Spaceships of 'The Martian' Explained (Infographic)

Spaceships in "The Martian" compared with real NASA vehicles
Ridley Scott's new space film showcases a lot of space hardware derived from actual NASA plans for interplanetary travel. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

Ridley Scott’s film of the Andy Weir novel “The Martian” boasts a wide variety of space hardware, both real and extrapolated from current NASA plans.

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Unrealistically large by NASA standards for a Mars vessel, the Hermes appears to be the size of the International Space Station. Hermes uses low-thrust ion engines to ferry Ares crews from Earth to Mars and back. When one crew returns home, the next crew boards Hermes to prepare for another mission.


Hermes has a rotating wheel, or centrifuge, to provide artificial gravity for the crew. Spaceships in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Mission to Mars” were similarly equipped.


Although it is not shown in the film, the astronauts would have used a Mars descent vehicle (MDV) to get down from Hermes to the surface. SpaceX’s upcoming Dragon manned capsule would be one option for an MDV.


In Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian,” the Ares III habitat is described as an inflated canvas structure. The habitat and its provisions were prepositioned on Mars by unmanned rocket launches.


To get back to Hermes in Mars orbit, the Mars ascent vehicle (MAV) is used. MAV resembles an Apollo or Orion capsule mounted on booster rockets and landing legs.


To get from Earth to the Hermes, crews ride the Orion space capsule. By 2035, the year in which the film is set, NASA’s new Space Launch System should be available. The film’s producers used footage of Orion’s first unmanned test flight in 2014 to represent the launch. The test flight used a Delta IV Heavy booster.


NASA launches supplies to Watney on Mars using an Atlas V rocket.

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Karl Tate contributor

Karl's association with goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.