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The Martian

We LOVE the book and film, The Martian! However we do take exception with the scene where our protagonist is tasked with modifying his Mars rover by cutting a big hole in it. Astronaut Mark Watney somehow accomplishes this by drilling a LOT of holes through the vehicle’s thick carbon fiber shell with his rock sample drill and then jumping on the roof. In the book it specifically notes the material is CF and that he drills over 750 holes.

Our experience with machining this material suggests this is one of the few technical inaccuracies in an otherwise engineering savvy work. CF is incredibly strong and abrasive. It simply destroys most drill bits designed for easier materials like metal. Carbon fiber is typically machined using carbide or better yet DIAMOND drill bits. To avoid destroying tooling and minimize environmental dust, we are utilizing water jet cutting in our production boards.

A masonry bit designed to penetrate relatively benign material like soil and rock is not going to get very far. Poor guy would probably need a hundred of them – something not suggested in the text or film . . . and it still would be pointless. When Watney jumped on the roof of the rover and it collapse we had to giggle, both because it was a great moment of physical comedy in the film and because we know how damn strong space grade CF is. Poor guy could jump on that roof until the end of time, particularly in Mars’s weak gravity – which also renders the amusing Earthbound equivalency test JPL runs in the film kinda bogus. Still, we love The Martian.