Book review – The Martian

Google ChromeScreenSnapz315The next time you find yourself browsing through the airport book store looking for something to occupy your next five hours, I have a recommendation: The Martian by Andy Weir.

Andy was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and lists relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight as some of his hobbies. Clearly, Andy Weir is not your average nerd.

The Martian is a gripping story about astronauts on a manned mission to Mars who are forced by a sandstorm to abort their mission and return to Earth. During the evacuation, one of them is separated from the party and presumed dead. Astronaut Mark Watney awakes to find himself alone on the red planet, with no chance of rescue for another four years, and not enough supplies to get him that far. Think Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

In the face of every problem – and they came fast and furious – Watney first thinks he’s doomed, then conjures up an ingenious solution that buys him another hour or day on the planet. One example involves his need for water. His strategy for creating water is to burn hydrogen in the “Hab” – short for “Habitation, the pressurized tent in which he lives. He uses fuel from the MAV (the vehicle for traveling on the martian surface) as his source of hydrogen.

“The concept is simple, but the execution will be incredibly dangerous.

“Every twenty hours, I’ll have 10 liters of CO2 thanks to the MAV fuel plant. I’ll vent it into the Hab via the highly scientific method of detaching the tank from the MAV landing struts, bringing it into the Hab then opening the valve until it’s empty.

“The oxygenator will turn it into oxygen in its own time.

“Then, I’ll release hydrazine, very slowly, over the iridium catalyst, to turn it into N2 and H2. I’ll direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it.

“As you can see, this plan provides many opportunities for me to die in a fiery explosion.

“Firstly, hydrazine is some serious death. If I make any mistakes, there’ll be nothing left but the ‘Mark Watney Memorial Crater’ where the Hab once stood.

“Presuming I don’t [screw] up the hydrogen, there’s still the matter of burning hydrogen. I’m going to be setting a fire. In the Hab. On purpose.

“If you asked every engineer at NASA when the worst scenario for the Hab was, they’d all answer “fire”. If you asked them what the result would be, they’d answer ‘death by fire’.”

I’ll let you discover for yourself how this complicated and dangerous plan ends.

Remember the iconic scene in the Apollo 13 movie staring Tom Hanks where the NASA mission controllers bring in only the materials and tools available to the astronauts? Using only what is available on the ship they devise a way to conform the available CO2 scrubbers on ship to clean the air. The Martian creates an entire book out of that type of ingenuity and survival urgency.

If you’d enjoy a story that continuously throws life-threatening challenges at a hero who never stops using his whits and his ruthless scientific mastery, this book will make that five hours fly by.

About Mike Lake

Mike is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Evergreen Trading. When not playing jazz trombone he is probably obsessing about writing content that will capture the attention and interest of business people and fellow learning junkies everywhere.

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