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The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-3


The novel begins with American astronaut Mark Watney trapped on the surface of Mars, without the crew
of the Ares 3. It’s the sixth day (Sol 6) of their mission on the Red Planet, to which they’ve been traveling
together for years. The first two Ares missions have been successful, and the US space program is highly
advanced. The Ares missions, for example, use a booster called Hermes to carry astronauts from Earth to
Mars; Hermes is powered by “ion engines,” a futuristic technology providing thrust with minimal energy
use. Ares astronauts then use a “Mars descent vehicle” (MDV) and “Mars ascent vehicle” (MAV) to travel
between Mars itself and the orbiting Hermes, still in space.

On Sol 6, Watney awakes to find that the MAV, and all the Ares crew, are no longer on the planet with him.
He remembers there was a sandstorm, and the crew left without him. But Watney doesn’t blame the crew
for doing so; they thought, with reason, that he was dead. During the sandstorm, a shard of antenna flew
backward and hit Watney, poking a hole in his suit. The rest of the crew, reading on their computers that
Watney’s vital signs were zeroed out, assumed he was dead. They gathered into the MAV and blasted off
into space. When Watney comes to, the storm has died down, his suit has resealed around the antenna-
shard, and he’s able to drag himself back into the Hab, the surface station (like a high-tech tent) in which
the astronauts live.

Watney takes stock of what he has with him, and begins an audio-video journal, which records his first-
person account of Martian events. He notes that the possible biggest impediments to his survival, at this
point, are lack of food and water, or a rupture in the Hab itself, which provides him with oxygen and
protects him from the Martian atmosphere. Watney does an EVA (a walk in a spacesuit) to survey the
damage to the site. He calculates that the materials provided by the Ares program can last him around 300
days, even though the mission was originally designed for about a month on the planet; some supplies are
redundant, and he’s only one man, instead of a crew of six. He still has several back-up spacesuits from the
other astronauts, two rovers (Mars cars) for driving on the surface of the planet, a partially-functional
MDV, and a fully-functional Hab, including oxygenator, water reclaimer, and solar panels for energy. He
doesn’t have any means of communicating with Earth (yet), since the satellites were knocked out during
the sandstorm. But he does have enough food rations to last him almost a year.

There are problems, however: he realizes that, to be rescued, he’ll need to make it to the landing area for
Ares 4, set to come to Mars in four years, to an area called Schiaparelli crater. Watney figures he can find a
way, eventually, to travel thousands of miles to the crater from his current site (a plain called Acidalia
Planitia), if he wants to be saved. Watney reveals that he was trained as a botanist and a mechanical
engineer, both of which prove extremely helpful to his survival on Mars. Because he only has enough
prepared food rations for just under a year, Watney calculates he’ll have to make his own food to survive
long enough to meet up with the Ares 4 mission. Fortunately, Ares 3 has brought along potato plants, and
Watney comes up with a plan for cultivating these potatoes within the Hab. Martian soil doesn’t have the
fertilizers, moisture, and nutrients Watney knows potatoes require, but he’s able to jury-rig a solution. He
uses his own feces, along with those of the crew, stored in the Hab’s toilets, to make fertilizer. He mixes
this with Martian soil, and manages to water enough of it, using the Hab’s water-reclaimer, to lay out a
plot of potatoes inside.

The only catch, however, as Watney discovers, is that he won’t have enough water to ensure the plants
grow quickly and large enough to supply essential nutrients. Watney has calculated to the calorie how
much energy he’ll need to survive for years on Mars, and the potatoes will only work if he can grow
enough of them and maintain their health with ample water. He devises a scheme, using his chemistry
knowledge, for creating water, by generating it as part of an explosive chemical reaction, using oxygen and
some of the other chemicals already aboard the Hab. But he understands that, should he miscalculate
anything in his production of water using this method, he risks detonating the Hab, ruining his plants and
possibly risking his life. To pass the time when he’s not working, Watney digs into the crew’s data files of
TV and music. But he discovers, to his horror, that they’ve brought along only shows and songs from the
‘70s, including disco—Watney’s least favorite genre.


The Martian alludes, throughout, in its structure and narrative to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a
seventeenth-century English novel. In Robinson Crusoe, the title character finds himself stranded on a
deserted island for many years, and must develop solutions for survival, and to maintain his happiness and
sanity while separated from other humans. Robinson Crusoe is a seminal text in the development of the
English-language novel, and its plot outline—a man apart from society, tasked with rebuilding “civilized”
life—has been repeated again and again in the Western literary tradition. The Martian, for its part, puts a
new spin on the Crusoe narrative. Of course, for one thing, The Martian finds Watney on Mars, another
planet, and not merely on a far-off island of Earth. And whereas Robinson Crusoe eventually includes a
“helpmeet” for the title character, named Friday, Watney has no chance of finding intelligent, human life
on Mars.

In fact, The Martian insists on the strictest of “realistic,” current scientific accuracy in its story. That is, the
novel is an example of “hard” or “realist” science fiction, in which empirical science, and not magic or
fantasy, are used to solve problems as they arise. Although the novel speculates on some of the problems
and technologies Watney might face in space, it attempts to solve these problems using science as it is
understood at the beginning of the 21st century. Much, but not all, of the novel is told from the first-
person perspective, via video/audio logs from the Hab. These logs allow Watney to convey his ideas and
experiences directly to the audience. But the novel also employs other points of view, in the third person.
When events occur in Houston, at the NASA headquarters, they are narrated from an omniscient narrator’s
perspective (that is, the narrator is unnamed and is not a character implicated in the novel’s action). And,
on a couple of occasions, events on Mars are also narrated using this detached, third-person perspective,
especially when actions are particularly dangerous, or require a “slow-motion” description with a high level
of detail.

