Planetary Radio • Feb 17, 2021

Planetfest ’21: To Mars and Back Again

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On This Episode

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Thomas Zurbuchen

Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate for NASA

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Jennifer Trosper

Perseverance rover deputy project manager at the Jet Propulsion Lab

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Andrew Jones

Contributing editor for The Planetary Society

Omran sharaf emm hope project director

Omran Sharaf

Emirates Mars Mission project director

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Andy Weir

Author of The Martian and Project Hail Mary

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society’s Planetfest ’21 celebrated Mars and the newest visitors to the Red Planet. Mat Kaplan shares some of his Planetfest conversation with Andy Weir, author of The Martian. We also sit down with the leader of the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission that entered Mars orbit a few days ago. Planetary Society contributing editor Andrew Jones provides an update on China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft that arrived within hours of Hope. We’ll also join preparations for the landing of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover Perseverance as we hear a media briefing from mission leaders.

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Perseverance Rover Landing Animation Animation depicting key events during entry, descent, and landing that will occur when NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars February 18, 2021. In the span of about seven minutes, the spacecraft slows down from about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph) at the top of the Martian atmosphere to about 2 mph (3 kph) at touchdown in an area called Jezero Crater.

Perseverance Rover Studying an Outcrop
Perseverance Rover Studying an Outcrop This artist's concept shows a close-up of NASA's Perseverance rover studying an outcrop.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Hope - UAE's First Mars Mission How did Mars change to the cold, dry desert-world it is today? See how the UAE's first Mars mission, Hope, plans to explore the red planet.

Mars from Hope Probe
Mars from Hope Probe The United Arab Emirates' Hope spacecraft captured this image of Mars during arrival in February 2021. Hope was roughly 25,000 kilometers (15,500 miles) above the surface at the time.Image: MBRSC

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China's Tianwen-1 Mars Mission How much water is hiding under the Martian surface? Learn how China's Tianwen-1 mission to Mars will help us solve the mystery.

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Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit This video shows China's Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover entering Mars orbit on 10 February 2021. The spacecraft captured the images 3 seconds apart, and the entire video covers a period of 27 minutes.Video: CNSA/PEC via Andrew Jones

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Trivia Contest

This week's prizes:

Watch the skies! They’re back! A Planetary Society r-r-r-r-rubber asteroid.

This week's question:

How many and which space agencies had their first Mars orbiters get it right, achieving orbit and operating above the Red Planet?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, February 25th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

How many lasers are on board the Perseverance rover?


The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the 3 February space trivia contest:

To celebrate Perseverance, Hope, and Tianwen-1 reaching Mars, write a poem about one or more spacecraft at or arriving at Mars. Judging will be entirely subjective and capricious. Be profound or make us laugh.


We received many wonderful poems about Mars spacecraft! Too many to evaluate around Planetfest, so the five winners will be announced in our 24 February show.


Mat Kaplan: A taste of Planetfest, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Planetfest '21 to Mars and back was a huge success. It was our first Planetfest since the Curiosity Rover arrived at Mars in 2012 and the first one to go virtual. What it lacked in big crowds it more than made up for in enthusiasm and terrific content. I've got a small but exciting sample for you on this weeks show which I'm working on mere hours after the close of Planetfest on the evening of Sunday, February 14th. You'll hear Emirates Mars Mission director Omran Sharaf, China Space Program Expert Andrew Jones and our old friend Andy Weir, Author of The Martian.

Mat Kaplan: We begin with a few inspiring moments from a NASA media briefing held on Tuesday February 16th, just two days before the Mars 2020 rover, Perseverance, plunges through its seven minutes of terror to the surface of the Red Planet. If you hear this in time, I invite you to join Bill Nye's Perseverance Landing Party on Thursday February 18th beginning at 11:30 am Pacific. It's free and available to all at We told you last week that the United Arab Emirates Hope Orbiter had successfully reached Mars. The current edition of the Downlink, our weekly news letter adds the arrival of China's Tianwen-1 Orbiter and Rover as you'll hear from Andrew Jones, the rover is not expected to land till May. NASA has announced that Firefly Aerospace will carry PlanetVac to the moon in 2023 on its Blue Ghost Lander. NASA also announced that the Europa Clipper will ride a commercial rocket rather than the giant space launch system. Lift off is now tentatively planned for October 2024 and the European Space Agency is looking for a few good astronauts. The application window opens on March 31st. You can always find more at

