Would have really saved NASA Mark Watney

The real way of the "Martian": Video from images of the space probe Mars Express

"The Martian" Mark Watney
Image 1/4, Credit: 2015 Twentieth Century Fox.

"The Martian" Mark Watney

NASA astronaut Mark Watney is "The Martian" in the movie of the same name.
Mark Watney's difficult path through the Marsh Highlands
Picture 2/4, Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin - CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Mark Watney's difficult path through the Marsh Highlands

The route that the "Martian" Mark Watney had to undertake in order to have a chance of being rescued is over 3000 kilometers long - to do this he had to leave his Mars station in the Chryse Planitia alluvial plain and through the Mawrth Vallis valley (right in the center of the picture) advance into the Martian highlands to finally reach the end of a path full of obstacles in the Schiaparelli crater, where the Ares 4 rocket is located, with which the rescue could be possible. From high-precision digital terrain models of the Arabia Terra region, DLR scientists derived realistic, perspective views of the areas through which Mark Watney's odyssey led. The transition zone from the Mars lowlands to the highlands is characterized by erosion and weathering processes that have left a strongly rugged landscape. Mawrth Vallis is one of the shortlisted targets for the landing module of ESA's ExoMars mission. (Video still)
The path of the "Martian": From Chryse Planitia via Arabia Terra through the Marsh highlands to Ares 4
Image 3/4, Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin - CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

The path of the "Martian": From Chryse Planitia via Arabia Terra through the Marsh highlands to Ares 4

As part of the HRSC experiment on ESA's Mars Express mission, scientists from the DLR Institute for Planetary Research topographically mapped the transition zone between the equator and the tropic. The route taken by the "Martian" Mark Watney on Mars was drawn on the map, which contains the MC11 East map sheet. Before he could set off from his position in Chryse Planitia to the replacement rocket Ares 4 in the Schiaparelli crater, Watney first had to organize an intact radio, which he had at the landing site of the first Mars rover Soujourner of the 1997 Mars mission, which was several hundred kilometers further south Pathfinder could dismantle. Then his path led him to the mouth of the Mawrth Valley, which he drove up the valley and thereby gained about 2000 meters in height. Watney then drove a further 2500 meters uphill through the rugged and crater-strewn Meridiani Planum to the edge of the 450-kilometer Schiaparelli crater, on the northwestern edge of which a landslide formed the natural ramp, over the Watney into the crater almost 700 meters below Ares 4 missile got through.
The final hurdle for Mark Watney - the rim of the Schiaparelli crater
Picture 4/4, Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

The final hurdle for Mark Watney - the rim of the Schiaparelli crater

The Schiaparelli crater has a diameter of 460 kilometers and is located in the highlands of Arabia Terra. The picture shows a topographical map of the northwestern rim of the Schiaparelli crater, with an about 25 kilometers large, nameless crater in the raised crater rim; North is on the right in this illustration. The terrain is steep in places and therefore very dangerous for Mark Watney, the "Martian" in the movie of the same name and his fragile vehicle, which is why he had to look for a route that was as inclined as possible based on the topographical data: he found it west (above) the crater in the form of a kind of railing ramp that had formed in the crater rim during a landslide, presumably as a result of the impact that created the small crater. On this ramp, he was able to venture to the ground of Schiaparelli, which is almost a thousand meters below - and manage the last hundred kilometers to the Ares 4 rocket. The crater is named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), who made the first good maps of the planet with his observations of Mars with a telescope in 1877 and 1879.

"Any questions, Neil Armstrong?" - When NASA astronaut Mark Watney utters these words, he suspects for the first time that he might have a very small chance of rescue. Mark Watney is "The Martian" in the film of the same name (release date: October 8th), who tries to save his life on the red planet in the not too distant future. Topographical and geographical maps play an essential role in this, as they enable him to find his way to the Schiaparelli crater, where the rescue rocket Ares 4 stands, which takes months. Scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) - specializing in high-precision topographical mapping of Mars "in the here and now" - reconstructed the route with stereo image data from their Mars camera HRSC and calculated a video that shows the spectacular landscape as it is Mark Watney would see "in the future".