Disco music, and the television and musical culture of the 1970s more generally, becomes a recurring motif
in the text. Commander Lewis and her husband are, as is reported later in the novel, big fans of 1970s
culture, and most of the entertainment material on the Hab’s hard drive comes from Cmdr. Lewis. Watney
claims not to like the stuff at all, although, over the course of the novel, he becomes more and more
emotionally invested in it. This is, in part, because Watney has extremely limited human companionship on
Mars, primarily in the form of laggy communication with Earth, via email messaging or Morse code. 1970s
TV and music represents a tether back to life on Earth. It also hearkens to a time that, in the novel’s
universe, came long before Watney’s birth, but roughly coincides with the young life of the novel’s author.
Thus the motif of 70s TV and music signals the emotional pull of Earth, human society, and the world to
which Watney hopes, one day, to return.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6


In a fairly technical chapter, Watney describes in detail the chemical reactions necessary to create water
for irrigation. He goes to great lengths to create sparks and maintain a flame, since NASA has designed
most parts of the Hab to be fire-resistant. He also portions out very small amounts of hydrazine
(essentially, rocket fuel) from the MDV, which he’ll then slowly “burn” in a controlled fashion, to produce
water as a waste product. Watney knows the process is a dangerous, combustible one, so he moves
carefully. But he realizes, after watching the reaction for some time, that some unburned hydrogen is
slipping away from the flame and entering the “atmosphere” of the Hab. Hydrogen is extraordinarily
flammable, and Watney moves to one of the rovers, parked outside the Hab, to figure out how to dissipate
this flammable substance from his living space without setting it on fire.
Watney is successful in doing this, for a time. He moves the potato plants from the Hab to the rover, so he
can begin dissipating some of the oxygen from the Hab and burning off the excess hydrogen, before
returning the plants to the Hab, now with extra water from the controlled chemical reaction. But, after
burning off part of the hydrogen, he comes to after a large explosion, with a ringing in his ears. Although
he hasn’t punctured the Hab or damaged any sensitive equipment, he’s nearly killed himself, and he
struggles to figure out why. As it turns out, some small amount of oxygen from his exhalation entered the
Hab while Watney was conducting the hydrogen burn-off procedure. This excess oxygen altered the
chemical makeup of the Hab enough to render it an explosive environment, and Watney considers himself
lucky to have escaped. He still has his stores of potatoes in the rover, and he marvels at NASA’s design for
the Hab, which appears to have protected the oxygenator, water reclaimer, and computer systems, even
during the explosion.

The narrative switches back to Earth, where Venkat Kapoor, director of the Ares program, has a
conversation with Teddy Sanders, the administrator of NASA. Kapoor wants NASA to release satellite
images of the Ares 3 site, but Sanders demurs, saying that he can’t risk the bad press that might result
from pictures of Watney’s body relayed to Earth. (For weeks, TV shows have been discussing the dust
storm on Mars’s surface, the Ares 3 crew’s escape, and Watney’s being left behind, presumed
dead.) Mindy Park, a satellite imaging specialist for NASA, is observing scans from the mission, when she
realizes that the Ares 3 landing zone has altered somewhat since Watney’s supposed “death.” She calls
Kapoor, who forwards this possibility to Sanders. Kapoor, with Park’s help and insistence, realizes that
enough movement has occurred in the Ares 3 images to indicate that, indeed, Watney is still alive on the
surface of the planet. Kapoor and Sanders (with Park’s input, and in consultation with Annie Montrose, the
NASA press secretary) try to figure out what to do next; information about Watney’s survival will soon leak
from NASA and become public. NASA also has a public responsibility not to keep secrets from American
citizens, as administrators remind each other in Houston.

NASA begins the calculations necessary to formulate a plan to save Watney. They try to figure out if they
can communicate with him, if he has enough food, water, and air on the planet, and if they can determine
a rendezvous point on Mars, between the Ares 3 and 4 sites. Kapoor and Sanders also realize that
Watney’s survival can be useful for NASA, which has received bad press from reports and analysis of his
supposed death. The administrators hope that a plan to save Watney will also lead to additional NASA
funding from Congress, which can support future Ares missions. Sanders announces in a televised press
conference that the rescue of Mark Watney is now NASA’s number one aim. A flurry of publicity attends
this announcement, as the whole of the US and much of the world marvels at Watney’s survival thus far in
an inhospitable environment.


Although Mark Watney is a human being, his televised presence, on Earth, becomes a metaphor, perhaps a
mixed one, for many viewers. Mark seems to embody pure human perseverance, and perhaps, too,
American ingenuity in the face of danger. Watney is not able, at this point in the novel, to communicate
with Earth, but when he does, he doesn’t pity himself, nor does he blame the crew for leaving him behind.
(Indeed, he tells Lewis and his crewmates that this was the correct course of action; they had to save
themselves, and they thought he was a goner.)

Watney’s humor in the face of the gravest of odds makes him an easy stand-in for abstract ideas: American
heroism, grit, and stick-to-it-iveness. One theme of the novel is the ability of hard-edged scientific
rationalism to triumph over seemingly intractable problems. When Watney finds himself without enough
water to irrigate his potato crops, he could give up. After all, the Hab wasn’t designed for anything like the
project he’s now undertaking. But Watney takes the problem one step at a time, reducing it to smaller
problems he does know how to solve. Watney also possesses a preternatural ability not to place the cart in
front of the horse: he doesn’t worry about potential problems down the line, but only the task immediately
before him. This ability serves him extraordinarily well in space, allowing him to remain calm even in the
tightest of scrapes.
Of course, Watney is the protagonist of the novel, the main character around whom the narrative revolves.
In this way the novel has no human antagonist, but it does have what we might call an anthropomorphized
antagonist, in the form of Mars itself. Watney jokes, throughout, about his frustrations with Mars: the fact
that he is the “king” of the entire planet, and that Mars seems to do whatever it can to kill him. Naturally,
Mars has no emotion, no desires; but Mars represents, for Watney, an unending series of challenges. It will
take every ounce of Watney’s cleverness and skill to compete with Mars and to “win” in their
confrontation: to be able to make it back to Earth alive.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9


