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Hollywood, NASA Collide Over Journey To Mars

Actor Mackenzie Davis, Retired Astronaut  Stott, and Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Actor Mackenzie Davis, Retired Astronaut Stott, and Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor

It’s a busy week for Mars. Earlier this week, scientists announced the findings of liquid water on the red planet. And this weekend, The Martian – a movie chronicling an astronaut marooned on Mars – premiers in theaters.

NASA is working on its own mission to Mars, and today, some of that cast from the movie joined those NASA scientist and administrators to talk to students about the real journey to the red planet.

90.7’s Brendan Byrne was there and he joins 90.7's Crystal Chavez from the Kennedy Space Center to talk about it.

CRYSTAL: So Brendan, who was in the audience and who was on the panel?

BRENDAN: The audience was made up a group of students from Central Florida – Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach, and Titusville. There were also about 10-thousand students joining remotely from around the country. On the panel was Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Retired Astronaut Nicole Stott, and The Martian actors Mackenzie Davis and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

CRYSTAL: What kind of questions were the kids asking?

BRENDAN: Well, they were very interested in NASA’s Journey to Mars, but interestingly enough, one of the first students asked about the budget. Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana assured the student that funding – so far – remains flat for Mars missions – which is a good thing.

CRYSTAL: What else?

BRENDAN: The students read ‘The Martian’ – the book the movie is based on – and had some specific questions about that. For anyone who has read the book, they’ll know the marooned astronaut – Mark Watney –kept himself alive by growing potatoes. They asked if that was plausible.

CRYSTAL: And is it?

BRENDAN: According to NASA Plant Physiologist Ray Wheeler, not only is it plausible, it’d be an astronaut’s best choice.
CRYSTAL: Let’s get to the good stuff and talk about the movie stars! What were their reactions to being at Kennedy Space Center?

BRENDAN: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mackenzie Davis - who play NASA engineers, were there. It was their first time visiting Kennedy Space Center – the site of the first real missions to mars. Before the panel, scientists showed Mackenzie photos of Mars that were taken earlier that day. Here was her reaction: “It’s really emotional and overwhelming. You see these things that are released, the dates are kind of nebulous, I consume a lot of mars and space imagery, but I’ve never had that feeling that “oh this was just taken five hours ago and now being seen with my eyes. It’s really affecting and overwhelming”.

CRYSTAL: With all this publicity – how do officials at NASA feel about the Journey to Mars hitting the silver screen?

BRENDAN: Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana says it’s great for the program. Here he is talking about his reaction to reading “The Martian”. "I couldn’t put the book down when I picked it up, and it’s all very plausible. The technology is technology that we’re working on right now. It stimulates the imagination, it shows that this is the reality. I mean, that launch pad right over there – one day we are going to launch humans to Mars on that launchpad."

CRYSTAL: So Brendan the movie comes out this weekend – but what’s the next step for NASA’s mission to Mars?

BRENDAN: Well, NASA continues to process the first Orion launch – Orion is the program that will eventually send humans out of low earth orbit and to destinations like Mars. The next Orion launch is scheduled for Late 20-18. And NASA is eying a 20-21 manned test flight.

CRYSTAL: So a long ways a way?

BRENDAN: Just a bit. But the cool thing is that one of those students in today’s panel could be the first astronaut to step foot on Mars.

CRYSTAL: Very cool! 90.7’s Brendan Byrne is at the Kennedy Space Center where Hollywood and space collided for a discussion about NASA’s Journey to Mars, Brendan, thanks for joining us

BRENDAN: Great to be here.

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."