In the scene described above, Mark Watney has just succeeded in communicating with the ground station on Earth using a radio from the Pathfinder probe, which landed on Mars in 1997. He was able to find the shoebox-sized probe with the help of precise geographic coordinates. These have always formed the basis of all scientific work on Mars. The DLR Institute of Planetary Research has been calculating digital terrain models of the Martian surface from image data from the HRSC camera system on the ESA Mars Express spacecraft for almost twelve years. The Berlin DLR Institute is a world leader in the field of planetary surveying and mapping.

Real Martian world elaborately calculated for the material of the future

The story of the Martian begins in a low plain on the northern tropic of the planet, leads first a few hundred kilometers to the southeastern border of Chryse Planitia and finally through a narrow outflow valley into the Martian highlands to the southeast through the Arabia Terra area. There Watney tries with his limited resources in a race against time to reach the Ares 4 rocket "parked" by NASA in the Schiaparelli crater in order to leave Mars with it. A large part of the described area, around two and a half million square kilometers of high-precision topographically mapped, was only recently presented by DLR scientists as part of a global Mars mapping project.

From this data set, DLR created a flyover sequence for the film "Der Martianer". This was generated from around 7,300 stereo images. Due to the detailed terrain data and the enormous extent of the area shown, the average computing time per image was around half an hour, so that a total of almost five months of pure computing time was required. This time could be reduced considerably by distributing the processing load over several computers. Overall, the production of the approximately five-minute video (here also in 3D) including data preparation, editing and dubbing took two and a half months. The music was composed especially for this film and mixed in 5.1 surround sound. The total data volume was about two terabytes.

No other Mars data set depicts reality so well on a large scale

For Prof. Ralf Jaumann from the DLR Institute for Planetary Research, the "Principal Investigator" of the HRSC camera experiment, the production of the overflight video is anything but an unrelated gimmick for a non-scientific film project: "Mars is fascinating, it makes us more and more curious! A lot of people are interested in our research, and young people in particular want to know what it really looks like up there, and how realistic it is that we humans could one day leave our traces up there. The data from our camera shows Mars in one Clarity and attention to detail from above like hardly any other experiment, only the images of the surface, of rovers like Curiosity, are even closer to reality - but they only show a small section We noticed details that we hadn't seen before in the spatial context, which is why we calculated this film: There with everyone can get an idea of ​​what it would be like if Mark Watney really had to drive through these areas ... we were just a bit creative with the clouds, because they are - fortunately - not included in the HRSC data. "

The Martian chooses the only topographically logical route

At all points in Watney's Odyssey, the original template makes use of the knowledge of the science missions on Mars that have taken place in real life up to now: NASA had already selected a safe place in the Chryse Plain in 1976 for the Viking 1 probe; Mars Pathfinder's landing site was chosen as a destination because of the nearby mouths of the Ares and Tiu valleys. And the best way to the rescuing Ares 4 rocket in Schiaparelli crater was infinitely laborious, but perfectly logical, through the Mawrth valley. This valley is the focus of current Mars research because of its water-containing clay minerals at its edges. Sandstorms occur frequently on Mars and are depicted very realistically in "Der Martianer" with regard to their propagation, but not with regard to wind speeds. And the way into the Schiaparelli crater, he would only make it over a ramp in the northwestern rim of the crater - that Mark Watney knew from his 3D models in the on-board computer of his improvised Mars vehicle.

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  • The final hurdle for Mark Watney - the rim of the Schiaparelli crater

    The Schiaparelli crater has a diameter of 460 kilometers and is located in the highlands of Arabia Terra. The picture shows a topographical map of the northwestern rim of the Schiaparelli crater, with an about 25 kilometers large, nameless crater in the raised crater rim; North is on the right in this illustration. The terrain is steep in places and therefore very dangerous for Mark Watney, the "Martian" in the movie of the same name and his fragile vehicle, which is why he had to look for a route that was as inclined as possible based on the topographical data: he found it west (above) the crater in the form of a kind of railing ramp that had formed in the crater rim during a landslide, presumably as a result of the impact that created the small crater. On this ramp, he was able to venture to the ground of Schiaparelli, which is almost a thousand meters below - and manage the last hundred kilometers to the Ares 4 rocket. The crater is named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), who made the first good maps of the planet with his observations of Mars with a telescope in 1877 and 1879.
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