With NASA's big water-on-Mars announcement coming the day before the release of Ridley Scott's The Martian, there has been plenty of commentary on what astoundingly good timing that was for 20th Century Fox. It's not every day you find water on Mars, after all. Hollywood is not the only one benefiting from this happy coincidence, however, as the Matt Damon-fuelled Mars mania coincides with NASA kicking their Journey to Mars to the next level.
“NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on October 9th, introducing the plan that will supposedly result in human footprints on the surface of Mars. It's a long term course of action, with human missions to Mars not projected to happen until at least the 2030s. You can read the whole plan here, if you're interested in seeing just what it takes to get a human being to our nearest planetary neighbour. The long build-up is of key importance, however, with NASA's eventual goal being to foster a continual human presence in the solar system, rather than an epic, one-off expedition. For a continual presence, however, NASA needs public interest to continue -- which is why the release of The Martian is such a bonus for them.
We've already heard how NASA scientists were involved in making The Martian one of the most realistic science fiction movies we've seen to date, but NASA's involvement in the Hollywood epic doesn't stop there. Most recently, NASA updated their Google Earth-like Mars Trek with a tie in to the movie -- you can now track Mark Watney's epic fictional trek across Mars' real surface. It does involve a few spoilers, however, so you might want to hold off on your Mars Trekking if you haven't seen the movie yet. Check it out for yourself here.