NASA's latest image release from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has offered an up-close look at the real-world setting for sci-fi blockbuster The Martian. Snapped by the spacecraft's telescopic camera, the photos detail several Mars sites that appear in the film's fictional missions to the Red Planet.
Based on best-selling 2011 novel of the same name, The Martian follows the exploits of NASA astronaut Mark Whatney, who finds himself stranded on Mars in the wake of serious dust storm. His Ares 3 mission touches down in a region known as southern Acidalia Planitia, which is described in the book as flat and easy to drive over. Earlier NASA images had shown this region to actually be quite treacherous, covered with mounds, boulders, rocky slopes and possibly even ancient volcanoes.
Whatney's plans for survival largely center on travelling from Ares 3 to the landing site for the Ares 4 mission, which is set inside a crater named Schiaparelli. The newly released images show this location as a relatively flat surface in the southwestern corner of the crater, blanketed by a reddish dust probably at least one meter (3.3 ft) thick.
En-route to the Ares 4 site, Whatney runs into the rim of the Marth Crater in the midst of a dust storm. The fresh Mars Orbiter images show this crater to be not all that distinct from the surrounding landscape, which features rolling terrain and a number of smaller impact craters.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken more than 39,000 photos since it arrived at Mars in 2006. Each depicts an area measuring several square miles and can reveal details as small as an office desk.