Hmmmm So NASA finds that water exists on Mars the exact same week The Martian comes out? A movie mind you that features NASA very prominently. Coincidence, I THINK NOT But hey, that’s just a theory … (Film Theory Intro Music) Hellooo internet Welcome to Film Theory where today’s episode promises to be crappier than usual but thats got nothing to do with the relative lameness of the puns we are using today, it’s because we’re talking about The Martian and no, that’s no judgement on the movie. It’s just full of poop! Poop science! Poop science that we’re gonna pick through to find the truth, then flush and wash our hands since that’s the sanitary way to go. So what are all these rectal ramblings about? Well the film is all about an astronaut named Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, who gets severely injured His team believes him to be dead and to save themselves evacuate the planet, escaping the storm and returning to Earth, as you do. brill loves it Fun fact! This is one of the most scientifically inaccurate parts of the movie. You see, the martian atmosphere is only about 1% the thickness of Earth’s, meaning that it’s winds would pack much less of a punch. The worst, the absolute worst storms on Mars, the type that only occur once every five years or so wouldn’t be enough to register as a Category 1 hurricane. That might be enough to knock you over if, I don’t know, you’re not paying attention, but it surely isn’t enough to tip rockets over or rip satellite dishes off of buildings and impale them into unsuspecting Matt Damons. But hey, it’s just a setup, a movie setup! We’ll let it slide. Anyway, the not so shocking twist of these first five minutes, since the movie just started and Matt Damon’s face is all you see in the movie’s marketing, is that surprise surprise … He’s not dead. BUM BUM BUM! Which means Watney is stranded, alone on the red planet and must figure out how to survive until NASA can figure out a way to bring him home. And while that may be easy in your Star Trek, Firefly or Battlestar universes, this is had sci-fi which adheres pretty true to life, meaning the trip is gonna take a lot of time, so how can Watney last for over a year on a planet without air or food? Well, let me tell you on the other side of the Spoiler Warning. Now, I won’t be ruining the ending of the film, or really anything major. but will be talking about several of the more sciencey story points. If you don’t want that kind of thing spoiled, pause this video and go watch the movie, or better yet read the book! Or better better yet, listen to the audio book. (whispers) Is audible sponsoring this episode? No? That was the last one huh? Man, probably could have planned that better … Anyway, Watney isn’t just any astronaut. I’m a botanist. Which means he has the POWER OF PLANTS at his side. It’s convenient right? Outside of rationing out the remaining food from the rest of the crew, he figures out a way to get the nutrients and water necessary to grow plants in the martian soil, and not just any plant. Potatoes! And this is what I wanna focus on today. The science around growing and living off of potatoes on Mars. because seriously, there is no way this can work in real life, right? I mean, I was sitting there, in the theater, watching these scenes and thinking to myself … OOH man I can’t wait to rip into these with some real facts. So alright, here’s my chance, let’s break it down. First things first, living off of nothing but spuds and a small ration for over 400 days. It seemed absurd, but believe it or not, you can survive off of nothing but potatoes. Sam Gamgee once pointed out that the potato is a very versatile food. You can boil ’em, mash ’em, and even stick ’em in a stew, but even he would be surprised to find that it goes way beyond that. Potatoes are actually pretty high in almost everything the human body needs to survive, save for Vitamins A, B-12 and E as well as calcium. In fact, a man named Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission … Because potatoes have rights too damn it! (eagle screams) Went through 60 days of eating nothing but potatoes just to prove that it was possible. And oh yea, it was possible, but as his blog entries show, you’re not gonna enjoy yourself. You should read these things. By day 3, it’s obvious he’s already starting to kick himself. “I finished day 3 last night. I have to admit, it has finally sunk in that I’ll be eating just potatoes for 57 more days.” Oh yea you will buddy. And the deeper and deeper you go, the more desperate it becomes. Here’s the rub though, he was eating 20 potatoes a day! Some mornings for breakfast he was eating between 2 and 4 pounds of hash browns. Watney, at his leanest, is doing a single potato a day. It doesn’t seem like enough, right? And honestly, it isn’t. A medium potato is giving your body about 163 calories, when a man like Watney needs around 2000. But it’s not as bad as it might seem. Remember, Watney is on Mars, where the gravity is 1/3 of what it is on Earth, so while he’s still doing a ton of work each day in his efforts to survive, he’s having to spend much less energy to do that work. Add to that the small amount of rations he’s allowed to eat and the fact that his fellow teammates left behind pills, most likely including some vitamin supplements, and it’s not hard to believe that he could survive on this diet. Long story short, can a man live on bread alone? Yea, for about 6 months, then he dies of scurvy. Can a man live on potatoes alone? Surprisingly yes, better than bread. As long as you give him the occasional Flintstones Chew-able, he’s good to go. So alright, round 1 goes to The Martian. I tip my cap to you movie, but we’re not done yet. What about actually growing the potatoes in martian soil? Well, the first issue would be Mar’s distance from the Sun. The planet is 1 and a half times further from the sun than Earth, and gets 60 percent of the light, so plants would grow much slower as a result, but the bigger issue here would be the nutritional deficiencies in the soil. Unlike Earth, where bacteria fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere making the soil much more conducive to plant life, Mars doesn’t have that benefit, but low and behold, the uncontested best botanist on Mars has a solution for that problem too. Poop. To help fertilize the soil he gets from the surface of Mars, Matt Damon uses his own feces as manure. He even goes out to the back of the structure he’s staying in and reclaims all of the feces his crew mates left before they