Some time ago I read a novel by Andy Weir called “The Martian” and wow, I haven’t read such an enjoyable and engaging story in a long time – and I read a lot of books. In this story one member of a 6 person crew exploring Mars is left behind through a series of circumstances where the other crew members thought he had died. Well, he did not die but he was stranded on the planet by himself with no hope of rescue unless he could survive for the next few years until the next crewed mission to Mars arrives. Part of his survival involved being able to traverse nearly 3000 km of Martian terrain to where the next mission would be landing.
The book is written as if you are reading the near daily journal written by the main character Mark Whatney. The journal entries follows his adventures and misadventures as he struggles with coping with the extreme Martian environment, loneliness, Disco music, 70’s TV shows, and various mechanical mishaps. Fortunately Mark is a mechanical engineer and a botanist, and with that sort of background he is able to jury-rig equipment to suit his needs and also to grow the first crops on Mars. There is much humor in the story due to Mark’s personality, as well as some use of the ‘F’ word, but, WTF, nothing that is out of the ordinary given the prevalent use of the word nowadays.
From a classroom perspective I could see this book being read by students (High School or above) and having the students use a topographic map of Mars to follow the story and perhaps learn something about the geology of the ‘Red Planet’.
Click here to download a topographic map of Mars from the USGS web site.
On a related literary note click here to download and read one of my Scope on the Skies columns which in part describes a ‘road trip’ on Mars.
Here is a PDF version of the ‘Mars road trip’ idea that I expanded into a classroom activity from a recent workshop. Red Planet Road Trip
Use this link to go to the NASA Mars Trek web site. At this website you use a map of Mars and use images and data from several lander, rover, and orbiter missions to explore Mars.
Use this link to go to the NASA Mars Education web site by Arizona State University to downlaod a fun and very educational board game about mission planning for a trip to Mars called Mars Bound.
Here is a NASA web site about the future of Mars exploration: Journey to Mars There is a lot of good information about Mars that would serve well as resource information to use before or after reading the book or watching the movie.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.