The Martian — ARES: live | The Right Stuff

Information elements and project structure

9 min readMar 9, 2020
Isolation test (4 August 2015) — Training for the Ares III mission included a 10-day isolation period, carried out with the intention of verifying the psychophysical effects on the astronauts in the event of situations of extreme individual survival. NASA’s confidential archival material shows Watney, Martinez, Lewis, Vogel, Beck, and Johanssen during the conclusive talks with a psychologist.

1. Introduction

This document proposes an analysis of Ares: live |The Right Stuff (3:15), promotional video of The Martian (R. Scott, 2015).
The research considers the product and its related materials by studying the creative choices, the informative properties, the modalities of visual representation and promotion.

Introductory note: The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015) is set in 2035–36. During the Ares III mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is mistakenly considered dead during a heavy storm, and abandoned by his crew. But Watney survives and wakes up alone on the hostile planet. With few supplies available, Watney must use ingenuity, intelligence and a spirit of survival to find a way to report to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to try to bring to program a bold — if not impossible — rescue mission. As these stories of incredible courage evolve, the world unites to support Watney’s return.[1]

1.1. Extended entertainment
During the articulated promotional campaign of The Martian, the series-prologue initiative called Ares: live developed into six main project interventions designed to introduce the fundamental narrative coordinates of the fictional world by outlining scenarios, people, environments, technological context, time intervals and existential conditions related to the film story. Considering the recent sectoral need — which has today become a priority — to transform the promotional campaign of a media product into an additional entertainment experience, the immersive strategies integrated in Ares: live have developed by fragmenting the information into serial videos, with the aim to stimulate commercial curiosity towards the primary product (The Martian), expanding the narrative context with collateral materials
and interdependent informative notions.

2. Analysis

2.1. The Ares: live channel
Conceived as the official YouTube channel dedicated to its space program, Ares: live hosts 6 promotional videos interconnected with the film story of The Martian, published between June and October 2015.

The video series includes:

  1. Farewell
    7 June 2015
    On board the Hermes space station, astronaut Mark Watney personally records a live video to introduce the crewmembers a few hours before leaving the Earth’s orbit for Mars.
  2. The Right Stuff
    4 August, 2015
    During preparation for the Ares III mission, the crewmembers are interviewed by a NASA psychologist after a 10-day isolation period.
  3. Our Greatest Adventure
    27 August 2015
    The American astrophysicist Neil deGrass Tyson presents a brief fictional
    documentary set in 2035, illustrating the main features of the Ares III mission.
  4. Leave Your Mark
    9 September 2015
    Astronaut Mark Watney is filmed during the intense athletic training phase prior to the Ares III mission, promoting Under Armour’s technical sports apparel.
  5. Bring Him Home
    22 September 2015
    The world population mobilizes in a solidarity campaign requesting to bring Mark Watney home through a recovery mission.
  6. Ares 3: Chem Cam
    8 October, 2015
    Having succeeded in remaining alive on Mars, Mark Watney films himself on video inside the housing unit (HAB) intent on performing some scientific experiments planned during the Ares III mission, commenting on his condition and making fun of the other crew members.
Visualization and synthesis of Ares: live promotional materials in order of publication (June-October 2015) and in narrative order (2034–2035/2036)

2.2. The Right Stuff
4 August 2015

The Right Stuff (3:15)[2] reveals the interviews on personal aptitude held between the Ares III astronaut candidates and a NASA psychologist after a 10-day isolation period, in a time interval prior to the departure for the Hermes space station (shown instead in Farewell).

In an observation room [3], the astronauts are seated at a desk and are being interviewed by the formally dressed therapist. An internal video camera system records conversations while a dynamic graphic interface analyzes the biometric data of the subjects being interviewed (nationality, serial number, date and place of birth, status, recruitment group, operational role, superior in charge, professional skills, psychological components, heart rate, internal temperature, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other data), revealing
through the tests some previously unpublished biographical information.

Before leaving for Mars, each member of the Ares 3 crew spent 10 days in isolation as a training exercise. Upon release, they were interviewed by a NASA psychologist.[4]

The Right Stuff: visual development synthesis — 1) Watney answers by wondering how Aquaman can control the whales; 2) Martinez talks about perfecting his own auto-erotic techniques and cites the role of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990); 3) Lewis perceives a sexist question and responds by telling about his experience in the Military Naval Academy; 4) Vogel declares that he never feels fear because he is German; 5) Beck is used to making extreme decisions in the medical field and answers with a demented joke; 6) Johanssen, bored and sprawled, briefly describes the main qualities of her colleagues; 7) Watney ironically thanks for the period of isolation; 8) The NASA psychologist (Sam Spruell) places the pen on his desk, concluding the interviews. Note: the reading order is lateral, starting from the top left. The number of frames shown does not represent the exact visual development of the video.
Biometric analysis — The crew’s dynamic data shown during the interview include: freshman; registry information; geographical origin; company status; NASA/ESA recruitment session; operational role; professional specializations; psychological components and physiological functions.

Evaluating character profiles:

  • Watney
    Data: born in Chicago (Illinois) on 12 October 1994. NASA 27, 2032 group
    selection. Primary role: botanist. Specializing in botany, mechanical engineering and public relations.

