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7 things 'The Martian' gets right about science (pictures)

If the trailer for the new Matt Damon Mars flick looks all too real, thank NASA, which added some serious verisimilitude.

Leslie Gornstein
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Life on Mars?

The Fox drama "The Martian" (due in theaters in October) stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an explorer who finds himself stranded and alone on Mars. Director Ridley Scott teamed with Jim Green, planetary science division director at NASA, to make sure the movie felt real.

After looking at the trailer, we found out exactly how real the movie will be.

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High and dry

Damon's character must struggle to conserve water on Mars, coming up with some pretty creative ways to stay hydrated, including making use of his own urine. The folks on the International Space Station know his plight all too well.

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No drop wasted

On the International Space Station, not a drop of water goes to waste...and, yes, that means exactly what you think it means: All coffee is, um, recycled coffee.

The Environmental Control and Life Support System recovers and recycles water from not only hand-washing and oral hygiene but also urine.

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'Bring a straw'

Since Green first teamed with director Scott for "The Martian," the Mars Curiosity rover discovered that the planet actually has more water than originally thought.

"The thinking used to be that astronauts were going to have bring all their water with them, but there is plenty of water on Mars," Green says. "It's weeping out of craters in the summers; there are aquifers.

"So, no, we've learned we won't need to bring all of our water. We'll bring a straw, because we know where we can go to get it."

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Space potatoes

To supply himself with food, Watney struggles to water and fertilize potato plants within a small, human-friendly habitat.

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Anti-gravity lettuce

Back in the real world, the International Space Station recently announced a successful crop of red lettuce, grown in the clammy clutches of space.

After production on the film began, the Mars Curiosity rover revealed fresh details about Martian soil. Turns out, it's more fertile than we thought.

"We didn't know this before we started on the movie, but there are more nitrates and nitrogen in Martian soil than we ever imagined," Green says.

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Suiting up

Damon's Watney character spends a terrifying chunk of the movie alone on the Martian surface with nothing but his trusty suit between him and the elements...and dust...and a serious amount of deadly radiation.

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Maybe blue isn't his color

In real life, NASA is indeed working on space suits for whoever is brave enough to set foot on Mars. The Z-2 and Prototype eXploration Suit, NASA's new prototypes, explore the trade-off between hard composite materials and fabrics. The challenge: finding a decent balance between durability and flexibility.

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Home sweet Hab

The Martian human habitat in "The Martian" is called the Hab. If it looks familiar, that's because NASA has something very, very close.

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Great HERA

At NASA Johnson Space Center, very real crews train for long-duration deep-space missions in the Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA. Groups will soon live together for up to 60 days, completing tasks that simulate life far from Earth.

Related story: "This is what happens when Ridley Scott calls NASA"

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Hollywood rover

In "The Martian," Watney has to upgrade his slick-looking rover with mods designed to prolong his life.

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Rolling research

We have the Curiosity rover, of course. But the closest thing to the movie version is actually the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle. It's designed to be versatile enough to land not only on a faraway planet, but also on a moon or even an asteroid. It's also designed to adapt in almost uncanny ways; some versions of the MMSEV have six wheels; in the instance of a flat tire, the vehicle simply lifts up the faulty wheel...and keeps on going.

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Getting there

Watney's crew takes its initial trip to Mars using ion propulsion, which works by electrically charging a gas such as argon or xenon and pushing out the ions at high speeds -- as in, 200,000 mph. About 280 million miles later, the crew is on Mars.

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No gasoline, no problem

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft has used the same method in its journeys, slowly accelerating over the course of five years for a total velocity change of around 25,000 mph. We have ion propulsion to thank for Dawn's visits to dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroid Vesta.

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Making air

Of course there's no air on Mars, so Watney's Hab has to make it using an "oxygenator," a system that makes O2 using the carbon dioxide from a fuel generator.

On the ISS, astronauts and cosmonauts have an Oxygen Generation System that keeps the atmosphere breathable using electrolysis, which splits water molecules into their component oxygen and hydrogen atoms.

Related story: "This is what happens when Ridley Scott calls NASA"

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