The Martian



An international network of antennas, called the NASA Deep Space Network, is used for engineers on earth to communicate with Mars. The network contains three antennas placed 120 degrees apart at Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia. This placement allows constant observation of Mars. [1]

The three antennas are of size 34 meters by 70 meters. These large antennas can send signals strong enough to reach Mars. [2]

The distance between Earth and Mars are between 55 million km and 378 million km, as a result, the round-trip time for communication is between around 3 to 21 minutes. [4] The missions of DSN includes acquiring, processing and decoding the telemetry data transmitted to Earth by spacecrafts. Also, DSN is used to send commands to control the activities of spacecrafts and track the position and velocity of spacecrafts. Moreover, by analyzing the changes in radio signals between transmission and receipt, scientists can get a lot of useful information about places in the solar system. [5]

[1]: (n.d.). Mars Exploration Rover Mission: The Mission - Mars Home - NASA. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

[2]: (n.d.). Size and strength of the DSN antennas - NASA. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

[3]: (n.d.). Deep Space Network - NASA. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

[4]: (n.d.). Communication Delay - Australian Space Academy. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

[5]: (n.d.). DSN Functions - Deep Space Network - NASA. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Mars Rover

Mars Pathfinder

Mars Pathfinder was launched on December 4, 1996 and was landed on July 4, 1997 in Ares Vallis, Mars. It included a base station and a rover called Sojourner. This mission acted as a proof of concept for technologies including “airbag-mediated touchdown” and “automated obstacle avoidance”. And it also demonstrated that it is possible to construct “faster, better and cheaper” spacecraft. (Cost under $150 million/3 years, 1/15 cost of the Viking mission) The Pathfinder operated for 85 days and Sojourner operated for 7 days. The mission was terminated on March 10th, 1998. The lander was equipped with a stereoscopic camera, which was used in the movie by Waltney to communicate with NASA. The pathfinder shown in the movie looks the same as the real one launched. [1]

[1]: (n.d.). Mars Pathfinder - Wikipedia. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Spirit and opportunity

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity and Spirit landed on the opposite sides of Mars in January 2004. The rovers was planned to operate for 90 sols (slightly more than 90 earth days). However, Spirit functioned until 2009 until it got stuck in soft soil and it stopped communicating with Earth on March 22, 2010. Opportunity remains functioning as of today, which has exceeded its original plan by more than 13 years in Earth time. By 2014, Opportunity had covered a total distance of 40.25 km. Opportunity and Spirit are powered by solar arrays. The mission includes investigating rock and soil samples, taking panoramic photos, and traveling to and investigating other crater sites. [1][2]

[1]: (n.d.). Autonomous navigation - NASA. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

[2]: (n.d.). Opportunity (rover) - Wikipedia. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from


Curiosity was launched on November 26, 2011 and arrived on Mars on August 6, 2012. The main goal was to determine “whether Mars could ever have supported life”. It also tasked to “determine the role of water, and to study the climate and geology of Mars”, as well as to “help prepare for human exploration”. Curiosity has been on Mars for 1679 soles (1725 earth days) until April 27th, 2017. [1][2]

[1]: (n.d.). Curiosity (rover) - Wikipedia. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Autonomous Navigation System on Mars Rovers

The autonomous navigation system has been improved from Sojourner to Spirit and Opportunity. Sojourner’s onboard safety system looked for around 20 points for each pair of images taken to determine the obstacles, however, Spirit and Opportunity measure more than 16,000 points. Also, the speed for Spirit and Opportunity is around 34 meters/hour, which is 10 times the speed of Sojourner. Visual odometry software system was also implemented on Spirit and Opportunity, which will give the rovers a better estimation on how far they have traveled. The Spirit and Opportunity gets commands on where they should end up. Then, the stereo images are analyzed to identify obstacles and determine the shortest and safest path toward the goal. Then, the rovers move 0.5 to 2 meters closer to the goal and repeat the whole process. [1]

[1]: (n.d.). Autonomous navigation - NASA. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Mars Habitat

Six U.S. companies have been selected by NASA to prototyping the deep space habitats that can be used on Mars. The goal for the habitat is to allow humans to live and work independently for months or years at a time, without supply delivered from Earth. 24 months will be given to these companies to develop ground prototypes and conduct researches. The ground prototypes will be used for “supporting integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing, and to help define overall system functionality”. [1]

[1]: (n.d.). NASA Selects Six Companies to Develop Habitat Prototypes .... Retrieved April 27, 2017, from

Gravity Assist

Gravity assist refers to the use of the gravity of a planet to alter the speed and path of a spacecraft. In The Martian, the crew of the Hermes secretly receive plans on how to maneuver in order to conduct a gravity assist and basically slingshot towards Mars. This technique was used by Voyager 2 to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. This maneuver is planned well in advance by NASA scientists who use gravity assists to change the spacecraft’s speed and direction with little need to use up more fuel. In the movie, this maneuver was delivered to NASA by way of their jet propulsion lab.


The Hermes spacecraft is used to taxi individual Ares spacecraft missions to and from Mars. The Hermes is based off of the design of the International Space Station with the addition of a rotating gravity drum which provides the crew with a small space to walk around while generating enough artificial gravity to protect them from the long-term effects of weightlessness. The Hermes was built to last through all five Ares missions, which is part of the reason the crew decided to take it back to Mars and rescue Mark Watney.

