Recently, my wife and I watched The Martian, Ridley Scott’s movie starring A-list actor Matt Damon. In this thrilling science fiction drama, NASA astronaut Mark Watney, portrayed by Damon, found himself stranded on Mars, completely alone and with no way to signal Earth 140 million miles away that he’s alive. Against insurmountable odds and with dwindling supplies, Watney refuses to be the first man to die on Mars.
To survive, Watney draws upon his ingenuity, his incredible resourcefulness, his engineering and botany skills, and a dogged determination. He solves seemingly unsolvable problems one after the other in a masterful display of intelligence, wit and engineering prowess.
In the science fiction novel The Martian by Andy Weir, the lead character Watney is portrayed as having earned master’s degrees in botany and mechanical engineering, yet the movie reveals Watney as having a Ph.D in botany with no mention of an engineering degree.
Whether it be the movie or the novel, with a botany degree and/or a mechanical engineering degree, it’s clear that Watney is one thing – a master at solving problems.
When failure brought the surety of death, Watney solved problems. And on Mars, alone and left to his own devices for his very existence, he engineered his way to survive and ultimately be rescued.
As an engineer, I solve mechanical problems for a living. Sometimes the solutions are simple and obvious, but often times they are as mind-bending as trying to find ways to live on Mars.
I’d like to think I could engineer my way home from an unsustainable planet called Mars, but that’s the folly of science fiction. For now, I’ll keep unleashing my creativity as if my life depended on it from the safety of the planet I call home – Earth.
Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solution LLC, an engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.