Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up? Maybe you thought about signing up for the one way ticket to inhabit Mars?
The ‘Saturday Read’ this week, ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir, is another ‘suggested read before you see the movie‘. The novel was described by Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post as the book that may have saved NASA and the entire space program.
There are two career narratives here. The first is the author’s story and the path to publication. The second is the fictional story of Mark Watney, his fellow astronauts and the folks at Mission Control.
On the first page we are introduced to astronaut Watney, on Mars.
“Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.”
Our narrator is a member of the third crew NASA sent to Mars.
“Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Commander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. I would only be ‘in command’ of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command.”
Have you ever taken part in one of those team building sessions where you are lost at sea with only ten salvaged items? You have to rank order them and imagine how each will improve your chances for survival. ‘The Martian’ is a natural for a new version of imaginary survival training.
“It was a ridiculous sequence of events that led me to almost dying, and an even more ridiculous sequence that led me to surviving.”
I should mention that these are excerpts from Watney’s log of his time on Mars. For the major portion of the book we follow him as he connects an amazing array of dots to stay alive. This is a book about problem solving and this astronaut makes MacGyver look like an amateur.
For the first 50 pages we are alone with our inventive astronaut as he creates a habitat on an uninhabitable environment.
“So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead…”
Not so fast…enter Mindy Park at SatCon, NASA.
“Masters degree in mechanical engineering…and I’m working in an all night photo booth.”
Mindy finds signs of life in satellite images and soon the world knows Mark Watney has survived. Here’s the problem. He has to endure 1,412 more days before any possible rescue.
This is also a book about leadership, taking risks, personal sacrifice and exhausting all possible resources to accomplish a goal. It has all the elements of a Harvard business case study, but with a sense of humor.
“His earlier attempts at writing pretty much flopped, but “The Martian” took off, partly because it captures Weir’s enthusiasm for science and space exploration.
In 2009, Weir started posting the story chapter by chapter on his personal blog where anyone could read it for free. The early version of his self-published book attracted a lot of science-minded readers, and they offered feedback.
Word of the book spread, and readers started asking for an e-reader copy. So Weir made all the individual chapters available in one file. Some had trouble downloading it though, so Weir put it on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing.
That’s when the floodgates opened. More people downloaded the 99-cent Amazon version than had ever downloaded the free version, Weir said, and readers started leaving positive reviews on Amazon. In just a few months it skyrocketed to the top of Amazon’s best-selling science fiction list.
So a book agent got in touch with Weir. Shortly after that, the publishing company Random House called — it wanted to publish a hardcover.
Four days later, Hollywood called for the movie rights…”
And in case you thought it was just a novel or a movie… Entrepreneur Elon Musk posted a photo on Twitter this week of his Dragon Spacecraft landing on the red planet. Enjoy the ‘Saturday Read’ – ‘The Martian’.