Watney realizes he might not be able to establish communications with Earth for some time. He figures
he’ll have to make plans to travel to Schiaparelli crater on his own, and hope he meets the crew of Ares 4
there. To reach the crater, he’ll need to use one of the Ares 3 rovers, but these machines aren’t designed
to travel the thousands of kilometers required by this mission. Watney therefore sets to work redesigning
the rover so it can make it a substantial distance across Mars. To modify the rover, Watney attaches some
of the Hab’s solar panels to it, and rigs an extra battery in a pouch over the side of the vehicle. To generate
heat (so that the rest of the rover’s energy can go to powering the wheels), Watney places inside the RTG,
a plutonium engine used by the Ares 3 crew when they landed on Mars. Although Watney recognizes that
it’s an enormous safety risk to have this highly radioactive (though sealed) device near him, he sees no
other option for heating the rover effectively. When he digs up the RTG, which has been “stored” far from
the Hab for safekeeping, he sees just how solitary his life on Mars is. This small journey, to pick up the RTG,
is Watney’s first time out of sight of the Hab, and the idea of his loneliness briefly scares him. After rigging
up enough food, water, and oxygen for an extended test trip in the rover, Watney hints to the reader that
he “has a goal in mind” for this intermediate journey, although he doesn’t share exactly what that goal is.

Chapter 8 begins with NASA's Mars chief, Kapoor, appearing on a new CNN show called Mark
Watney Report, which is now a hit show. Kapoor updates the host and audience about Watney’s apparent
goal, to reach Schiaparelli, although Kapoor also notes that NASA might have a plan to rescue Mark where
he is, obviating the need for him to drive thousands of kilometers. The chapter then cuts to a meeting
between Montrose, Park, Kapoor, Sanders, Bruce Ng (head of the Jet Propulsion Lab, or JPL), and Mitch
Henderson, the flight director of Ares 3. The assembled group discusses options for rescuing Watney,
including trying to re-rig the MDV to allow for low-orbit flight to Schiaparelli, an idea which many in NASA
find to be too dangerous. Henderson wonders why Park is at the meeting, but Kapoor defends her, saying
that Park is essential to the team since she’s the person who noticed, via long-distance, grainy images of
Mars, that Watney is still alive.

NASA continues trying to figure out how to communicate with Watney, something they feel is of
paramount importance, since NASA deems Watney’s desire to drive to Schiaparelli an enormous risk
(mostly because the rovers simply aren’t designed for so rugged and prolonged a trip). As the chapter
closes, Kapoor and Park realize, via the image feed, that Watney is headed for the spot on Mars where
Pathfinder landed in 1997. Pathfinder was an unmanned probe to Mars (and is an historically accurate
reference). Kapoor and Park figure out that Watney can use Pathfinder as a kind of radio/modem, to
communicate with Earth, if he can repair its computer and solar panels, which went offline in the 1990s.
Kapoor and Park celebrate Watney’s ingenuity in driving the rover to unearth the probe. Soon after, the
narrative returns to Watney, who continues on his drive to “Carl Sagan Memorial Station,” or the part of
Mars where the Pathfinder last transmitted back to Earth in 1997. Watney makes the drive slowly and
carefully, stopping every so often to recharge the batteries, via the solar panels, which power the rover’s
wheels. Watney's persistence pays off: he finally reaches Pathfinder, and using a clever incline of rocks,
manages to “hoist” it up on top of the rover. Watney calls Pathfinder his “broken radio,” a piece of
equipment that, with luck and some skill, might just allow him to communicate with NASA back on Earth.

A notable feature of this section of the novel is its mood. Weir maintains, overall, a relatively
straightforward, indeed somewhat flattened, affect. Part of this is structural: Watney reports on things
typically before or after they’ve happened, and of course Watney himself is trained as an empirical
scientist, and emphasizes detail and reporting of facts when he speaks. But this structure, of projective or
retroactive reporting, also means that, most of the time, when bad events occur, Watney is speaking about
them after the fact. This allows Watney some space to vent about his ill luck, as he does occasionally; but it
also means that, more often than not, the event is relayed in an even-keeled fashion. Watney realizes
there’s nothing he can do to change a bad event that’s already in the past; all he can do is look forward.
This mood of even-keeled reporting pervades a good deal of the novel.

It’s also worth noting that large portions of The Martian are fairly repetitive, by design. Watney must live
for years on Mars, if he’s going to survive and make it back to Earth. His only possibility of rescue is to
make it to the Ares 4 landing site; or, as is revealed later, to meet up with the Ares 3 crew once they’ve
slingshotted back to pick him up. To survive, Watney needs to ensure life’s necessities: things that, of
themselves, might not carry a lot of dramatic heft. But having adequate water, food, and air to breath is
absolutely essential for Watney. It is the core of the book’s drama. Watney takes some comfort in relaying
to the reader all the basic, elemental tasks he’s set out for himself. And there’s something about the
repetitive structure of the novel—walking around on Mars, cleaning solar panels, irrigating crops—that
makes for a consoling and affirming read. Watney has an impossible-seeming task before him: survival on a
hostile planet. But he also has a set of discrete, easily-planned-for tasks in front of him. Watney chooses to
look at his Martian life from the latter perspective, and this, more than anything else, allows him to

The novel also has a structural, narrative component worth noticing: its complementary viewpoints, from
Mars and from Earth. Sometimes these viewpoints run parallel to one another, as when Watney is
communicating with Kapoor, and they’re all working collaboratively on Martian problems—for example,
how to modify the Hab or rover. Other times, however, this communicative link with Earth is severed, and
the perspectives are no longer parallel. Instead, the reader toggles back and forth, with the author, as
Watney attempts to guess what NASA is doing, and NASA tries to figure out what Watney knows. This
structure of complementarity will be used to great effect in the final section of the novel, when Watney
makes his last drive to the Ares 4 site in the rover.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12


Watney makes his journey back to the Hab, slowly and carefully, with the Pathfinder (and its attendant
small probe, Sojourner) attached. When he reaches the Hab, after many days on the road, he exults in all
the space he finds there. He also checks that oxygen and water are working fine (they are), and that the
potato plants have survived his time away. Everything seems to be in good shape, so Watney gets to work
trying to reboot the Pathfinder, to send a signal back to Earth. He charges up the old battery, using
equipment from the Hab, then waits for the Pathfinder to gain enough charge to try to signal back to Earth.
Because Watney knows that the Pathfinder team at NASA won’t be listening to the probe’s radio channels
(it being many years past 1997), he toggles through different channels, in the hopes of finding someone
who might be able to loop in JPL and NASA.

