any contact to NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) or any other space organisations or enterprises while working on the novel or prior to it. As part of my own research on the topic of missions to Mars, I came upon the Austrian Space Forum and was very thankful for the abundant detailed information and tips I could get from their specialists, such as regarding the construction of a habitat, the handling of probes on Mars or the rescue procedure for an injured person. In addition, the JPL was very helpful with information about the Voyager missions, for example. Based on my experience, Google and Wikipedia are not always sufficient to cover any or particularly the more in-depth subject matter. This is why I find it so remarkable that you never had any contact to space organisations while working on your book. How did you manage to nevertheless create such an excellent depiction of reality that has even impressed specialists in this area and how many specialist books did you have to read?
I did all my research online – I didn’t read any specialist books. However, I’ve been a space dork my whole life. I’ve watched many documentaries and read many nonfiction books on the topic. So I had a pretty strong foundation of knowledge going into it. It’s the same as any other writer, I guess: Write what you know.
OeWF: The NASA invited you to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. What a top-notch opportunity to explore the way NASA actually works. Would you please tell us about this exciting trip?
That was awesome! One of the best weeks of my life. I got four days of VIP tours all over Johnson Space Center. Everyone was really happy to see me and proud to show off their labs. My favourite part was the Mission Control Center. They let me into the MCC itself (not just the visitor observation area) and they let me sit at the CRONUS control station. From there I was allowed to remotely-control a camera mounted to the outside of the International Space Station.
OeWF: All problems that you put in Mark Watney’s path on Mars were devised by you – the problems as well as the solutions. How did you come up with all these ideas? Did, for example, a protection mechanism spring out at you while you were repairing your lawn mower? (This was the picture that came to my mind when I read that Mark had managed to once again destroy the hard-earned ability to communicate with the Earth with his drill. Were there any parallels to your own experiences in it?)
I came up with the problems by just looking at his situation and asking myself “What’s the most likely thing to go wrong now?”. And then I would try to come up with a solution. If I couldn’t find a solution, I’d adjust the problem so that it could be solved, or I’d give Mark some bit of technology or equipment that he can abuse to solve the problem.
As for killing Pathfinder, that was purely for plot purposes. I had to make him lost contact with NASA so he would be on his own again. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to put in the later plotline of the sandstorm on his trip to Schiaparelli.
OeWF: We received the following question for you through our social media channels: Would you have solved Mark’s problem of getting a considerably amount of water differently knowing now that there’s possibly more water on Mars (even aside from the polar regions) than previously thought?
Yes, definitely. We now know that Martian soil has 35 liters of water per cubic meter. That was not known at the time I wrote the book. Knowing that, rather than take the incredible risks of Hydrazine reduction, Mark would have just brought soil into the Hab and heated it up to boil off the water. The water reclaimer would have collected the water vapor in the air (that’s its job) and he would have been in good shape. There would be impurities in the water from the soil, but he could rig up a distillery. It would have been a cool challenge for him.
OeWF: After you completed THE MARSIAN, did you miss the intensive time spent with your protagonists? Did you have an opportunity to enjoy the book’s ending or to potentially miss the book’s reality?
I’d been working on it for three years. So when I finished I was happy to be done. I liked Mark, and I love writing him, but the story had run its course.
OeWF: And here please find another question from your social media channels: One of the very few sequences of the movie I don’t like is when Mark punctures his glove to propel himself onwards. I like the plot in the novel for this section more. For me that was just a little bit too much. How do you feel about this?
The ending in the book is exciting for a reader, but it doesn’t have much excitement in a visual medium. Basically, Beck goes out and gets Mark. Done. So the filmmakers wanted a bit more excitement. They used the glove propellant idea.
I think it’s pretty cool, though it wasn’t scientifically accurate. He wouldn’t run out of air (as many people think). An EVA suit has a 6000psi tank of emergency air to deal with leaks. You absolutely could have a leak that size for that long without a problem. However, the “thrust” you get from it would be tiny. You’d barely get any acceleration at all. He would have gotten more velocity by just kicking off the MAV toward Hermes
OeWF: What are you currently working on? What is your next project?
I’m working on my next book now. It’s about a city on the Moon. It’s another hard sci-fi novel where everything is accurate to real-world physics. I hope to have it out by mid 2017.
OeWF: What are your hopes for the future?
For my personal future: I hope to continue writing sci-fi. I’d also like to write a TV show if possible.
For humanity: I’d like us to colonize the Moon or Mars.
Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Weir!
The interview was conducted by Marlen Raab, OeWF Media Team.
You did not read the book yet or haven’t seen the movie? Order it now at the OeWF Amazaon shop
Book (english): The Martian – A Novel
Ebook (english): The Martian
Blue-Ray (german & english): Der Marsianer – Rettet Mark Watney
Book (german): Der Marsianer: Rettet Mark Watney
Ebook (german) : Der Marsianer: Roman
This article is available in: German
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