Whether or not the movie “The Martian” will be recognized as Oscar worthy is secondary to the overwhelming brilliance displayed regarding scientific possibilities through space travel which struck close to my heart and offers irrefutable proof that black lives and all others matter.
I took a position at Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc. (MMES) where the propulsion tanks on our space rockets were made. Before Mae C. Jemison came along and was granted a slot as the first black woman in space, it was my hope to get into the space astronaut program Mr. Kenneth Jarmolow, President of that corporation called me into his office one day and noted I might want to rethink this as an astronaut could be stranded in space where his recovery would be difficult or blown up on a mission which could be tragic. This took place several weeks before the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. Welcome to the premise behind “The Martian”. Substituting for his State of the Union remarks, on January 28, 1986 President Ronald Reagan said “I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. . . . they “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
1947 in Roswell, New Mexico paralleled my birth; hence part of my fascination with the great beyond. H2 Cable posits that we may be the offspring of Martian DNA. If true, that’s something the newly disclosed finding of water on Mars can’t wash out or the alleged face on Mars mask.
From the innards of North Carolina came forth Arthur Johnson, one of my sister’s students whose IT genius propelled him to Senior VP of MMES. Ronald McNair an HBCU alum — NC A&T State University graduate made astronaut status on the Challenger Space mission. In the archives of the Oak Ridge National Laboratories is a poster of fifty black scientist who were pivotal in the development of our space program. Watching “The Martian,” displayed before me was the genius of one of them, Dr. Robert Ellerston Shurney.
It was Dr. Shurney, an HBCU graduate of Tennessee State University, whose footprints were all over “The Martian’s” survival for he was in charge of the weightlessness training entered by all Apollo astronauts. Additionally as lead engineer, he developed light weight aluminum tires embroidered with an outer wire mesh which was pivotal to covering long distances on foreign surfaces. His Skylab waste control system allowing a functional space commode was used on the Space Shuttle making long distance manned space flights possible. Could this waste recovery system be the one used by “The Martian” to recapture human feces for fertilizer? Robert E. Shurney also had a hand in the solar shields and so much more from the movie.
“The Martian”—Mark Watney played by Matt Damon as a versatile botanist was priceless. Internal conversations with NASA operatives all over the world displayed the type of critical and creative thinking required to surmount challenges of radiation, propulsion maladies, and the ability to change on the fly like “Iron Man.” And by the way, whatever you do don’t forget your roll of duct tape. The brilliance of the movie’s out of the box thinking is staggering as well as oftentimes funny.
It takes solving at least 17 simultaneous differential equations to launch a shuttle to the moon. Most don’t know what a differential equation is and far too many spurn careers in science, engineering, technology and math with an e for English or communications. How one pulls together this knowledge for survival is the heart of this movie. This alone screams take students in high school and college to see it appreciating the debt of training and knowledge required for mankind’s survival.
We should embrace science not shrink from it out of fear of the unknown or concern about our inability to harness its power. Solutions for improving our way of life will ultimately come from the hands of those willing “ . . . to bravely go where no man has gone before” (Star Trek) surging “To Infinity and Beyond” (Buzz Light Year in “Toy Story”).