Matt Damon plays Mark Watney the lone survivor of an accident that leaves him stranded on Mars Realizing he needs food he turns one part of a habitat into a potato farm The movie has a strong science basis Photo 20th Century Fox

Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, the lone survivor of an accident that leaves him stranded on Mars. Realizing he needs food, he turns one part of a habitat into a potato farm. The movie has a strong science basis. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Ag science, The Martian and more

I love science. The purity of it. The joy of discovery. The very "star stuff" of existence is fascinating (and yes I stole "star stuff" from Dr. Carl Sagan) to me. That's why I enjoy covering technology here at Farm Industry News, and why I'm excited to see the movie The Martian.

I have not seen the movie, but from what I've seen and read I believe it closely follows the book. I read the book several months ago after being turned onto it by my God son who knew I'd enjoy the hard-science focus of this future fiction tome. In 50 years of reading science fiction, it ranks near the top of some of the best I've read including the works of Clarke, Asimov, Van Vogt (no relation) and Gibson.

But what excites me most is that this is a very scientific movie for a big general audience. Sure there's some dramatic license - which the author has owned up to in recent interviews - yet a lot of what happens in the book and movie are based on science. As you can see from the image I got from 20th Century Fox, the surprise survivor of an accident on Mars, Mark Watney, has become a farmer. In the book, he goes through the complex calculations of the calories he'll need to survive until a rescue mission can get back to him, and he starts making soil (I will spare you those details) and planting potatoes.

Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, the lone survivor of an accident that leaves him stranded on Mars. Realizing he needs food, he turns one part of a habitat into a potato farm. The movie has a strong science basis. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Interestingly, our friends at the Crop Science Society of America issued a release this week asking if Watney could survive on potatoes alone. And yes, he could provided he could make up for some nutrients not included, though potatoes are nutrient rich. The CSSA suggests that Watney would be better off if he could have had pulses along for the ride and planted those. In the release, Roch Gaussoin, professor, University of Nebraska, notes that "spuds are great for calories but it's hard to beat Pulses for nutritional quality."

Gaussoin notes that both plants would carry well into space and require minimal space to grow compared to other crops. And both are capable of "controlled environment" production, which helps. Gaussoin recommends Pinto beans, as a "perfect partner" for Watney's potatoes. You should also note that the United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

Lately, as someone who has to dabble in social media as part of my job, I get frustrated by the anti- and pseudo-science that graces pixels of Facebook and Twitter. A recent story on organic and non-organic crop protection chemicals offered some great details that would surprise a lot of people. Yet someone on Twitter then had to respond that the author left our synthetic fertilizers and that recently the person had eaten some conventional carrots that tasted "nitrogeny." WHAT!!!!???

So seeing a movie that so carefully shows science at work might surprise some. Others will say that it's all make believe. Some will say this is the tech they used to convince us we really went to the moon. I don't know what's worse ignorance of science which may be innocent, though often harmful; or willful twisting of facts for a specific marketing purpose - like GMO-free salt (which is a mineral and cannot be genetically modified, it has no genes).

Let's enjoy some science, as entertainment for once, and see The Martian. I think you'll enjoy the humor too. And keep in mind that science still really matters.

Hide comments

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Publish