Inside The Martian's Sci-Fi Future Spaceship

Hermes puts the "fi" in sci-fi.

by Beckett Mufson
Oct 5 2015, 9:00pm

Image courtesy Twentieth Century Fox - TM & © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Getting to Mars is hard. Some say it's impossible. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), however, the protagonist of Ridley Scott's shiny new space blockbuster, The Martian, does a lot of seemingly impossible things, like growing space potatoes from his own poop and surviving a stab wound on a planet with no atmosphere. But Scott and Andy Weir, the author of the eponymous book the film was based on, can focus on the problem of Bear Grylls-ing space thanks to some A+ deus ex machina in the form of Hermes, the space taxi that takes astronauts on the fictional Ares missions to and from Mars. In order to get the biggest instance of "fi" in the sci-fi epic right, Fox turned to NASA, and to David Sheldon-Hicks' Territory Studio, to design the inner workings of the spaceship.

Hermes has lots of cool features, like a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style gravity wheel to avoid muscle atrophy, nuclear-powered ionic thrusters that don't need rocket fuel, and presumably some kind of radiation shielding to keep astronauts from melting upon their return to Earth. It's modest compared to Star Wars space fighters, but it's pretty hefty tech to assume we'll have by President Obama's goal for a 2030 manned Mars expedition. "The Hermes seen in the film is—as yet—a fictional spacecraft designed to transport astronauts between Earth and Mars," Sheldon-Hicks explains to The Creators Project. "Dave Lavery at NASA shared information about the type of craft being developed, and production designer Arthur Max and his team based their designs on current thinking in that area, while pushing it a bit further."

Territory's job was to build the interfaces for the computers that run the ship, similar to their work in Ridley Scott's last space epic, Prometheus, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ex Machina, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and more. "Discussions about factual accuracy were balanced with the story that Ridley was telling—ultimately our job is to support the dialogue, performance and action," Sheldon-Hicks says. "But in doing so, we still focused on authenticity, so the information displays on the Hermes do actually feature mission critical information."

Sheldon-Hicks and Territory had a database of actual NASA mission control centers and monitors. which they used to parse out which information is "mission critical," how it's most efficiently presented in a space environment, and the design and aesthetics likely to go into a NASA spacecraft. "It was very clear that there were very focused on making sure the film would be as technically accurate as possible within the context of the story," Lavery says. "The glimpses I had of the in- production work, and some of the follow-on questions asked by the production team bore this out."

NASA isn't the end-all of space travel anymore, though, so Territory also looked at the graphic direction of Elon Musk's SpaceX. "Our final concepts reference both NASA and SpaceX thinking, while also adding some design refinements to conventional spacecraft avionics systems," Territory art director Marti Romances tells The Creators Project. "Our goal for Hermes screens were that they felt clean and crisp in design, clearly displaying the specific information relevant to a given context or command." The dark blue, purple, or green backgrounds and bright data and buttons that design-attuned viewers will notice during heated debates about Watney's situation are the product of intense optimization and research into what astronauts might use in the next generation of space travel.

Check out some of those interfaces in the exclusive look at the Hermes interfaces below.

Images courtesy Territory Studio

See more of Territory Studio's work on their website. Go see The Martian in theaters today.


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graphic design
ridley scott
the martian
Territory Studio
david sheldon hicks
interface design