How Mark Watney Inspires NASA's Astronauts

Astronaut Mark Watney is certainly having a great year for a guy left for dead on Mars. As the main character in Hollywood's next big blockbuster, The Martian, Watney not only gets to be a hero on the big screen — he also gets Matt Damon's charm and good looks. OK, I admit, Mark Watney is not a real person, and being stranded on Mars is not enviable, even if it means you get to be played by Matt Damon. In The Martian, the astronaut is left on the planet after a manned mission gone wrong. Alone, he must use every scientific trick in the book to survive until, hopefully, a rescue mission comes to save him. The movie from director Ridley Scott is based on the sci-fi novel, The Martian , written by former software engineer, Andy Weir. The book is, quite obviously, fiction — manned missions to Mars are still some years away from becoming a reality — but, is Mark in The Martian based on a real astronaut?

The character of Watney, it seems, was not based on any one member of NASA or other space exploration program. In fact, if Watney was based on any one person, it would be Weir himself. "Mark is based on my own personality. Though he's smarter and braver than I am and he doesn't have my flaws. I guess he's what I wish I were like," Weir said in an interview with The Observer.

Weir wrote the book on his downtime while working as a software engineer, and, though he had a significant amount of scientific knowledge upon which to base his story, he had no contacts within NASA to contact for research, according to The Observer. That quickly changed after The Martian became a New York Times bestseller. NASA, who consulted heavily on the film adaptation, has become a very public supporter of the book. The Martian is reportedly required reading at NASA for astronaut trainees, according to The Telegraph, and Weir was invited to visit NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston — members of the cast of the film adaptation have also visited JSC.

The Martian didn't only use NASA for consulting purposes, though. The film also enlisted real life astronaut Mike Massimino to share some of the first promotional footage for the film on his official Twitter page in June.

Now, as the Oct. 2 release date of the film approaches, more NASA executives have voiced their support of the book and film. "It gives us an opportunity to tell the public, who funds NASA, what we're really doing. We are developing capabilities that will put humans on Mars. The movies gives us an opportunity to show what a realistic Mars environment might be like," Director of Planetary Science at NASA, Jim Green, told NBC News.

Both NASA and the actors starring in The Martian are hopeful that the film will help boost NASA's profile and inspire kids to dream of being scientists and astronauts. As Jessica Chastain, who stars as astronaut Melissa Lewis in the film, told The Hollywood Reporter, "I think it's like 10 percent are women right now — astronauts. I am hoping that with Interstellar and Gravity and now The Martian, that young girls are gonna watch this film and they're going to want to go to Mars, and will open up a whole new career path for girls who didn't really know it was a possibility."

The Martian may not be based on one particular astronaut, but here's hoping it helps create a few new ones.

Images: 20th Century Fox