Features & Columns

The Man Behind the Martian

How a local computer programmer with a fetish for scientific fact accidentally
penned a best-selling sci-fi novel, inspired a blockbuster and reignited
the public's interest in a manned mission to Mars
MAJOR TOM: In the film version of 'The Martian,' Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut who is marooned on Mars and must stretch his mind and muscles to survive until he can be rescued.

Not far from the front door of his home in Mountain View's North Whisman neighborhood, computer programmer Andy Weir can see the hulking skeleton of Hangar One that looms over Moffett Federal Airfield.

There was a time when the imposing structure served as a shelter for the USS Macon—one of the largest rigid airships ever built. These days, however, much of the business conducted at Moffett Field concerns reaching heights far greater than those achieved by that massive dirigible.

The airfield is now home to the Ames Research Center, one of NASA's largest facilities outside of the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

It is fitting that Weir should live so close to this Silicon Valley landmark. After all, he is the author of the 2014 novel, The Martian—the basis for the new Ridley Scott-directed, Matt Damon-starring blockbuster of the same name, which just captured the No. 1 spot at American box offices for the second weekend in a row.

"It's been a wild ride," says Weir, a longtime Bay Area denizen.

Even in early 2014, as The Martian was on the verge of a physical release through a real publishing house, Weir says he never imagined that it would result in him hanging out with Matt Damon and Jeff Daniels at the Toronto International Film Festival, as he did last month. He also didn't intend for his book—which started out as a series of short, connected stories on his personal blog—to spark broad public interest in space exploration.

Back when he first started writing about a fictional astronaut marooned on Mars, he really only had one objective in mind: to visualize what an actual mission to Mars would look like using present-day technology.

It's little surprise that Weir would choose to spend his free time this way... continue reading