Watney does manage to connect to NASA, and he and the entire NASA crew (and indeed, much of the
Earth’s population, following CNN’s Watney Report) are overjoyed at the news. The Pathfinder’s setup is
crude, but Watney can use it to his advantage. It takes about twenty minutes for a signal to be sent from
Mars to Earth, or vice versa, and the Pathfinder can only transmit still images, without video or sound.
Watney can write his information on note cards, inside the Hab, with a Sharpie pen, but NASA can only
communicate back by arranging to move, remotely, the camera on the Pathfinder. Watney arranges for the
digits of ASCII code to be laid out in a dial, allowing NASA (painstakingly) to “type out” small messages back
to Watney with the camera. Although this process is extremely slow, it manages to communicate
effectively. Watney tells NASA that he’s in good shape, and explains how he survived the initial accident
and how he’s managed to cultivate potato plants.

Programmers at NASA figure out a way to supply Watney with computer code, which he can use, via
Pathfinder, to load a messaging program into the rover. Thus the rover, with Pathfinder as its “modem,”
can communicate back and forth with NASA via text, making Watney’s connection to NASA much smoother
than the initial camera-ASCII dial method. Watney inputs this information, booting the communication
“program” from the rover. He also remains in front of the Pathfinder camera for an image, which
Montrose, as press secretary, demands. She insists an image of Watney will placate the many millions of
people following his fate on TV and the Internet. Kapoor reveals to a subordinate at NASA that the crew of
the Ares 3, still en route home from their emergency abort on Mars, doesn’t know that Watney is still alive.
Kapoor insists that crew will be safer if they’re kept in the dark; if they worry about Watney, they might not
be able to execute the complex tasks onboard that will help them to get home safely.

Kapoor begins communicating directly with Watney via the rover-Pathfinder-modem setup. Watney is
characteristically funny and direct with Kapoor, and Kapoor congratulates him on surviving. Kapoor says
they’re going to do everything they can, on Earth, to help Watney get home. And Watney learns that the
Ares 3 crew doesn’t yet know he’s still alive. In a quick cut of scenes, however, Mitch Henderson, head of
Ares 3, meets with Sanders, NASA chief, to make the case for letting the crew know. Henderson believes
that, since all the world knows Watney is alive, they should, too. Sanders, to Henderson’s surprise, agrees,
and Henderson prepares to convey this delicate message to Commander Lewis and the rest of the Ares 3

In Chapter 12, the narrative dips back to the Ares 3 crew’s final hours on Mars. The omniscient narration
describes the powerful windstorm, Martinez the pilot’s efforts to keep the MAV stable as they prepare to
abort, and Commander Lewis’s fruitless effort to rescue Watney before the MAV takes off to reunite with
Hermes and return to Earth. The narrative skips ahead four months, to NASA’s message from Henderson to
the crew, saying that Watney is alive, and that NASA has been keeping this information secret from the
crew for two months, to help them do their jobs effectively in space. The crew, including Lewis, Johanssen,
Beck, Vogel, and Martinez, are thrilled at this information, although Lewis can’t forgive herself for
“abandoning” Watney in space. The rest of the crew tries to make her feel better, saying that there was
nothing else to be done, but Lewis is intensely critical of her decision, even though it allowed the Ares 3
crew to escape Mars’s surface safely.


One of the most important conflicts in the novel is the interior conflict Commander Lewis experiences,
after leaving Watney behind on Mars. Although Watney and the crew insist, after the fact, that this was
the right decision, Lewis is still deeply upset. She knows she can’t turn back the clock, but she also wishes
things might have gone differently—that she could have withstood the storm long enough to continue the
search for Watney. And she understands that, as mission commander, “the buck stops” with her. That is,
Watney is on Mars because of a decision Lewis made—even if that decision was the right one given what
she knew, was supported by the crew, and was in line with NASA’s procedures. The section at the end of
this portion of the novel represents a flashback, in which the narrative “time” of the novel is disturbed
from a straightforward flow. This flashback is used, here, to provide extra detail regarding Watney’s initial
injury. There are many reasons Weir might have chosen to include the flashback at this point. One is
dramatic, narrative background, since Weir wants the reader to re-experience the agony of Lewis’s
decision to leave Watney (believed to be dead) on Mars. The decision is rendered more vivid by being
redescribed at this stage in the novel, well after it initially “occurred” in the narrative of the text. At other
times, Weir will use flashbacks to similar effect, highlighting details of important events to make sure the
reader can experience them in a kind of “slow time,” apart from the main current of the narrative.
The settings of the novel are important to note, even as the reader might take them for granted. Of course,
Watney is on Mars for almost the entirety of the text, although he shifts in location from the Hab, to the
rover, to EVAs (walks outside the vehicle/Hab, in a spacesuit). And Watney travels, eventually, from the
Ares 3 to Ares 4 sites, a distance of thousands of kilometers, and a journey essential to his rescue. On
Earth, too, there are several settings: NASA headquarters in Houston, and a sequence occurring in China
later in the text, when NASA requires the help of the Chinese National Space Administration. Weir skillfully
toggles between different settings on Earth, and the novel’s “primary” setting on Mars, to demonstrate
just how far away Watney is from the life-support networks of Earth.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-15


As Chapter 13 begins, Watney communicates with NASA via the rover. NASA has begun team-reviewing
Watney’s plans for the Hab, including his cultivation of potatoes, to make sure all his actions check out and
will make possible his survival. At first, Watney is frustrated at NASA’s butting in, since he was able to
survive for months on Mars with no input whatsoever. But Kapoor, over rover-mail, convinces Watney that
he should listen to NASA—that they have his best interests at heart. Watney also communicates with his
parents and Commander Lewis, who apologizes to Watney for leaving him; Watney rejects her apology,
saying that Lewis did the right thing, and that he’ll support her as a commander unwaveringly (should
there be a congressional inquiry into her actions). The NASA plan for rescuing Watney, as it stands now, is
to drop supplies for him at some point in the next couple years, and to arrange for his safe conveyance to
the Ares 4 location. The Ares 4 crew will then shed weight, when they land on Mars, and pick up Watney
for an eventual return to Earth.