Mat Kaplan: Want to join a live conversation about how we will meet the challenges of living elsewhere in the solar system, Humanity in Deep Space is a free virtual event on February 25th at 10:30 am Pacific. I'll join a first rate panel for what I'm sure will be a fascinating discussion. You can learn more and register at NASA has begun the public preparation for the landing of Perseverance. Lead speakers on the first of several media briefings where NASA Associate Administrator for Science, Thomas Zurbuchen and Perseverance Deputy Project Manager, Jennifer Trosper. Here are a few moments from that briefing.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Well thanks so much, I'm so excited to join the colleagues here from JPL as we count down to Mars and we just recognize what an amazing journey this has been and I want to thank, at this time, the team for working so hard on this mission. And especially in the past year in adverse circumstances and I want to recognize the many sacrifices that the team had to do and really exhibited this true spirit of exploration that we always talk about. I just want to thank them for that. You know Mars captivates our imagination and has been part of our dreams for many decades and Perseverance build on the long history of systematic science driven exploration of Mars that has been enabled by ever better technologies and systems.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Right now, inside is taking measurements of Mars Quakes, Curiosity is focused on geological and the chemical evolution near Gale crater and two orbiters are out there, new in the last couple of weeks, joining other orbits from NASA and other agencies, learning more about this planet. Our journey has been from following the water to seeing whether this planet was habitable, to finding complex chemicals and now we're at the advent of an entirely new phase returning samples. An aspirational goal that has been with the science community for decades. It is novel technologies that have enabled those breakthroughs we benefit today and its novel technologies that are enabling the next leaps of exploration. Landing with more precision and safely, learn how to make oxygen from Co2 out of the atmosphere and more. And a true extra terrestrial Wright Brothers moment with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter riding at the belly of the [inaudible 00:05:06] right now as we demonstrate controlled flight in a different world.

Thomas Zurbuchen: We could in fact not land Jezero crater if it wasn't for the technologies that already added to this. Mars is hard and we never take success for granted. And as we want to land on Mars it is of course important and we'll do so with cameras on so the entire world is inspired with us and as we do new and tough things and demonstrate these new technologies. Because whether it's on the Red Planet or here at home on our blue marble, science can bring us together and create solutions to challenges that seem impossible at first. And I'm really looking forward. Handing it over to you Jennifer who is of course the Deputy Project Manager. Take it away Jennifer.

Jennifer Trosper: Thank you. Well I am so excited to be here today. I can tell you that Perseverance is operating perfectly right now and all systems are go for landing. Last Friday night we actually sent a command to the space craft, we call it the Do EDL command, Do Entry Descent and Landing. It makes it sound simple, it's not simple, but it enters the spacecraft into the timeline where it starts to do the entry, descent and landing activities, so that was a very exciting event. The spacecraft is focused, the team is focused and we are all ready to go for landing. Now I want to tell you a little bit more about where we're at. This is something that you can actually look at. It's called Eyes on the Solar System. And it tells you where different spacecraft are in the universe and so we can tell you that Mars Perseverance is a 25 million miles away from Earth and we are only 370 000 miles from Mars. So we are getting there. The time it actually takes for a signal to go from Earth to Mars is 11 minutes and so that's how we're communicating with the vehicle right now.

Jennifer Trosper: One of the things that we've been working towards is really making sure that the aim point we're targeted for at Mars, so we want to aim like on a dart board, that the aim point is accurate and we are headed exactly where we want to be from Mars. I think back to Sojourner, the very first rover we landed on Mars. Sojourner was about the size of a microwave oven. Very small, and even though it's our oldest child, their all kind of like additional children for me, it sort of behaved like a youngest child that had a very free spirit, and it was just a fun mission to drive around. And then you can see the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were the next evolution. We built off of what Sojourner had done, Spirit and Opportunity actually could talk to Earth all by themselves. They still used solar panels and they were these twins that explored all over Mars and outlived their lifetime by multiples of ten and even a hundred and they were just great rovers.