Camera Log

Throughout the Movie, much is recorded through the video cameras spread throughout the HAB including one attached to Watney’s terminal where he records his findings and journals his thoughts and ideas. The Cameras do not seem to stream over any type of network, but are stored locally on the HAB computers. These camera logs use computer video cameras as well programs to keep track of time in terms of SOLs (Earth Days), as well sensors to measure pressure, oxygen levels and temperature.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Pasadena California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center with NASA. JPL carries out robotic space and Earth science missions and was the developer behind NASA’s Deep Space Network. In The Martian, Astrodynamics Scientist, Rich Purnell, was put up to the task of calculating a flight path for the Mars resupply mission. However, thanks to the use of JPL’s supercomputer, Pleiades, Rich ends up working out that it would be easier for the Hermes to use Earth to conduct a gravity assist in order to accelerate and change course back towards Mars.


Computer Reliability

Computer Reliability is critical to The Martian as the stakes of potential failure are incredibly high. If there were failure on the flight over or back from Mars, a year long journey, the crew would most likely die. Furthermore, if any of the computers such as though in the space suits, or those in the Habitat, the crew would again be at risk of death.

Watney says himself “I have no way to contact NASA. And even if I could, it’s gonna be four years until a manned mission can reach me. And I’m in a Hab designed to last 31 days. If the oxygenator breaks, I’m gonna suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’m just gonna, kind of implode.” Since many if not all of these are controlled by computers, computer reliability is essential for Watney’s survival. If such technologies were not properly tested, and they were not reliable Watney would not have survived his journey back home to Earth.

Information Privacy

Information Privacy appears in The Martian primarily through NASA’s choice not to tell the crew aboard Ares III of Watney’s survival and their reluctance to allow images of Mars taken to be made public.

When Watney is assumed dead, NASA chooses not to take images of the surface with fear that they would discover Watney’s dead body. Since NASA is required to release to the public any images taken after 72 hours, it would not be in NASA’s best interest to take such images with fear that future funding would be discouraged by the public after the disaster.

Additionally, knowledge of Watney’s survival is initially kept from the Ares III crew in with intention to help them focus on their journey back to Earth. When Watney discovers this he is outraged, feeling that the crew has the right to such information.

This brings up an interesting topic, what is more important? The potential safety of the crew, or the crew’s right to knowledge of Watney’s survival. If the opinions were switched and Watney wished to keep the knowledge of his survival private, the debate would be more clear cut, since it would only involve Watney’s right to his privacy. But since Watney wishes to make this information public, it begs the question whether a person’s right to privacy implies their right to publicize their information.

Privacy and the Government

Privacy and the Government is a major theme present throughout The Martian. The actors participating in this movie are: the government, mostly represented by NASA administrators, the crew of the Hermes, astronaut Mark Watney, and the scientists working at NASA, and the public in general. The Chinese government also plays a minor role in the presentation of this topic through their own space agency.

NASA’s desire to control what who knows what and how they learn about their Mars disaster as it unfolds is evident throughout the movie. Beginning with one of the characters beside NASA’s director at all times, Annie Montrose, the public relations director. She takes lead determining who makes statements about their mission updates and what they say in particular or how they present the information.

NASA also controlled the flow of information to and from Mark Watney and to and from the Hermes crew. This became a point of frustration as Mark Watney verbally lashed out at NASA for not telling the Hermes crew he was alive as soon as they knew.

The Chinese space agency is presented with an opportunity: allow NASA to embarrass themselves internationally with a failed Mars mission and a dead astronaut or offer NASA one of their booster’s to get a resupply vessel to the Hermes. While they eventually chose to help out NASA, had they let NASA figure things out for themselves, nobody would have known of their decision or their ability to provide this rocket. This exemplifies how space exploration should be a human endeavor shared by all humanity, as its successes as failures will impact the entire world. We see this even today as the Chinese and European space agencies begin to talk about the potential to build a Moon outpost and other join operations.

Computer and Network Security

Computer Network Security is essential to the proper communications between Earth and the astronauts, both on Ares III and with Watney on Mars. Three main aspects of security are maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and availability. If an attacker were able to compromise the security of communications between NASA and the astronauts, the results could be disastrous.

First, if an attacker were able to make the communications unavailable, the crew may miss key messages from the base or Watney may never have been able to communicate with Earth leading most likely to his death on Mars.

Second, if the integrity of the messages were compromised and messages were altered through a man in the middle attack, an attacker could mislead the crew or Watney into doing something that may kill them.

Finally, if the confidentiality were compromised it may have serious implications with the privacy of the crew and could cause many issues for NASA and the government. For example, if information that was meant to stay secret from foreign nations were leaked from the network communications that may be an issue for the United States.

Timeline in Martian



At the beginning of the film, because of the storm, commander Melissa Lewis was forced to decide to leave Mark Watney behind, and no one questioned that seems unethical decision. However, there are two concerns behind this decision. The first one is Mark Watney was detected as no vital sign from the Spacecraft. The other concern is that, because of the approaching devastating storm, if the rest of crew stay there and wait for Mark, it may lead to losing more of the team.

Besides, as for the most disputable topic in this movie, whether save Watney or not, is another question related to ethics. Spending hundreds billions dollars to save a single life seems not worth to a bunch of the public who hold the idea that the money spending on saving Watney can save a much larger number of person need help. However, bring an astronaut who is in dangerous situation back home have immeasurable value in not only ethical side but also financial side. We will discuss more details in the conclusion section.





Yudi Wang, Mengwen Li


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Yudi Wang, Mengwen Li, Jordan Feeley


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  • Jordan: Timeline + Movie Intent
  • Yudi: Conclusion + Ethics
  • Matt: Camera Log, Info Privacy, Computer Reliability, Computer Security
  • Henric: Privacy and the Government, Gravity Assist, Space Craft, NASA
  • Mengwen: Communication, Mars Rover, Mars Habitat, Conclusion