Tag Archives: Space Exploration

Review: The Martian

The Martian

The Martian
By Andy Weir
(Crown, Hardcover, 9780804139021, February 2014, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

After being left for dead, an astronaut battles failed equipment and a dwindling food supply in what appears to be a hopeless situation.

The Rest of It:

This is a novel with a super simple premise and yet, there is so much to ponder. Mark Watney is like the MacGyver of space. His area of specialty is botany and mechanical engineering, which helps with the food situation as he’s able to cultivate potatoes out of basically, very little. Getting the soil just right and taking into account the limited water and oxygen supply, it’s a challenge to say the least. As a reader, you can’t help but marvel at his resourcefulness.

His crew left him behind because of a fatal tear to his suit during a rather severe windstorm, but when he patches himself up and somehow figures out a way to communicate with NASA, his crew, residing offsite over 400 days away, learn of his existence. As you can imagine, this has all sorts of consequences to their original mission. One, leaving a crew mate behind was never what they had planned to do and the regret over the decision weighs heavily with them. Two, they quickly decide, with the help of NASA that they must go back for Watney. This forces NASA  to come up with a way to extend his lifespan and therefore increase his chances for survival.

While all of this is going on, Watney has to figure out ways to keep himself busy. Days and nights are spent watching TV shows from the past (yes, he has access to shows) or listening to the Disco music collection left behind by another crew member. He also spends hours figuring out how to turn vapor into drinkable water and well, blowing himself up. A chemist, he is not.

There is a lot of humor contained between these pages but there is also a serious amount of math. Not a problem if you can read over it and not feel the need to work stuff out in your head. But for much of the book, especially the first 60 pages or so, I found myself double-checking the numbers to see if the numbers matched up. At one point, I got on Facebook and asked other readers if the entire book was that way. Thankfully, no but you should be aware of it in case you are a math hater and cannot deal with numbers.

I love science and there is just something magical about space exploration and Watney is an interesting character. He’s vulnerable, yet tough. Positive, yet realistic. As a reader, you will find yourself totally absorbed by the rescue mission itself. Can he endure a year of waiting? Will the equipment hold up? Will there be enough food? Water? Will he freeze to death? These are the questions that you will ask yourself over and over again because with each step forward, there is one step back and it’s heartbreaking to see that forward/back thing when it happens.

It’s a good book to get lost in. I mean, you really feel as if you are out there stranded with Watney and that’s saying a lot. Last I read, Ridley Scott was in negotiations to direct Matt Damon in the movie version. I love Scott and Damon. That is a winning combination to me but how will it differ from Gravity? The isolation and the fight to survive and return home won’t be new. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Have you read The Martian? Will you see the movie?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Astronaut Wives Club – A True Story

The Astronaut Wives Club

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story
By Lily Koppel
(Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 9781455503254, June 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

A behind the scenes, not so pleasant look at the women behind the Mercury Seven astronauts. Makes for a good beach read as it was pretty hard to put down.

The Rest of It:

Oh! These women! I had no idea what they went through. They were so perfect on the outside, almost Stepford-like, and yet they dealt with some seriously tough issues. On top of the everyday stress of being an astronaut’s wife, they also had to adhere to a certain standard, one that required them to dress and talk a certain way, not to mention LIVE a certain way. Their housing was pretty much determined for them, and yes, they received some perks for being part of the space program, but the really big decisions were not made by the families themselves.

Together, these women forge a bond with each other. They share a lot of the same concerns so naturally, they spend a lot of time together and in essence, become one big family. But the infidelity of many of the astronauts was a surprise to me. Many of these men kept women on the side and their wives were well aware of it, but not really able to do much about it since broken homes were considered a weakness for any astronaut being considered for flight.

LIFE cover

This bothered me. I am not a fan of women that allow men to treat them poorly and keeping a “Suzie” on the side would have sent me over the edge had it been happening to me, but at the same time, it’s almost as if these women knew what they were signing up for when they married these men. They didn’t like the fact that their husbands were cheating on them, but they considered it par for the course and put up with it.

The promise of new clothes, nice homes and strategic magazine covers seemed to appease them, until their husbands are in space and their return becomes uncertain. Then, the resentment sets in as well as the worry. What will happen to them if their husbands die on a mission? Will they be able to stay in the same home? Will they be forced to move out of the area? Insurance policies are always up-to-date when you are married to an astronaut but these women had children to consider as well and as it turns out, some of these men did die, mostly from experiments on the ground.

Mercury Seven
Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper; front row: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, Carpenter in 1960. Photo credit: Wikipedia

The tragic nature of their stories is somewhat tamped down by their royalty status. Hanging out with Jackie Kennedy one minute and trading potluck recipes the next. Plus, the media was fascinated with them and could not get enough of them on camera. Entire homes were built without front windows just to give these women a false sense of privacy. But although they tried their hardest to maintain celebrity status, some days they just weren’t feeling it and that is why the Astronaut Wives Club was formed. It gave them all a chance to let loose and be themselves.

I really enjoyed this book but I felt like a total voyeur peeking into their lives like this. Plus, the politics of flight, who steps foot on the moon first, what comes out of their mouths as the whole world is watching…plays a huge role too. The images of these men and women were played up to make them look really good to the public but as with any marriage, they had their troubles too. And as new missions come-up, so do new astronauts and their new wives. The original seven quickly realize just how short-lived their fame is. It’s a little sad but I’m glad that they women had each other for support.

This is one of those books that you can’t put down. Especially if you are at all fascinated with how celebrities live. I also have a thing for that time period (late 50’s, early 60’s) so I found the combination irresistible. Oh, and did I mention that the TV series based on the book is expected to hit your living room this summer?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.