Jennifer Trosper: And then we kind of took the pause and we really upgraded our systems and you can see curiosity down there in the lower left hand part of this graphic. Curiosity, we went from solar panels to [inaudible 00:08:19], the wheels increased in size. We get to reverse over much larger rocks in different terrains. We had a sky crane landing system instead of airbags. We really made a step up. And then Perseverance, even though it looks a lot like Curiosity, is another technological step forwards. And so in closing, the one final thing I want to talk about is, it's not just about the rovers and it's not about the individual people who build the rovers. It's about all those individual people together, working together to make this mission work and all of these missions work. There are several dozen of us at JPL who have actually worked on all five of the rover missions, if you can believe it. I want to spend this moment to just thank the team for all of their work over the last almost decade to bring us to where we are today.

Jennifer Trosper: The team isn't just a bunch of people who are all the same. It's a bunch of different uniquely skilled personal who know very deeply all the technical things they need to know in order for all those things to come together into a complex system like the ones that we land on Mars, so thank you to that team. And I will end by saying both for landing on Thursday and for the whole surface mission, I wish that team great success that they have worked so hard to attain over the last many years.

Mat Kaplan: NASA's Thomas Zubuchen and Perseverance Rover Deputy Project Manager, Jennifer Trosper in a media briefing on Tuesday of February 16th. We'll take a brief break and then return with Andrew Jones and Omran Sharaf. Please stay with us. Planetary Radio is made possible by the generous support of listeners like you. If you enjoy our show, if you believe in the mission of The Planetary Society, advancing space exploration, I hope you will join us. We need 500 new members by March 5th to hit our goal. Your membership will power our core initiatives, exploring the world, finding life and defending our planet from Asteroid threats. Sign up today at and you'll receive an official membership T-shirt featuring the lovely worlds of our solar system. That's Thanks

Mat Kaplan: Planetfest '21 included more than 20 virtual sessions covering everything from doing science on Mars to debunking bad science. I hope to share the closing hour with you in a future show, in it I welcome back Jet Propulsion Lab Chief Engineer Rob Manning, who is always delightful. Actually my colleagues are working now on how we will make all of the great session videos available on demand. I'll let you know when this happens. I pre-recorded two Planetfest sessions which is why I am able to share them with you now. We'll hear Andy Weir in a few minutes. First, I'll welcome back to Planetary Radio Emirates Mars Mission Director, Omran Sharaf and Planetary Society contributing editor, Andrew Jones. As you'll hear, we talked less than a day after the EMM Hope spacecraft entered orbit above the Red Planet.

Mat Kaplan: Omran, congratulations on behalf of all of us who were watching this, all of us at The Planetary Society on the successful orbital insertion of Hope.

Omran Sharaf: Thank you man, Thank you very much for your kind introduction and for your kind wishes also. It's quite important day in the history of the radio also in the history of the region. Feels good to be at this point.

Mat Kaplan: I bet it does, as it should. Andrew Jones is a contributing editor to The Planetary Society. He's a Finland based journalist who covers international space developments, especially China's space program because of course not quite 24 hours after the success of Omran and his team with Hope, Tianwen-1 arrived in orbit around Mars. Andrew's work is also seen regularly at and Space News. You'll find him on Twitter where he is @AJ_FI, FI for Finland Andrew?

Andrew Jones: I think that was the case, it was a long time ago.

Mat Kaplan: Well welcome to you as well and of course Andrew, you and I get to talk at a semi regular basis on Planetary Radio. And we're going to come back to that in just moments, Andrew. I was watching last Tuesday when that pandemonium broke out among your team and others there in the UAE and around the world as you got the confirmation that Hope had successfully achieved orbit around the Red Planet. I just want to say that the camera was on you periodically, you looked overwhelmed. You looked like maybe somebody should have found you a chair. How did that feel?

Omran Sharaf: A lot of people told me that I looked quite thrilled, some people couldn't read me, some said that I looked overwhelmed, some people said you looked like you were bringing bad news. Some people were lik it was difficult to understand your facial expressions. To be honest, I was just focused on what needs to be done. The moment [inaudible 00:13:34] did the announcement, I was still in shock actually. I was confident before MY, I was worried, very worried. I was stressed at the same time proud, at the same time very confident about the work that the team did. So that moment just hit me quite as a surprise. Even though I was prepared for it, to make an announcement whether it's a success or not, But I saw the seven years pass right in front of me in a second. It took me a couple of minutes just to realize that this is happening. And maybe that's why, I don't know to be honest, why I was looking the way I was looking. I guess that the good thing is, the news was positive. The news was good and we succeeded in reaching Mars.