As Chapter 13 continues, however, Weir interlaces italicized sections describing the physical material
comprising the Hab’s airlocks. While Watney is going about his normal business, entering and leaving the
Hab mostly through airlock 1, the super-high-strength materials of which the Hab is manufactured begin to
experience small tears. At the end of the chapter, when Watney reenters the Hab after a short walk to the
rover, the airlock blows open, hits Watney in the face, and causes the Hab to depressurize instantly and
“collapse” on itself. Watney can’t believe his bad luck. Watney finds himself sealed in the airlock many
meters from the Hab, with a broken faceplate, looking on at his deflated dwelling. He’s initially frustrated
and upset, but realizes that only a rational outlook will help him troubleshoot the problem. His suit can
replace some of the air pressure that the airlock is losing, but Watney realizes he’ll need a new suit, and a
sprint to the rover, to reach a “safe pressure” zone long enough to allow him to repair the Hab. Craftily,
Watney cuts off part of his own spacesuit to patch over the crack in his faceplate, then seals the faceplate
and the arm of his suit (from which the patch was taken) with emergency resin, included with the suit. He
rolls the airlock end-over-end to reach the Hab, then picks up a new space helmet and skips carefully over
to the rover, just making it before his suit’s oxygen reserves give out. Taking stock of events in the rover,
he realizes he’ll have to work hard to get the Hab back to liveable shape. But at least, as he notes, he’s still
alive, and can work with the materials he has to salvage the Hab and continue in his planned rendezvous
mission with Ares 4, at Schiaparelli.

Watney sleeps overnight in the rover, then tops up his spacesuit with air (now featuring the new helmet,
from the brief trip to the Hab). He returns to the Hab and, with more available oxygen to facilitate
searching, is able to snag a new, full spacesuit, to replace the one-armed, repaired one he’s currently
wearing; he can change suits back in the rover. He also uses rocks to spell an “A-OK” message to Houston,
which, he fears, has seen images of the airlock blown off, and probably worries about Watney’s condition.
Now that Watney has a stable spacesuit and helmet, and a temporary “base” in the rover, he can survey
the damage fully. He’s resigned over the airlock’s small tear, but the airlock itself has blown clear off the
Hab. Watney will need to use enormous pieces of extra canvas to patch over the former airlock hole in the
base, and will need to use another airlock for re-entry from now own. Watney also realizes, to his chagrin,
that all the potato plants still in the “ground” in the Hab have died, from the rapid depressurization of the
airlock explosion. Watney has stored some mature potatoes outside in the freezing cold of Mars, for
safekeeping; thus he has some food, but no longer the ability to grow future potatoes. He calculates that
he’s lost about a year’s worth of food, which will make survival difficult for the necessary three-odd years
until the arrival of Ares 4 at Schiaparelli. He doesn’t yet know where his additional food will come from.

Watney is able to patch the hole in the Hab and repressurize it, and he has two airlocks left to use for exit
and entry. The rover is intact, and his Pathfinder link with NASA also works. He’s able, after several days, to
get all Hab systems back in place, including the oxygenator and water reclaimer, and he begins
communicating again with Kapoor and others at NASA, who are thrilled that Watney is alive. Everyone
realizes that a new probe, carrying emergency food supplies, will have to be built and launched to Mars in
about a month and a half, otherwise Watney will run out of food before Ares 4 lands on the Red Planet.
Everyone at NASA and its affiliated programs begins working round-the-clock to launch just such a supply

NASA calls this probe Iris, and its payload consists entirely of “protein cubes,” for Watney’s nutrition, and a
radio to supplement the Pathfinder currently used for comms. NASA, JPL, and enormous staffs of
employees on overtime do everything they can to manufacture the probe and plan the launch in around 40
days. Because JPL runs behind on the design of important launch systems, Sanders asks, at an all-hands
meeting, that the launch forego certain inspections, which will raise the probability of launch failure to
2.5%. This is an “unacceptable” risk in standard NASA parlance, but necessary in the current instance,
because there is no backup plan to feed Watney in time. Incredibly, the Iris probe is assembled at attached
to a rocket already waiting (and scheduled for another mission) at Cape Canaveral. The launch occurs
before the entire world, watching on TV, and for the first twenty-odd seconds, all appears to be going
smoothly. But, as the narrator reveals, a small amount of fuel “sloshes” around, imbalanced, within the
rocket, altering its trajectory and creating a severe counterforce, causing the rocket to deviate from its
orbit and break apart into small pieces. The Iris probe has failed to launch, leaving Watney with no long-
term prospect of food.


The theme of patience finds, in this section, one of its clearest manifestations, as Watney tries to sort
through the aftermath of the airlock explosion. Watney has worked painstakingly for months to grow
potatoes in the Hab, and is emotionally devastated to see the Hab deflated, with his botanical work inside
destroyed. But Watney’s patience and foresight has also paid off, as he was prudent enough to store some
potatoes out in the Martian environment, “flash-freezing” them. This cache of food allows Watney at least
some time to continue in his repairs, while he and NASA work out a replenishment mission that can keep
him alive longer. Watney understands that the explosion of airlock 1 has nothing to do with any one
action—that it’s the result of material used far past its design period. Everything Watney does on Mars is
improvised, and if one solution doesn’t work, he must keep heart and find another one, no matter how
dire the circumstances appear to be.

