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The new movie The Martian, which hits theaters Oct. 2, would seem to have everything going for it. Based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir and directed by Ridley Scott, the film stars Matt Damon as a lone astronaut stranded on Mars. The cast is bursting with big-name talent, and the marketing push includes everything from a futuristic episode of StarTalk to a screening aboard the International Space Station. But will all that be enough to overcome the dismal track record of Mars movies?

GeeksGuide Podcast

“There’s what they call ‘the Mars curse’ in the movie industry,” Weir says in Episode 169 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I think the last time there was a significant commercial success that took place on Mars was Total Recall.”

Notable flops include Mission to Mars, Red Planet, and Last Days on Mars, none of which cracked 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s enough to make Mars seem more dangerous for studios than it is for astronauts. But Weir thinks it’s unfair to group all Mars movies together.

The Martian and John Carter and Mars Needs Moms and Santa Claus vs. The Martians all take place on Mars,” he says. “But those movies are not in any way similar.”

If any story can redeem the red planet, Weir’s tale of man vs. nature might be it. His novel has already been credited by the Washington Post with “saving NASA and the entire space program.” Such heavy praise is something Weir simply laughs off.

“I think that’s a tad overstated,” he says. “I don’t think my book is responsible for saving NASA.”

If anything he thinks The Martian has benefited from renewed public interest in space travel, a trend that’s also boosted recent hits like Gravity and Interstellar.

“I don’t think these movies are driving the public interest in space travel as much as public interest in space travel is driving these movies,” he says. “But either way it’s good.”

Listen to our complete interview with Andy Weir in Episode 169 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Andy Weir on programming Warcraft II:

“Blizzard was one of the most unpleasant jobs I ever had. Most of the people were cool, it’s just that the workload was so intense. … If you were awake, you were at work. Literally. Working 16 hours a day, every day, and on weekends and holidays and everything. … I told the people at Blizzard a month in advance, ‘I’m taking this weekend off, next month.’ And I got a lot of shit for that. … And while I was [away] they called me many, many times with questions and stuff like that. I mean, the product we made was really good, and I’m proud to have been a part of it, but working at Blizzard was just miserable. … Working at any game company in that era—or any startup in that era, and Blizzard was a startup at that time—was miserable. It’s not Blizzard. That’s just how the industry was at the time.”

Andy Weir on writing about NASA:

“Earlier in life I’d worked for a national laboratory—Sandia National Labs, in Livermore—and I’d spent many years working there. I started when I was 15, just basically lab assistant stuff. It’s a large, federally-funded research facility, so I kind of projected that onto NASA. Because I didn’t know anything about NASA itself, but I figured, well, they’re a large, federally-funded research facility, so they’ll probably be similar to Sandia. And it turns out that was right. When I went to NASA and visited them … the director of Johnson Space Center, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, a four-time astronaut, said, ‘For every NASA character, every personality type, every character at NASA that you have in the book, I could point at someone in the real organization and say, “That guy has that exact personality.”‘”

Andy Weir on natural disasters:

“The biggest deviance from reality in the book is the force of the sandstorm. … In reality Mars’s atmosphere is so thin that, while it does get 150 kilometer-per-hour winds, the inertia of that wind, with that super-thin atmosphere, is too little to do anything. … I had this alternate thing that would be completely accurate to physics, but first off, it wasn’t nearly as exciting or interesting, and second off, this is a man vs. nature story, so I wanted nature to get the first punch. I didn’t want it to be based on a mechanical failure. … Long after the book came out, and after they’d already made the movie, I talked to a guy at NASA and he said, ‘Most people don’t know this, but Mars has lightning.’ … And I’m like, ‘Ah, see a lightning strike, that could have been pretty cool.’ Because then it would be nature initiating the problem. But oh well.”

Andy Weir on space travel:

“I think that we should have a long-term goal of having a human population somewhere other than Earth, but I also think the best way to accomplish that is through basic economic activity. In other words, make it so that there’s a profit incentive for being somewhere other than Earth. … I think the only reason we have not already colonized the moon and Mars and stuff is that it’s so expensive to go into space. As the price of putting things in low earth orbit gets pushed down and down by companies like SpaceX, eventually it will reach a point where a common guy like you or me can afford to go into space, and once that happens, then the space travel industry will mirror the commercial air travel industry, and there’ll be a supply-and-demand cycle that sends people further and further out.”

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