Mat Kaplan: I thought that I saw all of that. That complex of emotions and thoughts on your face. I'm glad I wasn't reading too much in if that was your sense of it as well. Tell us, what is the current status of the spacecraft, is it healthy?

Omran Sharaf: The spacecraft is healthy. Right after insertion, we had a very quick meeting in which we just made sure that the spacecraft is fine, the sub systems are working fine. Four hours just about, we had a more detailed discussion about the whole system and sub systems and also about the trajectory that we entered with and also the orbit that we end up with. And then, around eight am the next day, which was about six hours after that meeting ended, we had that final meeting in which we assessed the orbit we were in, the capsule orbit is as per our requirements. We also assessed the status of the spacecraft and basically the overall performance of the system and how well it did in the MY process. We had to make a decision on whether we want to go ahead with its trajectory correction removal, the decision was a no go, which is a good thing. And right after that we had another meeting to discuss officially transitioning from the Mars orbit insertion phase into the transition phase, basically transitioning to Science.

Omran Sharaf: So the spacecraft is sound, spacecraft is fine, it's working well and we are starting our calibration process for instruments very soon and preparing for us transitioning into our science orbit in two months from now. Hopefully less.

Mat Kaplan: So, there will be another burn to achieve that Science orbit and that's when we'll start to see the science data that so many of your colleagues on the science team are anticipating?

Omran Sharaf: Yes, so basically two months from now we should be in our Science orbit, and we start our science phase. By September this year we hope to release our science data. No restrictions, and basically we have a special platform set up for that to give access to everyone on the world to it.

Mat Kaplan: All very good news. Andrew Jones, you've been very patient through all of this. I hope you found this as interning as I have. I would love to hear any questions that you might have for Omran as well. But of course we also want to talk about that other big success last week. Welcome once again.

Andrew Jones: Thanks, and first Omran, congratulations. Many congratulations for the success. Also, that fascinating and very rich introduction to the mission and the background that was wonderful.

Mat Kaplan: So as we said Andrew, not even 24 hours after the arrival of EMM the Hope spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates, we saw Tianwen-1 arrive in orbit around China. I'll go to an image because this image in itself is worth talking about. It's and actual image of the spacecraft in flight. How did China achieve this?

Andrew Jones: This was a bit of a surprise or quite a surprise to be honest. I think this was taken in October. Released on October first so it was Peoples Republic of China's National day. Many millions of [inaudible 00:17:41] detach a small kind of panel spacecraft which had a camera on both sides and as it was tumbling away from the spacecraft it took pictures and sent these to the spacecraft which were then transferred back home and decoded. So what we got to see in deep space was Tianwen-1 on its way. This was kind of an unprecedented image and quite a stunt to be honest. Also, especially good to see because for the Hope mission we had a count down, we got the Emirates mission website, we had insight into the team which was great to follow. For the Tianwen-1 mission, we didn't really have anything apart from radio silence from China. So we were kind of scrambling around looking for a web stream.

Andrew Jones: There was something from China central television but that was via an app which if you are outside of China, you can't even download sometimes, depending on your echo system. It was very hard to know what was going on but at the same time we had radio operators who call themselves amateurs but they are very skilled and what they were doing was using 20 meter dish in Bochum in Germany to actually pick up the signals. We were able to work out where Tianwen-1 was, when we expected the braking burden for the orbit insertion and then when we could expect it to come back the other side of Mars and pick up the signal. From the top [inaudible 00:19:13] we have to say, this looks like everything is going well. And then a few minutes later we got the official news from China that Tianwen-1 was in the intended orbit. Its been very interesting to follow this mission in a number of ways and not quite so easily or as clearly as others.

Mat Kaplan: What a contrast with the UAE's openness about the Hope mission Omran, I was on the Chinese space agency's news site yesterday, and more than 24 hours after orbital insertion there was still not a press release posted on that site. Andrew we still know a fair amount about the spacecraft, in fact, we can tell quite a bit just from looking at this image. We're looking at really two spacecrafts. There is the orbiter which has now joined so many others in orbit above Mars, including Hope, but you can see that Aero shell which I assume has a rover inside it.

