The Martian is an upcoming science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir. The premise is that during a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
While the film and book are, of course, fiction, NASA is hard at work trying to find a suitable location where humans could land, live and work on Mars. To that end scientists worldwide have been invitedto participate in the First Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars. The workshop will be held October 27 to 30, 2015, three weeks after the film’s release, at the Lunar Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, TX. NASA hopes it will start the process for choosing sites on Mars that its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey spacecraft along with any future missions over the coming decades could then further image to create better maps and provide valuable scientific data of potential Exploration Zones (EZ). The life expectancy of the existing MRO and Odyssey spacecraft being limited, NASA is eager to take advantage of the remaining operational years of those Martian imagers to gather high resolution maps of potential exploration zones while the spacecraft, already well beyond their design lifetime, are still operational.
Given current mission concepts, an Exploration Zone is a collection of Regions of Interest (ROIs) that are located within approximately 100 kilometers of a centralized landing site (see illustration above). ROIs are areas that are relevant for scientific investigation and/or development/maturation of capabilities and resources necessary for a sustainable human presence. The EZ also contains a landing site and a habitation site that will be used by multiple human crews during missions to explore and utilize the ROIs within the EZ. Potential Exploration Zones will need to offer compelling science research while also providing resources that astronauts can take advantage of during their pioneering of the Red Planet. First explorers are expected to be limited to about 60 miles (100 km) of travel from their landing site due to life support and exploration technology requirements.
The knowledge and capabilities that will be needed to send humans to Mars is being built: spacecraft are monitoring Mars from orbit, rovers are on the surface, the International Space Station is being used to test systems and to learn more about the health impacts of extended space travel, and NASA is developing development and testing the next generation of launch and crew vehicles, including the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crewed spacecraft.