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'The Martian' and the Very Nature of Humans
I just watched the trailer for The Martian and am looking forward to seeing this one and reading the book. What really resonated with me was the concept that we as humans will do whatever we can to help someone in need. How many times in the news do we hear of the heroic stories of people entering burning buildings to save someone, or teams of workers combing a vast section of ocean in the hopes that they might find even the slightest hint of a survivor.
As I watched the trailer, I couldn't help but remember the space shuttle Columbia and her ill-fated flight. Seven friends and colleagues, whose fate was sealed shortly after launch, perished when an undetected hole in her left wing allowed the hot gas of re-entry to ultimately lead to catastrophic failure. Many said that even if we had known about the damage, there was nothing that could have been done. I completely disagree. That's not the nature of humans.
On STS-117, my first flight in space, our mission was plagued with everything from a significantly damaged thermal-protection blanket on the exterior of the shuttle, to failing triple redundant computers used to re-boost the space station. The collaborative effort of an unwavering ground team burning the midnight oil and an on-orbit team dealt with each failure one by one -- everything from all but gutting the space station to stapling and stitching the space shuttle back together. Each individual and the entire team did whatever they needed to do to make sure the crew was safe and the mission completed successfully. By some estimates, we were forty eight hours away from abandoning the International Space Station.
As the belly button responsible for doing the stapling and stitching on Atlantis, I can tell you from first-hand experience: When the chips are down, humans have a unique quality to go through whatever heroic efforts they need to help those in distress. I'm a grateful recipient of those heroic efforts. I also know that if we had known then what we know now, we would have done everything in our power to save the crew of Columbia.
I hope that the trailer for The Martian is an accurate representation of the entire film and, rather than another action-packed movie about space, it presents a compelling story about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. That is the very nature of humans.
Think Like an Astronaut™
Astronaut John "Danny" Olivas, Ph.D., P.E.
Astronaut, Mission Assurance Expert, Director of Space Initiatives, Author, Forensic Engineer