Andrew Jones: Absolutely, so the orbiter is in its highly elliptical orbit right now. For the next two or three months there will be lowering of the orbit and observations of an area of Utopia Planitia in preparation for the landing of a rover which will be about 240 kilograms so it's kind of comparable to Opportunity and Spirit, a serious rover here.

Mat Kaplan: China's crowded a lot onto this little rover.

Andrew Jones: That's right, so we've got six instruments here with a range of science goals here and there's another seven on the orbiter. The head of CNSA said yesterday that they are planning the landing in a hundred days so I don't know if he was just talking in the general range of 100 days, because the contractor said May to June would be the landing. We're still wondering when it will be but 100 days would be 21st of May. We've got quite a package of instruments here. Some that we haven't seen on Mars before for example there's a grand penetrating radar which will give fascinating insights into the sub surface. Perseverance is also bringing one along. To have two of these instruments working in different spots would allow not just allow new science data but also some level of comparison. That's going to be fascinating if both of these can make the landing.

Andrew Jones: One thing that China is very interested in looking into here if we focus on the Radar would be water ice. The idea would be to get follow up detections of water ice made from [inaudible 00:21:56] which I think was on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Marses which was on Mars express from ESA. To follow up on those readings which suggest pockets of water and water ice in the sub surface. There's another radar on the orbiter so that would give two different levels of insight and be able to back each other up in a sense. But one thing that was apparent in choosing the location, this area of Utopia Planitia, so to the south of Viking 2, there are polygonal land formations there which are theorized that you could have water running down below into pockets below the surface. A team actually took a similar ground penetrating radar out into the count down basement in west China. The idea was to do analog tests to see what they could pick up.

Andrew Jones: This team was saying that they were able to detect pockets of briny water and of course, briny waters are of great interest on Mars. The idea is they go there, find these pockets and that would be one candidate for hosting extremophile, we're talking about possibilities for detecting an environment which could harbor life and the other thing that was mentioned to me by one Chinese planetary scientist was that the detections of water ice for example would be very important for potential human missions in the future in terms of resources. This is of course China's first inter planetary mission but also very ambitious and they have their eyes on some very intriguing sites. Around 2028 till 2030 depending on which rockets they use and which launch window they can get ready for.

Andrew Jones: What they are looking to do as a next step is a Mars sample return. Very few details available on this but it's in the science papers which are being published from senior officials from the Chinese space program. It's been mentioned in the space white papers which they release every five years and there should be another one coming at the end of this year, so that would be good to get an update on this. As you can see, going to Mars first time, well, first time independently with both an orbiter and a rover is very ambitious and then to go for a next step to a Mars sample return which is something that's never been done. Clearly China is looking to pick up the pace and do things which haven't been done in space before. NASA and ESA are combining to work on their own concept and that could launch as early as 2026 I think.

Andrew Jones: I don't like to talk about space races because that's a tired analogy but this could actually be one area in which you would have some level of competition at least in terms of who can get samples from Mars and bring them back first. Because that would quite simply be unprecedented and could be one of the biggest break throughs in science we've had ever.

Mat Kaplan: I often call it the holy grail for Mars scientists getting those samples back to the laboratories on earth which have so much greater capability than anything that we can put on the surface of Mars on a robotic space craft or rover right now and of course Perseverance as we're talking about through much of this weekend at Planetfest is the first step NASA/ESA plan to return samples. How interesting this is going to be seeing who manages to do this. Of course, if their both successful even better. I really just wanted to thank both of you once again for contributing to our terrific programming this weekend and thank you for sharing your expertize. I will ask, if you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share. Andrew, we can start with you.

Andrew Jones: I just want to say congratulations again, I look forward to following Hope and that really is a tremendous achievement and I hope to see that it bears the fruit that you hope it brings.

Mat Kaplan: Well said. Omran, any final thoughts?

