These Are The Real-Life Settings Of Scenes From ‘The Martian’

NASA is on location

The Martian is easily one of the best sci-fi films out there, and part of what makes it so incredible was the intense attention to detail. The story has a pedigree of accuracy, as Andy Weir, author of the book that the movie was based on, took a lot of care in getting the science right. Even though both film and book are completely fictitious, a lot of the science is real, including the setting.

Now, NASA has released a collection of images of the real-life settings in The Martian, from Acidalia Planitia to the Marth Crater.

The images were acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a piece of equipment on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE takes incredibly detailed images of the Martian surface, giving scientists here on Earth a closer view of the planet. Many of the images taken by HiRISE are taken in sets called stereo pairs. These pairs of images can be viewed through a stereoscope–a simple instrument that can make two photographs to look like one 3D image.

Stereoscopes were very popular during the 1800’s and early 1900’s for viewing pictures as entertainment. But with the advent of aerial photography, geologists soon realized that they could repurpose this technology and make 2D pictures of topography like mountains and valleys spring to life. The scientists using HiRISE still use stereo pairs to create accurate models of what the ground surface of Mars looks like. Knowing the elevation of the surface of Mars is one of the key components of picking a safe (flat) landing site for future manned or unmanned missions. Mars, here we come!

Acidalia Planitia

Acidalia Planitia, the site of the Ares 3 mission in The Martian, as seen by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE).

Acidalia Planitia

A close-up of the fictional Ares 3 landing site in Acidalia Planitia. As The Martian takes place in the future, the HiRISE team calls this the “before” picture.

Acidalia Planitia

The HiRISE instrument really does act like a location scout for Mars, looking for places where future missions to the red planet could land. This image is a stereo pair with the preceding image. If you line them up under a stereoscope, you can see the martian surface in 3D.

A long trip

This is the stretch of ground astronaut Mark Watney would have to travel to get from the Ares 3 landing site in Acidalia Planitia to the Ares 4 landing site in Schiaparelli Crater.

Marth Crater

A treat for the book-readers. This is the edge of Marth Crater, a setting in the book that doesn’t appear in the movie. The entire image is the crater’s edge, a fairly low slope dotted with smaller impact craters.