evacuated. HAHAHA! Evacuated! Probably more accurate to say, after they evacuated, before they evacuated. But OK, seeing this I was skeptical. If this is really such a good idea, why don’t we use our bum brownies as manure here on Earth? Well, surprise surprise, we do. Now tell me, are you grossed out to know that someone else’s excrement has been all up in that carrot you currently have stuck in your mouth? By the way, good on you for being healthy, and that loyal theorists is why you wash your food. In fact, using human feces like this started thousands of years ago, and was called night soil because the feces was collected at night from cess pools and outhouses to be used during the day as fertilizer. Now a days, it has the much more scientific and hygienic name biosolids. In fact, as of 2013, 55% of U.S. sewage solids, a.k.a your butt butter, was turned into fertilizer, and farmers want more! These people are making money off of your poop! And you’re not seeing a cent of that! I mean at least YouTube gives us a 55 / 45 split when they sell the crap that we produce! (buh dum cha!) All right that said, in all seriousness, Matt Damon would have faced yet another problem with this. See, bio-solids are heavily treated human feces. The raw stuff is rarely used as manure because every human carries pathogens, things that make you sick. Think viruses, bacteria, parasites, Adam Sandler films. Humans are immune to their own pathogens, but the pathogens of others can be very dangerous, and this isn’t just a case of being careful while handling someone else’s poop, if pathogens exist in the soil that a plant is growing in, they can be transferred into the plants, so using his crew mates’ excrement would have been disastrous for Matt Damon had space not once again saved the day. Watney is on Mars, meaning that the feces left behind by his crewmates was freeze dried and then exposed to the near vacuum and subfreezing temperatures of Mar’s atmosphere. As a result, the pathogens would have been killed, and Watney would be just fine. In the words of Jeff Goldblum “Life uhh finds a way.” So in this episode, I’m batting 0 for 2. The science around our turd tubers our poop potatoes, stacks up, Almost 100%. Notice though that I said almost, and that’s because there’s still one fatal flaw here. A flaw that I can’t really blame the author of the book for not addressing since this fact was discovered after he had already written the story. You see loyal theorists, in May of 2008 the Phoenix Mars Lander performed the very first ever wet chemical analysis of the dirt on the surface of Mars, and found that roughly 0.6% of martian soil is made up of perchlorates. Don’t worry, you’re not supposed to know what that is. In fact, NASA when they found it even had to look it up. Perchlorates are basically salts that are capable of disrupting the body’s metabolic systems. They interfere with our ability to absorb iodine, messing with the production of thyroid hormones and potentially throwing off mood, appetite, temperature, sleep and more. Messing with hormones, never a good thing. I mean perchlorates are used in some rocket propellants, so you know, maybe not the healthiest thing for humans to be consuming in large quantities. In fact, it’s also the reason we recently found liquid water in the subzero temperatures of the martian surface, like we mentioned at the top of the episode. You know how salt water requires colder temperatures to freeze? Well, the same principle holds here. Perchlorates are the salt, acting as a sort of antifreeze, and lowering the freezing point of water. Hence, liquid water on Mars, but this is why it matters in the context of The Martian. Long term exposure can result in much higher chances of developing thyroid cancer, and though 0.6% might not seem like a lot, it’s well above Earth levels, and far beyond FDA regulated amounts. Which means, I win right? I found my scientific loop hole. Matt Damon would have died wouldn’t he? Or at the very least would have been at risk for some long term health defects, right? Well, to determine that we need to first figure out how much martian dirt Mark would be inhaling, and see if he reaches toxic levels. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a typical human between the ages of 1 and 20 consumes 100 mg of dirt a day. MM MM MM MM MMM For Watney on Mars, with 0.6% of that being perchlorate, that’s 0.6 mg of perchlorate a day, and since the potatoes are planted in the stuff, they’ll absorb a bit from there too, so he’ll consume say rounding this out to aggressively 1 mg of perchlorate per day. Multiply that by the 500 or so days he’s consuming the stuff, and honestly he’s still in the clear. According to the agency for toxic substances and disease registry, tests were done on healthy volunteers who took 35 mg of perchlorate every day for 14 days and 3 mg a day for 6 months. Both groups, absolutely fine and by our calculations, worst case scenario, Watney would be consuming one third of that amount for three times the amount of time, so presumably he would be ok, and that extrapolation of the data is supported by longitudinal research. Long term studies looking at similar levels of exposure over the course of years, showed similar results. No effect. In other words, it would take a lot more of the stuff over a much longer time to start affecting the thyroid, and if all else fails, here’s the kicker. Even if these were immediately toxic levels of perchlorate, there would be a really easy solution to it. Wash the dirt. Seriously! Simple as that! Wash the dirt, soak the soil in some water, let the perchlorate dissolve, pour the water out, and then boil it to reclaim the water. Remember, it’s just salt! Watney’s biggest threat would just need a bath. In conclusion, try as I might to science the s*** out of these scenes, to find a reason why this absurd premise of planting potatoes on Mars would obviously kill Mark Watney off, The Martian did it’s homework from every angle. The potatoes, the fecal fertilizer, even the deadly salt, all explained away. These farming scenes are pretty darn air tight, which is good since Watney is out there in the near vacuum of space, and you know what? I’m ok losing this one. It’s refreshing to see a piece of science fiction pay attention to the real world science. So good on you Martian, or The Martian. Your science gets the theorist stamp of approval. I guess you could say that The Martian’s crap science, isn’t crap science. BUH DUM CHH Buut Hey! That’s just a theory. A Film Theory! AAAND CUT!