Omran Sharaf: I would like to congratulate China for their successful launch and orbit insertion. Also, I would like to wish our colleagues and friends in the US successful arrival of Perseverance next week. The whole team is looking forward for data and information from all missions that are arriving this year. One message I would like to send to everyone and emphasize the importance of international collaboration. If it wasn't for international collaboration, we wouldn't be able to deliver the mission with the time frame that we had and with the budget that we had. We have an example now of the mission that is orbiting Mars and was able to do that because of collaboration, because of transparency and I highly encourage different players within the space community globally to reconsider approaches, to come up with new ways of doing things. Not just in collaborating but also when it comes to developing and delivering such missions. The simpler we make it, the easier we can make equip people, the more complicated we make it, the less successful these missions will be.

Mat Kaplan: Omran, thank you again, and as well, congratulations again to you, the entire EMM Hope team and the people of the UAE and elsewhere, your partners at the University of Colorado, Arizona State University and elsewhere who have made this mission so successful so far. We look forward to getting those science results as Hope reveals more about the Red Planet to all of us.

Omran Sharaf: Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: And Andrew, I look forward to talking to you more on Planetary Radio and especially to reading more about what you are able to learn about the Chinese space program as it continues its ambitious journey out across the solar system. Thanks a lot and look forward to talking to you.

Andrew Jones: Thanks very much.

Mat Kaplan: Andy Weir didn't just write The Martian, he is a certified Mars fanatic like yours truly. Welcoming Andy back for Planetfest '21 was a no brainer. Here's just a portion of our conversation, by the way, Andy will return in April for a conversation about his new and excellent book, Project Hail Mary, available in the first week of May.

Mat Kaplan: Andy Weir, welcome to PlanetFest, we are so glad that you are able to join us and I am so glad to be talking with you again.

Andy Weir: Thanks for having me, always a pleasure to hang out with you Mat.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you very much. I feel the same way. We're going back to Mars.

Andy Weir: It's Awesome.

Mat Kaplan: It is, Mark Watney isn't making the trip, but you know, two Rovers, two orbiters, it's not bad right.

Andy Weir: Not bad at all.

Mat Kaplan: What do you think about these missions?

Andy Weir: I'm against them. Obviously I think their incredible, it's so awesome. I'm looking forward to what Perseverance is up to. It's got some new tools, some new toys on board that Curiosity didn't have. I'm hoping to see how that pans out. I'm really excited about the landing. I'll be on egg shells watching it.

Mat Kaplan: I think we all.

Andy Weir: Mars is a planet populated entirely by robots.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, well till Mark gets there anyway. Which I guess is still a little ways off. You follow space exploration and science pretty closely, don't you?

Andy Weir: Yeah, of course. Big hobby of mine. Always keeping track of what's going on. It's just something I'm really interested in.

Mat Kaplan: Let's talk about the Martian.

Andy Weir: Okay.

Mat Kaplan: Something that made a whole lot more people interested in Mars. I don't know, I hope NASA sent you that big cheque. They should have.

Andy Weir: Well, I mean Random House sent me that big cheque. So I'm doing fine. Don't worry about it.

Mat Kaplan: That's good, I wouldn't hold my breath for the NASA one. So I'm going to read this, because it's a loaded question. How does it feel to have written Martian science fiction that has earned its place next to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Red Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Kim Stanley Robinson?

Andy Weir: That is high praise indeed and certainly an incredible body of authors to be considered alongside. Feels great and of course I think every writer gets this, me especially, imposter syndrome. Like, what am I doing here? Thank you

Mat Kaplan: I mean, I use that term because I and the millions of readers, to say nothing of the tens of millions who saw the movie. You're in that pantheon.

Andy Weir: Thank you so much, It feels great. I feel like I won the lottery basically. I just kind of bungled into success and still don't know what I did right. It feels good.

Mat Kaplan: It's been a few years since you wrote the book, is there anything you'd change? Is there anything you would update?

Andy Weir: Yeah, I think that the general public at large doesn't realize how rapidly we've learned things about Mars. The rovers, the scientific advancements that we're making all the time and learning more and more about Mars. When I was born, people had no idea what Mars even looked like. Marinar hadn't gotten there yet, so they didn't even know it had craters. They had no idea. So just during my lifetime, which is longer than I'd like to admit, but during my lifetime we've learned so much about Mars and since 2012 when I finished the Martian, we've had nine years which doesn't sound like much, but nine years of advancements on Mars knowledge. Among many of the things we've discovered about Mars since I wrote the book, was first off, there's water all over the damn place. It's just everywhere. In the book, Mark Watney has to go through all these machinations to turn his left over rocket fuel into usable water so he can grow his potato's. When really, the soil has, every cubic meter of Martian soil. It's not soil, it's regolith technically if it's not from earth but I'm going to say dirt.