    Invited to share his thoughts on the isolation test, Mark begins an ironic logical speech about the superhero Aquaman, pointing out that despite his marine powers, he could not control whales, because they are mammals. He then points out that perhaps this false condition can work with an audience of children, because usually they do not know that whales are mammals, but concludes that the issue does not make sense anyway.[5]
  • Martinez
    Data: born in Brooklyn (New York) on 21 January 1996. NASA 26, 2029 group selection. Primary role: pilot. Specialized in space navigation, astronautical engineering, maneuvers with MAV/MDV vehicles.
    When the psychologist underscores how the isolation test constitutes an
    important time to reflect in solitude, Rick answers with a metaphor, saying that he has studied how to relieve tension for the mission, but referring to new practices of auto-eroticism. He then cites his great cinematographic imagination, hinting at a scene from Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990), praising Joe Pesci’s performance.
  • Lewis
    Data: born in Missoula (Minnesota) on 15 July 1995. NASA 25, 2029 group selection. Primary role: commander. Specialized in geology, coordination and operations management.
    Answering a question with an implicit sexist discrimination (the additional
    responsibility of being the first “female”; commander in the ARES program), Melissa answers firmly by telling of having graduated first in her class at the Naval Academy and describes the regressive experience of psychological resistance inside a submarine, thus managing to intimidate the interlocutor.
  • Vogel
    Data: born Künzelsau[6] (Germany) on 3 November 1996. ESA 2030 group selection. Primary role: navigator. Specialized in chemistry, navigation systems, astrophysics.
    When the psychologist asks if he is afraid of the imminent mission, Vogel
    answers negatively with serious humor, motivating the reaction with the fact that he is German, hence naturally fearless.
  • Beck
    Data: born in Hartford (Connecticut) on 2 August 1999. NASA 26, 2029 group selection. Primary role: surgeon. Specialized in aerospace medicine, biology, EVA outputs.
    As a doctor, Chris proves to be professional and accustomed to a daily context of tension and immediate decisions. But then he plays down with a vulgar joke, embarrassing the psychologist.
  • Johanssen
    Data: born in San José (California) on 9 May 2006. NASA 27, 2032 group
    selection. Primary role: computer operator. Specialized in computer science, system engineering, nuclear technology.

    Lounging and with the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, Beth is invited to briefly describe her impressions of Watney, Martinez and Lewis, emphasizing Watney’s congeniality, Martinez’s comedy and Lewis’s charisma.[7]
Personal information and professional specializations of the ARES III astronauts. Note: the photos shown are taken from the dynamic biometric interface present in In The Right Stuff, found published — either individually or in a team photo portrait — also on the promotional document of the official description of the ARES III mission with lots of additional information. See

Main communicative properties:

  • Deepens the psychological profiles of the characters, continuing the definition of personal relationships, types of individual behavior and professional hierarchies that are then recognized — extended — in The Martian. The user establishes his/her own emotional affiliations between the characters and is oriented to an empathic identification.
  • Explores a time interval before the story of The Martian, but also of Farewell, describing an event during the training period (thus prior to the departure for the Hermes station). Chronologically rearranging the series of promotional material for Ares: live, The Right Stuff can be considered the first content.
  • Presents to the public an apparently marginal fact that happened during the training period (a previous exercise in survival in isolation mode), later ironically destined to become the main existential condition of the protagonist on Mars.

See the complete analysis of the Ares: live promotional campaign.

Notes List

[1] Official description on Youtube. The exclusive world premiere of The Martian was hosted during the Toronto Film Festival (10–11 September 2015). See

[2] Directed by Luke Scott. The official synopsis on YouTube reports: NASA offers a declassified look at the psychological testing involved in preparing the ARES 3 crew for their #JourneyToMars. The title The Right Stuff contains an element of assonance between the words stuff (matter, material, talent/fabric) and staff (employees, team) referring to a double interpretative reading between “The right thing/fabric” and “The right team”. The choice of the title is perhaps also a reference to The Right Stuff (P. Kaufman, 1983), a dramatic film story centered on the history of the astronauts of the Mercury project, a NASA space program dedicated to the first US astronauts (1961–1963).

[3] The setting is an observation room, with windows adjacent to the space set up for the isolation test. Beyond the wall, a heavy vehicle (a rover) is visible: Mark’s main means of exploration during the future survival period on Mars. Watney’s conclusion, while ironically thanking the psychologist for his enlightening isolation experience, anticipates his dramatic destiny. See

[4] Official introduction text.

[5] The joke is a reference to the text of the original novel, contained in the description of the logbook at Sol 61.

[6] As a curiosity, it is the same hometown of Alexander Gerst, ESA astronaut recently on I.S.S. mission. The ESA logo is visible in Vogel’s profile photo during biometric analysis. See

[7] Johanssen does not describe Beck and Vogel. The future secret romantic relationship between Johanssen and Beck may perhaps motivate the attitude of discretion (probably also in contrast with NASA regulations).

Study method and sources
This document is the result of a compilation process created with scientific and accessibility requirements. Special care has therefore been devoted to coherently structuring the texts and analysis sections, to selecting functional visual devices, and to providing verified information by correctly citing sources of documentation, with the final objective of sharing useful material for the purposes of study, criticism and information. References to all the sources consulted have been inserted using numbers in square brackets [] and reported in the references at the conclusion, with the relative explanatory notes. The hyperlinks’ accessibility was verified in November 2015, date of the document’s first publication. A final revision was made in May 2019.

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The author releases the document through the license:

  • Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.
    This allows third parties to share the published material indicating the origin, respecting the same type of original license and prohibiting the use for commercial purposes.

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