The Hab is one of the novel’s more prominent symbols: a beacon of hope and life for Watney, on a planet
that seems otherwise hell-bent on destroying him. NASA engineers designed the Hab to support a crew of
six for only a number of months, but Watney is using it to keep himself alive for years. The Hab is thus
analogous to Robinson Crusoe’s island: the space that becomes, for the length of the novel, the
protagonist’s entire world. When bad things happen to the Hab (when the airlock bursts, or when Watney
ignites a small explosion while making water), Watney’s life on Mars is threatened terribly. And Watney
admits that, when he’s out of sight of the Hab, he gets nervous, feeling that he’s left behind the part of the
Martian surface he knows best. Although Watney doesn’t tend to approach problems in allegorical terms,
it makes sense, at this stage of the novel, to consider its allegorical as well as its realist, scientific
dimensions. Watney is in an extreme situation on Mars, far beyond what life on Earth would demand. No
one has stayed on Mars as long as he has, and Watney admits to himself that he’s proud to have reached
innumerable Martian milestones (longest EVA, longest rover ride, etc.). But Watney’s struggle on Mars isn’t
wholly different from humans’ struggles on Earth, with problems of nearly unimaginable size. The Earth,
too, presents challenges for survival, as Robinson Crusoe’s time on his little island attests. History moves
forward, and humankind’s technological know-how increases enormously. But humans tend to push
themselves to their physical, philosophical, and spiritual limits. And in this sense, Watney’s journey into
space, his marooning on Mars, represents a further step in the very human urge to explore as far, or
perhaps farther, than was previously thought possible.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18


On the advice of a NASA psychiatrist, Watney begins sending individual messages to the Ares 3 crew,
beginning with Martinez, the pilot, and Johanssen (whom Watney lovingly calls a “hot chick” and a “nerd.”)
The narrative pivots away from NASA for a moment, to the Chinese space authority (the CNSA), which has
heard of the Iris probe failure. Two Chinese administrators, Guo Ming and Zhu Tao, discuss the possibility
of offering the Taiyang Shen, a readymade booster rocket, to NASA. They would do this both to aid in the
rescue of Mark Watney, and to create an arrangement with NASA, wherein the future Ares 5 mission could
carry a Chinese astronaut into space. Guo Ming, head of the CNSA, calls Sanders, head of NASA, and the
two agree to this emergency rescue arrangement on the spot. This plan would require a Mars probe to be
re-made in under a month, then attached to the Taiyang Shen and sent immediately to Mars, where it
would arrive six weeks after Watney’s supposed end-date for current food supplies. Although NASA and
the CNSA recognize that this mission offers only slim hope for Watney, all scientists and engineers believe
this is the best they can do to rescue him. Kapoor and others move ahead with the plan, until an
astrodynamicist named Rich Purnell approaches Kapoor one day, saying he has another idea for rescuing

The narrative jumps ahead to Kapoor, who has heard out Purnell’s plan and thinks it might be superior to
the rush-probe Taiyang Shen model currently on the table. As Kapoor explains to an incredulous staff,
including Montrose and Sanders, the Taiyang Shen would no longer need to reach Mars, but would instead
be launched into near-Earth orbit. It would include supplies for the crew of Ares 3, on their way back to
Earth; the Ares 3 team, instead of landing on Earth, would pick up supplies and slingshot around Earth back
to Mars. With the help of the “ion engines” on-board, the Hermes would reach Mars quickly (and for the
second time), having accelerated continuously after the slingshot maneuver. This would place Hermes,
with supplies, near Mars around a month before Watney’s current foodstuffs run out. Hermes wouldn’t be
able to land on Mars, and so Watney, in his remaining projected year-plus on the Red Planet, would need
to travel in the rover to the Ares 4 landing site at Schiaparelli, at relatively high speed. From there, Watney
would modify the MAV already located at the Ares 4 landing site (in prior preparation for the Ares 4
launch), then launch into space to rendezvous with the Hermes, and Ares 3 crew, before returning with
them to Earth.

Henderson, head of the Ares 3 crew, is strongly in favor of rescue mission, and believes the crew would be
as well. Sanders and others worry that, if something were to go wrong with Hermes, six people would die,
rather than only one, and the Ares program would not have enough funding to continue (as a single
Hermes spacecraft is enormously expensive to build and maintain, as the narrator explains). Sanders thinks
over the choice, and eventually decides against the Purnell maneuver, arguing that it’s too risky to put all
those lives at stake for one person. Sanders believes this is the correct decision, but the rest of the high-
ranking NASA staff, including Henderson and Montrose, think that Sanders is being a “coward,” essentially
dooming Watney to die in order to preserve the Ares mission going forward, along with NASA’s funding
and public image. Deeply upset, Henderson leaks the plans for the Purnell Maneuver to the crew of the
Ares 3, who immediately realize what’s happened and, deciding together, vow to carry out the maneuver
(essentially mutinying) to save Watney. Henderson meets with Sanders, who says he’ll fire Henderson
eventually, when he can prove that Henderson leaked the information. But Henderson is defiant, and
Sanders’s hands are tied: NASA announces that the Purnell Maneuver will be used to rescue Watney. Thus
the Ares 3 crew will be slingshotting around the Earth to head back to Mars and pick up their long lost

Watney is overjoyed at this news, and he begins carrying out NASA’s plans, which include modifying the
rover to lose weight for the journey to Schiaparelli. He does this by way of a large drill, which can take out
chunks of the rover’s material. By a freak mistake, however, Watney leans the drills against a conductive
surface, which causes a surge of electricity to flow into the Pathfinder and blow it out, rendering it
inoperable. Watney can’t believe his ill luck: the Pathfinder was absolutely essential for his Mars-to-Earth
communications. As Chapter 17 ends, Watney wonders how he’ll be able to continue the rover-mod
process without a comms link to Earth. He marvels at all the tiny things that can go wrong on Mars, leading
to massive, dire consequences.

But Watney presses on. He continues his modifications of the rover, by figuring out how to power the “Big
Three” (the oxygenator, atmospheric regulator, and water reclaimer) while simultaneously also powering
the vehicle itself. He goes back to the RTG, which he’d reburied far away from the Hab, and which he’ll
now drive with on the roughly two-month journey from the Ares 3 site to the Ares 4 site. Watney
calculates how many potatoes he’ll be able to place in the rover, how he’ll maintain a heat reservoir for the
RTG (via a standing container of water), and how he’ll tack on more solar panels to power the now-heavier
vehicle. He also spells out Morse code messages for NASA to read, via satellite imaging back on Earth,
saying that he’s continuing with the Schiaparelli plan and is set to drive soon.