Andy Weir: Every cubic meter of dirt on Mars has about 35 liters of water ice crystals trapped in it. If you filled your refrigerator with Martian dirt and then got all the water out of it by heating it up till it boiled, distilling it off, you would have 70 liters of water. That's 35 two liter bottles filled with water. It's an enormous amount of water. There was plenty of water, Mark didn't have to do anything to get it. Although it's such a cool plot line, I would have fabricated an excuse for him to get it. I would have said, okay, we know that there's a lot of water around the foothills of Mount Sharp where Curiosity is and did its tests, but I can say that Acidalia Planitia is a desert maybe, we have climate zones on Earth, Mars could have climate zones. So until you send somebody to Acidalia to test the soil, I can claim it's a desert. Other things that have changed, we now know that the soil has a lot of perchlorate in it. Which are poison-ish to humans. It's not like arsenic or cyanide that kills you immediately but it's bad for you.

Andy Weir: Eating perchlorate riddled food is kind of like smoking. It's got a good chance of eventually killing you, it's a health risk you don't want to take. However, perchlorate are water soluble and we found out there's plenty of water on Mars. So Mark, knowing this, could have easily rinsed the soil of all of its perchlorate by using access water that he would gather from the environment. I could have taken care of that problem. One of my biggest regrets on Martian was at the very beginning of it, the sand storm that causes all the problems is one of the few real scientific in accuracies in the book. I knew while I wrote it, I just decided to look the other way on reality there just so I can have Mother Nature start the conflict. Since then, I and we as humanity, has learned that Mars has lightning, active lightning. I could have had a lightning strike hit something critical that caused the explosion, that caused the cascade failure or something like that, that led to the evacuation.

Andy Weir: I could have had nature get the first punch in but in a scientifically realistic way. The one other thing I will point out, the area surrounding Ares 3, after the book came out it was really popular and then JPL took Mars global surveyor and pointed it at the Ares 3 landing site and took some high res photos. And then they posted it and said this is what the site around Mark Watney looked like and as you can see it's nothing like you described in the book. And I was like, listen you jack ass. Now that we have high res photography on the Ares 3 landing site, I would probably use that.

Mat Kaplan: I was thinking, what are they going to do? Sue you?

Andy Weir: Exactly.[crosstalk 00:35:03] have a billion dollars of satellite pointed at my silly fictional location on Mars, well, it's a real location on Mars but there's nothing there. Often I get asked, hey, are you ever going to go back and update the Martian for new information we have about Mars and I say no. I would be in an endless cycle. We are always learning new things about Mars. So I would never be not editing the Martian. It is what it is, a snapshot of our knowledge of Mars as of when it was written.

Mat Kaplan: Author and space science fan, Andy Weir speaking with me at Planetfest '21. The Planetary Societies two day celebration of Mars and the three spacecraft that have joined the robots already exploring the Red Planet on our behalf. I'll be here with Bruce and what's up in seconds. Rubber asteroids are back. Time again for What's up on Planetary Radio, we are joined by the chief scientist of The Planetary Society who also had a big role in our weekend of PlanetFest to Mars and Back. I hope you had as good a time as I did, I had a good time. It was fun.

Bruce Betts: It was Planet Festive.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I hope a lot of people out there listening to us were able to tune in. We are working on getting the live video sessions available on demand. There are a few people who will hear this before we know if Perseverance has made it down safely to the surface of Mars. We'll be doing our landing party with Bill on Thursday the 18th. For those of you that catch the show before that, you might want to catch us at

Bruce Betts: Mars Landing, always exciting. One way or the other.

Mat Kaplan: What's Up?

