‘The Martian’: A Macgyver-in-Space Ode to Those Who Can Geek

TORONTO—”The Martian” is a man-versus-Mars adventure that pays tribute to those who can geek, with Matt Damon playing Mark Watney, an astronaut-botanist forced to become a kind of space MacGyver after he is stranded on the Red Planet.
Watney is left behind after a storm forces his crew to evacuate Mars, believing him dead. He survives the storm, but he has no way to communicate with his crew or Earth and only a few months’ worth of food to last him the four years that will elapse before the next ship arrives.
Whereas “Gravity,” the Toronto International Film Festival’s blockbuster space movie last year, was a 90-minute scramble for survival—an almost overdose of plot without much else—”The Martian” gives us time to breathe in a landscape where Damon’s character makes the impossible workable by solving one science problem after another.
The adventure works, all the more so with plenty of humor. It would be too easy for a story about being stranded on Mars to veer toward the grim—left alone in a hostile world, abandoned. But that isn’t the case thanks to the dedication of “The Martian” to its source material, a book by the same name that even provided the film’s unusual disco soundtrack.
Like the book, the film is well-steeped in real science, giving it a realism that respects intelligent viewers.Self-published by Andy Weir in 2011, “The Martian” earned rave reviews and was later picked up by Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, with the film rights picked up by Twentieth Century Fox in 2013.
When Weir finally got to see a cut of the film he could barely hold back the tears, he told a press conference hours before the movie’s premiere at TIFF on Sept. 11.
Andy Weir, author of “The Martian,” which was adapted into one of the hottest films at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, talks about the astounding success of his self-published book during a press conference at TIFF on Sept. 11. (WireImage/Getty for TIFF)
“For the first five minutes of the movie I was choked up, just trying not to cry because this is the kind of thing you fantasize about as a writer, something like this happening, but you don’t really believe it will ever actually happen. It’s like when you’re a kid in little league and you’re like, ‘I’m going to be in the World Series,” he said.
For the film’s acclaimed director, Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator”), the screenplay was all the reason he needed to do the film—welcome words to screenwriter Drew Goddard, who said Scott was his favorite director.
Goddard, recounted Damon, described “The Martian” as a love letter to science.
“The Martian” plays at times like a Western, and Scott told reporters of his love for that genre, how he had dreamed of being a cowboy until he was 18, raising concerns from his parents.
“I was brought up on Westerns,” he said.
Scott said he has taken basic themes of Westerns—man against nature or man against the odds—with him in every film he has done.
Matt Damon signs autographs outside the premiere of “The Martian” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
But Damon is not a lone pioneer for the entire film. After connecting his character once again with his friends at NASA back on Earth, “The Martian” reveals the interdependency that humans require but movies rarely acknowledge. Like the book, the film is well-steeped in real science, giving it a realism that respects intelligent viewers.
Damon lands Watney’s often dry humor with aplomb and holds the screen well, given that much of the film is him talking to himself, or recording video journals.
But there are plenty of scenes with the rest of the capable cast, including the NASA crew that includes Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Damon’s crewmates Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Michael Peña.
Sebastian Stan of “Captain America” fame plays a crew member and said he was excited by the realism of the film and the vision it offered.
(L–R) Kate Mara, Matt Damon, and Jessica Chastain pause for a picture prior to a press conference for the cast of “The Martian” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. (WireImage/Getty for TIFF)
“This is a very real film, in my opinion. I mean Mars, and going to Mars is definitely going to happen, I think, in our lifetime,” he said, adding that he was a big fan of NASA and the idea of going to Mars.
“I just love being part of a movie that took place on Earth and then Mars but was also very real and grounded.”
Damon said he felt good about being part of a film like “The Martian.” It’s a movie that expects the best from people, a belief that might be lacking in the world but is sorely needed, he said.
“It’s a really optimistic and hopeful movie, and sometimes that’s our job to put something like that out in the middle of really tough times.”

Check Out These Stellar Pictures of Perseid Meteor Shower

WASHINGTON—People looking for a shooting star to wish upon may have found Wednesday overnight to be a dream come true.
Celestial timing helped people see more of the oldest meteor shower known to Earth, the Perseids, when they peaked 3 a.m. local Thursday, according to astronomers.
That’s “because the moon is almost new and there’s no moonlight to mess with the show,” said NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke. The last time the Perseids (pur-SEE’-uhdz) peaked with little moonlight was 2007.
The weather was good enough and one shooting star a minute, maybe more, was expected, said Cooke.
Clear skies were expected clear for an unusually large section of the United States, said Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters. Much of the East, Midwest and far West will be almost cloudless. But the forecast wasn’t as nice for Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, Utah and Idaho.
The sky show is pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle hitting Earth’s atmosphere at more than 133,000 mph and burning up. The best way to watch is to lie down and look up—no telescopes needed.
Meteor showers just touch people in a special way, said planetary scientist Sheila Kanani of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
“For a lot of people, it’s a make-a-wish kind of mentality,” Kanani said. “There’s something quite romantic about a meteor shower.”.