The theme of patience and prudence is brought to the foreground once again in these crucial sections. It
also comes into contact with another theme: that of calculated risk-taking, and of the trade-off between
prudent, but limited, and risky, high-payoff plans. When the Iris mission goes bust, NASA is extraordinarily
fortunate that the CNSA is willing, essentially, to donate a rocket for the American cause. Of course, in
Weir’s rendering, the Chinese government asks for some concessions behind the scenes, but in any event
the Taiyang Shen’s aid is central to the Watney rescue. With that said, however, NASA wants to proceed,
even with the new Chinese rocket, along a similar course to the one Iris mapped out. But Iris failed, and
NASA officials like Henderson worry that a rushed Taiyang Shen launch could be an even costlier failure.

Instead, Henderson and others at NASA advocate for a more expansive and imaginative plan, one taking
into account the Ares 3 crew’s willingness to rescue Watney. This “riskier” plan actually places the Taiyang
Shen on an easier path into space; but it also, as Sanders points out, spreads risk out, implicating more
people—the whole Ares 3 crew—rather than, simply, Watney. Here the novel toys with what might be
termed “categorical” and “utilitarian” ideas of ethics. Is it ever justifiable to endanger five people to
possibly save one? Are lives inherently equal, or is it demonstrably the case that some lives stand in for
more than others? Is Watney’s notoriety as a global celebrity enough to support the enormous expense in
keeping him alive, and possibly steering crewmates toward their own demise?

Finally, in these chapters, the idea of moral responsibility on the part of the crew becomes apparent.
Commander Lewis, as everyone at NASA seems to know, would do anything to rescue Watney. The crew
feels they have let their fellow man down, even as Watney understands that nothing could have gone
differently during the Martian sandstorm: the crew was acting in accord with NASA protocols.
Nevertheless, Lewis wants to repair the wrong she feels she’s committed, and her fellow crew-members
are equally up to the challenge. Although NASA worries about the lives that might be risked, Lewis and Co.
seem to argue, implicitly, that they’re willing agents, and can decide for themselves to risk their lives for
the sake of Watney.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-21

Chapter 19 begins with Lewis, Vogel, Beck, Martinez, and Johanssen talking to their families over a close-
link connection to Earth, as the Hermes nears its designated point for meetup with the Taiyang Shen
supply mission. Johanssen reveals to her father that NASA has named her the “survivor” if the rendezvous
should fail, meaning that she would pilot the Hermes, alone, back to Earth, and the rest of the crew would
take suicide pills to ensure adequate food for Johanssen. (The Hermes is so expensive and valuable, and
the deaths of the other crew-members would allow the Hermes to return and the Ares missions to

Fortunately, this ghoulish contingency isn’t required. The Taiyang Shen blastoff occurs without incident,
and Martinez docks the Hermes with the Shen’s orbiter, allowing for the transfer of foodstuffs into the
Hermes. Watney continues with his rover modifications, for the long, long journey to Schiaparelli. He
arranges for a “pop-tent” to be extended outside the rover, so he can stand during the day while en route,
and can avoid the long-term sitting that characterized his previous rover drive. It turns out that Watney is
able to anticipate most of the mods that NASA has been trying to send along, even though the Pathfinder
radio system is no longer able to receive messages from Earth.

Meanwhile, the Hermes crew goes through small mods to their own ship, to make sure it can last the extra
year-plus they’ll be traveling, in returning to pick up Watney. On Mars, after triple-checking his oxygen,
water, carbon dioxide, and related systems, Watney begins his long drive to Schiaparelli. But on Earth, the
NASA team worries about an impending, “low-velocity dust storm” that seems to be moving toward
Watney as he goes. Watney won’t be able to see it for some time, but the storm will limit the effectiveness
of the solar panels in soaking up sunlight, which will cause his speed to decrease rapidly. NASA can’t send
any information to Watney about the storm, and they hope he’s able, somehow, to figure out it’s coming
and adjust his course, so he can reach Schiaparelli on time, with his food stores intact.


This set of chapters presents the final, large hurdle Watney must clear before reaching Schiaparelli. The
passage highlights how important communication is for Watney: that communication itself, in its many
forms, is one of the major themes of the text. If Watney could speak to NASA, they’d be able, quickly, to
alert him to the presence of the dust storm, and he could alter his course without much effort. But because
this comms link has been severed, Watney must first discover that the dust storm is near; then he must
figure out a system for measuring it and guessing the appropriate travel direction.

Fortunately, Watney’s resourcefulness comes in handy once again. He doesn’t panic, even though the
storm has the potential to ruin his journey and keep him from reaching Schiaparelli. Instead, Watney trusts
in his abilities, lays out a plan in small steps, and remains patient. Once he decides the storm is moving
northward, he feels confident that a southern, then a western route will get him to Schiaparelli without
undue loss of time. It turns out that Watney’s predictions are correct, and NASA rejoices at his
decisiveness, even though they haven’t been able to speak directly to Watney throughout the ordeal.

The dust storm itself is a symbol of what would, on Earth, be called “nature”: the power of the non-man-
made world, which can affect the decisions humans make and throw off even the best-laid plans. Watney
knows he can’t control the dust storm, and no amount of anger will make it go away. Instead of trying to
overpower nature, Watney contents himself with cleverly outrunning it, allowing him to reach Schiaparelli
even as the storm rages. And, of course, it was an initial dust storm that stranded Watney on Mars: if
there’s anything like an “antagonist” on the Martian surface, it might be the specter of a dust storm itself.