Bruce Betts: You know what's not up, a bunch of planets. Take the time to rest, except for Mars in the evening South West. South you can see reddish Mars but all the other planets, their chilling. Get siked, they'll be back in a few weeks and in the meantime, check out Mars and check out the stars. In the evening sky we have Mars in the South West and if you look to the left you'll find the reddish star Aldeboran, the brightest star on Taures. And Aldeboran and Mars are very similar in brightness and color right now. Looking like twinsies. And here's a thing. About half way between them, just kind of a little above the line between the two of them are the Pleiades. Pleiades star cluster which look like the fuzziness, but if you pull out quickly some binoculars and look in that region, you'll see a cluster of baby stars in a star nursery. Their so cute.

Mat Kaplan: I love the Pleiades, I want to mention that little trick that I was taught a long time ago. Where if there're some stars or any objects that are a little bit dim, look a little bit to the side of them, because your eye's more sensitive when it's not right at the focus.

Bruce Betts: Right in the center of our vision is stacked with cones which are better with color and detail and light. Our rods which are better at night vision are concentrated more away from that center spot. So if you look where you want to look and then look just a little off your eyes may pick up dimmer objects because of the higher concentration of the more light sensitive rods.

Mat Kaplan: It really does work, give it a shot folks. It's a fun trick. What else is going on?

Bruce Betts: Well, we move on to this week in space history. 1962 John Glen became the first American to Orbit the Earth. In 1996 NEAR spacecraft, launched, headed for the Astroid Aeros. We move on to [inaudible 00:38:59]

Mat Kaplan: I'll have to wind you up after we're done here.

Bruce Betts: Mat, Mars, there's a lot of stuff there. There are eight working orbiters at Mars right now from seven space agencies.

Mat Kaplan: That really is amazing. That's a flotilla.

Bruce Betts: It is indeed. So we focus on the coolness of landers, don't forget the awesome science and coolness of the international flotilla. We move on to the trivia contest, our listeners are amazing, they overwhelmed us. Particularly on PlanetFest weekend, we were overwhelmed with the number of poems including epic poems, so sorry, we need to evaluate longer. In a rare move, we are going to put off the announcement of the winners and discussion of the poetry until next week. That make sense? That what we're doing Mat?

Mat Kaplan: It absolutely does, sounds like you were as pleasantly surprised as I was. I was blown away. I didn't expect very many at all. We got over 30 poems or poets out there who submitted their work. Some people more than one of their works. A lot of them are just terrific. This is going to be a difficult choice, but we promise, by next week we will have our five winners and among them our grand prize winner. The five winners will all get lanetFest'21 T-shirts and then we're going to throw in, I can't remember what it was. For our grand prize winner I got to look it up. I think it was one of the books we've been talking about recently.

Bruce Betts: IT's going to take longer too because people put them in old Nors and ancient Greek and Latin. I know that's what epic poems are kind of famous for but it makes it harder to judge.

Mat Kaplan: Reading Beowulf is fun but it's not something I want to do every day.

Bruce Betts: Well, actually I do that every day.

Mat Kaplan: Good. You know whose worse than Grendel right? Grendel's mom.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, not very likable.

Mat Kaplan: No.

Bruce Betts: Shall I move on to the new trivia question? That doesn't involve poetry?

Mat Kaplan: Yeah.

Bruce Betts: Listen carefully, how many and which space agencies have their first Mars orbiter reach Mars and Operate in Mars orbit. How many and which space agencies have their first Mars orbiter, their first Mars orbiter attempt reach Mars and operate Mars orbit? Go to

Mat Kaplan: So all those who got it right on the first try, I get it.

Bruce Betts: Well sure, I could have said it that way, but I wanted something more complicated.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you. You have until the 24th. That's Wednesday, February 24 at eight am Pacific time to get us the answer. We've had so many people asking when are you going back to giving away rubber asteroids. Well, the time has come. That's what will go to the winner of this new space trivia contest and yes, Bruce is excited.

Bruce Betts: Yay!

Mat Kaplan: I think that's it.

Bruce Betts: All right every body, go out there and look up at the night sky and think about what you would name your Mars spacecraft. Thank you and goodnight.

Mat Kaplan: He is Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society. Leading all of our efforts in that range of things that the society is up to and he also joins us here every week for What's up. Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by its members. We need 500 new explorers to join them by March fifth and we'll reward you with our new and beyond cool Society t-shirt. Visit to sign up. Mark Hilverda is our associate producer, Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad Ares.