These Beautiful Artsy NASA Photos Were Buried in the Archives

Browsing through NASA photo archives, one may expect to be impressed, but not necessarily surprised: lots of astronauts in “Michelin Men” suits, the flag on the moon, deep space, a shuttle taking off—that kind of thing. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon quite a few examples of some impressive photography.
Though often capturing visuals that terrestrial photographers can only dream of, old NASA photographs were focused more on documenting the agency’s work than the aesthetics of photography as an art form. But that doesn’t mean many of the images don’t possess an artistic quality.
Check out this selection, where the lighting, composition, and perspective elevated pure depiction to a real aesthetic treat.
Of course, these days astronauts receive training in photography and producing stunning pictures is part of the job. Moreover, there are astronauts like Canadian Chris Hadfield, who published an art book on space photography, and Donald Pettit, who earned himself an interview with TIME last year specifically on the topic of taking pictures in space.
You may notice that several pictures in this selection date back to World War II and may wonder, “Wasn’t NASA established much later?”
That’s right. NASA was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act—in fact, it was exactly 57 years ago, on July 29. But the United States already had an aeronautics agency at the time, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). With the creation of NASA, NACA was dissolved but they both possess the same legacy.

SpaceX pulls off successful mission to ISS, but (barely) misses revolutionary attempt to land booster on ocean barge

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX pulled off another successful launch of supplies to the International Space Station on Saturday, but its revolutionary attempt to land the leftover booster on an ocean barge fared less well.

The company’s billionaire founder Elon Musk said the first-stage of the unmanned Falcon rocket made it to the platform floating a couple hundred miles off Florida’s northeastern coast. But the booster came down too hard and broke apart, he said.

“Close, but no cigar this time,” Musk said via Twitter. He said it bodes well for the future, though.

It was the first time anyone tried anything like this. Musk maintains that recovering and reusing rockets is essential for bringing down launch costs and speeding up operations.

The primary mission for SpaceX was delivering more than 5,000 pounds of supplies ordered up by NASA, including hasty replacements for experiments and equipment lost in the destruction of another company’s cargo ship last fall, as well as extra groceries. Belated Christmas presents were also on board for the six space station astronauts.

“Hurrah! A (hash)Dragon is coming to visit bringing gifts,” Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti said in a tweet from orbit.

Without interfering with the $133 million delivery, Musk had fins for guidance and landing legs installed on the first stage of the rocket, and positioned a modified barge off the coast of Jacksonville. A ship with SpaceX staff watched from a safe 10 miles away as the 14-story booster approached the platform, marked with a giant X.

Musk reported that the platform itself – 300 feet by 100 feet, with wings stretching the width to 170 feet – was fine following the attempted touchdown well before dawn. But he said some of the equipment on deck will need to be replaced. There ended up being no good video of the “landing/impact,” he said in a tweet, noting it was “pitch dark and foggy” out in the ocean.

“Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces,” he said.

Brief TV images from booster cameras, broadcast by NASA, showed water bubbles.

In the weeks preceding the landing test, Musk had estimated there was a 50-50 chance, at best, that the Falcon’s first-stage booster would land vertically on the platform. A pair of attempts last year to bring boosters down vertically on the open ocean went well, but company officials conceded before Saturday’s try that a platform touchdown was considerably more challenging.

Once separated from the upper stage of the rocket Saturday, the main booster re-ignited as planned for the flyback, according to SpaceX. Automatic engine firings maneuvered the booster down toward the autonomous, modified barge. The Air Force maintained the ability, as always, to destroy the booster if it strayed off course.

NASA watched the post-launch drama with keen interest, but its biggest focus was on the Dragon racing toward the space station. The capsule is due to arrive there Monday.

The shipment – the sixth by SpaceX since 2012 – is needed more than usual because of the recent loss of another company’s supply ship.

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff in October, destroying the entire payload and damaging the Virginia launch complex. That rocket is grounded until next year.

This SpaceX delivery was supposed to occur before Christmas, but was delayed by a flawed test-firing of the rocket. Then a problem with the rocket’s steering system cropped up at the last minute during Tuesday’s initial launch attempt.

NASA is paying SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to keep the space station stocked in the wake of the retired shuttle program. The $1.6 billion contract with SpaceX calls for 12 flights; the $1.9 billion contract with Orbital calls for eight. SpaceX also returns items to Earth; Orbital cannot.

Russia and Japan will make their own supply runs this year.

SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, California, also has been contracted by NASA to develop beefed-up Dragons for astronaut rides to the space station, beginning as early as 2017. Boeing also is hard at work on a manned capsule. In the meantime, NASA is paying tens of millions of dollars to Russia for each U.S. astronaut launched aboard the Soyuz spacecraft.