The Martian and NASA – the perfect PR stunt?

Joe Paley







By Joe Paley, Account Executive [email protected]


NASA’s announcement that evidence of water had been found on Mars could not have come at a better time for Ridley Scott and his new sci-fi film The Martian, which was released in cinemas last week. It raised the question of whether NASA, who teased via social media that a “mystery had been solved” and 20th Century Fox, the company behind Scott’s film, joined forces to establish one of the year’s best PR stunts to dually drive ticket sales and raise awareness of NASA’s ambitions for Mars. Let us look at the evidence and break this down.

Speaking to Yahoo Movies recently, Scott disclosed that he had known water was present on the Red Planet “months ago”, in a rather candid interview. Scott said that he had been consulting with NASA officials throughout the filming of The Martian and that scientists were aware of the historic finding far in advance of the announcement last week.

In fact, pictures beamed back to Earth in the 1970s indicated that dried-up rivers existed on the surface of Mars. This was further backed up in 2011 when NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera obtained images of what seemed like streams flowing down crater walls.

It begs the question of whether NASA was waiting for the release of The Martian to capitalise on the publicity that would come their way. Wired Magazine recently published an article which said disclosed that NASA “sorely needs” public support for a Mars mission, with $80-$100 billion needed in funding over the next 20 years – which the US Congress has been reluctant to authorise so far.

And it is no secret that NASA co-operated with Scott and his team throughout the production of The Martian to make the film as scientifically accurate as possible. Leading man Matt Damon and the rest of the cast are dressed head to toe in branded NASA uniforms during the entirety of the film.

With no plans for astronauts to step foot on Mars until 2035, it is possible that NASA attempted to  drum up support for congressional funding by forming a partnership with 20th Century Fox that would benefit both parties economically. History does show that PR stunts are part and parcel of the movie business. In the days leading up to the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, the news media reported that “unexpected signals” had been detected from space – only later to be discredited. Furthermore when Jurassic World was released in cinemas earlier this year, it was reported that a velociraptor fossil had been dug up.

Coincidence? Surely not.