"The Martian" was an online sensation before making it to print and is also soon to be a movie starring Matt Damon, but the book's author is surprisingly less optimistic about the likelihood of humans making it to Mars anytime soon.
"My stock answer is probably around 2050," Weir told the audience assembled at this week's Humans to Mars conference at The George Washington University via Skype. "I know that sounds further away than most people would like to hear, but the technology necessary to get there and the costs of getting there are just very high and it's a big challenge."
That's certainly not something NASA would like to hear. The space agency's head, Charles Bolden, opened the conference just a few hours earlier by talking up the "emerging consensus" around a timeline that puts astronauts on Mars in the 2030s, a goal that Bolden insisted NASA is on track to meet.
Bolden's remarks were followed by a former director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, Scott Hubbard, who set out to make the case that past estimates of a half-trillion-dollar humans-to-Mars mission are "close to bogus." Hubbard argued that a window of opportunity is opening to establish such a program, and he even cited "The Martian" as an example of a piece of popular culture that could build public support for going to Mars sooner than later.
It's not clear if Weir heard Hubbard's comments, but just a short while later Weir was telling the same audience that his own 2050 estimate for getting humans to Mars "might be optimistic," going on to recall that during the Apollo missions, many thought we'd be on Mars by the 1980s.
Regardless of how his hypothetical timeline might disagree with NASA's, Weir is still in support of creating a colony on Mars so that humanity can become less dependent on Earth.
"I would like to have a self-sufficient colony of humans and other species somewhere other than Earth," he said. "I'm a 25-year-veteran software engineer and I think it's important to back things up."