The Martian Summary and Analysis of Chapters 22-26

Watney continues on his drive, as everyone on Earth—including NASA and those watching the Watney
Report—follows along. Everyone except Watney knows, from NASA’s Mars satellites, that Watney is
approaching, then soon engulfed in, a low-level dust storm. Watney doesn’t see this for many days,
although he does notice the terrain getting rougher, as he attempts to navigate without a nav system
(using a makeshift instrument of his own). Somewhere in a long, shallow crater en route to Schiaparelli,
Watney begins to see that his rover has been moving more slowly, and that the visibility outside is
“asymmetric.” He deduces that a dust storm is approaching him, which would account for the sluggishness
of the vehicle. And he understands quickly that, in order to survive, he must “outrun” the storm by picking
the correct, “shorter” edge of it, and hoping he has enough power, on that longer route, still to make
Schiaparelli by the appointed time.

As always, Watney comes up with a brilliant plan to measure the dust storm and avoid its worst effects. He
places solar panels in a row, many kilometers apart, and sets up cameras to measure their charging
potential during a solar day. He realizes, after doing this, that the storm is moving to the north, because
the southernmost panel absorbs the most solar energy. Thus, he correctly adjusts his course to the south,
then back east, to reach Schiaparelli crater with only a small disruption to his schedule. If he had stayed pat
and continued on a straight line for the crater, he would’ve run out of power for the panels and been
stuck; but Watney’s ingenuity once again comes to his rescue. On approaching Schiaparelli crater,
however, Watney’s rover strikes an uneven, soft-hard patch of Martian soil, causing the rover to flip on its

Watney is able to escape the roll unhurt by “curling himself into a ball.” He breaks a few solar panels on
the rover, and the trailer attached to the rover is bent with its coupling broken (although there’s another
hitch as backup). Watney spends four days making sure the rover is back in shape, and he tacks a backup
solar panel onto the side to help make up for some of the lost power. Watney resolves to drive at 5 kph for
the rest of the trip to Schiaparelli, which is painstaking but safe. NASA turns on the homing beacon on the
Ares 4 MAV site, so that, as Watney approaches, he no longer needs to navigate by site, but can follow his
rover’s own nav system. When he reaches the Ares 4 MAV, his rocket into space to rendezvous with the
Hermes crew, he is overjoyed, and finally admits to himself that he just might manage to escape Mars

Watney spends nearly a month making the “invasive modifications” that NASA requests for the MAV,
allowing it to blast off into space for rendezvous effectively. Essentially, Watney needs to use extra water
to generate extra fuel (some of his urine goes to this purpose); he also rips out unneeded Ares 4 material,
bringing the weight of the MAV down significantly. In the leadup to the rendezvous launch, Watney is
extremely nervous, perhaps more scared than he’s been at any point on the Ares 3 mission and its
aftermath. But he also knows he’s very close to a final meeting with Ares 3, and a trip home.

Watney doesn’t need to steer the MAV, as NASA will take care of all navigation. He only needs to survive
the many Gs he’ll pull on rocketing off the surface of Mars. The liftoff goes well, but as the MAV rises into
Mars’s atmosphere (and with much of Earth’s television audience watching), the quickly-redesigned ship
teeters somewhat off its planned course for the Hermes, winding up over 60 km away. The Hermes crew
doesn’t want to burn any excess fuel, nor to overshoot the MAV with Watney inside, as they’ll only have
one chance to meet up with him and pull him back into the Hermes. Fortunately, the Ares 3 crew has a
clever idea, and Vogel creates a small “bomb,” which the crew uses to blow a hole in an airlocked portion
of the Hermes. This hole allows the Hermes to redirect toward Watney, and Beck leaps out of the vessel
(with his navigational spacesuit on), to pry Watney from the MAV and bring him back to Hermes alive.

Watney has been unconscious for much of his rocket flight back into space, and he remarks that he’s
cracked some ribs owing to the gravitational force. But he’s beyond happy to be alive and back with his
crew. Commander Lewis reports to Houston that Watney has been recovered, and as the entire crew
celebrates together, with Watney recovering, they begin their journey back to Earth. The novel ends.

The novel’s conclusion has a mood of slowly ramping-up tension, as Watney first reaches the Ares 4 MAV,
then goes about gutting it to make it space-ready in a short period of time. The novel itself seems to
accelerate once it reaches this stage. Watney can’t wait to reunite with the Hermes crew and begin his trip
back home, and the reader can’t wait for the same things to happen. Watney and the reader, by this stage
of the novel, are united in a common project: making sure he gets home safe. Once again, the motif of
small deviations (with big results) is evident here. Tiny variations in Watney’s blast-off from Mars, in the
MAV, result in his being far away from Hermes once he reaches outer space. But the Hermes crew, like
Watney, is resourceful and patient, and the improvised, controlled “explosion” that redirects Hermes saves
Watney’s life (although it also damages an extraordinarily expensive ship).

By the end of the novel, the reader can take stock of the costs and, of course, the benefits of Watney’s
rescue. As throughout, Watney himself, the crew, and NASA raise the question of just how much help one
human deserves in making his or her way back home. NASA has demonstrated that they are willing to
spend any amount to bring Watney home alive. But as Weir realistically renders the NASA bureaucracy,
this decision—to rescue Watney regardless of cost—has an implicit benefit to NASA’s public relations
strategy, perhaps making it easier, down the line, for the organization to secure funding from Congress.

Indeed, by the end of the text, a final theme is present: that of “cost-benefit analysis.” No decision is
without its costs, and even successful decisions can have side effects that are difficult to accept. Lewis
leaves Watney behind because it’s the right move for the rest of the crew—but she has abandoned a
shipmate whom she goes on to rescue. Watney’s many small decisions on Mars—especially his more
experimental efforts to make water, irrigate, and farm—occasionally result in dangerous situations that
imperil his living space, even as he tries to improve it. Back on Earth, NASA is willing to spend enormously,
as is the American government, but a perceptive reader understands that a fraction of this money could
help lift a large number of American citizens to escape earthly dangers, like poverty and illness. With all
that said, Watney’s joy, on rejoining his crewmates, is a pure and exciting one, and the novel captures, in
thrilling detail, the practical, scientific decision-making that’s brought him home.