http://www.mensjournal.com/entertainment/articles/the-nasa-hollywood-bromance-w470462The NASA-Hollywood Bromance
By Charles Thorp
Credit: National Geographic Channel / Robert Viglasky
During preproduction for Ridley Scott's 2015 film The Martian, the director ran into an issue: He and his production designer, Arthur Max, realized they had no idea what a human outpost on Mars would actually look like. So Scott made a call to NASA.
“I had just come back from the cafeteria when I was asked if I could speak with Ridley," recalls Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, who counts Scott's Alien among his favorite films. “I said that I could probably clear my schedule." That afternoon, Green spent roughly an hour on the phone with Scott, discussing things like how artificial gravity works in a spaceship, what a radioisotopic power system looks like, and how ion engines create thrust.
Green was even able to arrange a field trip for Max to the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, where he got a rare look at NASA's prototypes for its Mars habitats and rovers — items only a handful of “civilians" had ever seen. “He must have taken a couple thousand pictures," says Green.
The result was one of the most realistic depictions of a mission to the Red Planet ever constructed, full of ergonomic space suits, massive spaceships, and Mars living pods. It was a laborious undertaking — on all sides. For four months during The Martian's production, Green received 30 to 50 questions a week from the crew, with concerns about everything from radiation shielding to the Pathfinder communications system. He dutifully responded. Still, he wasn't able to catch everything. “There is a scene where Matt Damon's character watches the sun go down on Mars," says Green. “They made it red, but sunsets there are blue [because of fine dust in the air]. I wish I had told them about that."
You could argue that the head of a $1.6 billion division has better things to do than answer endless questions from a movie studio, but NASA's investment in The Martian paid off: In addition to seven Oscar nominations, the film generated priceless publicity for the space program, something the agency believes is crucial to maintaining public interest in its missions, which are sometimes hard to explain or even see. After the movie was completed, Damon even visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility in California for a press event alongside real-life astronaut Drew Feustel and other NASA employees.
“It was an exciting opportunity to start conversations about our work," says Green.