“The Martian” called the newsroom this week

I was on deadline this week when a newsroom colleague popped up from her cubicle and said, “Hey Giles, Mark Watney is on the phone. He says there’s water on Mars. Wanna go live with him?”

I knew right away she had to be joking.

Mark Watney on the phone?

Not possible.

Mentioning a man named Mark Watney in the same breath as Mars was obviously a reference to the fictional hero in Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian.” Even in the middle of deadline pressure, I picked up on that fairly quickly. Fictional characters can’t make real-life phones calls, even ones who are problem-solving NASA astronauts with improbable survival stories that are made into major motion pictures.

The odds are much better that “Star Trek’s” William Shatner would call the newsroom. He may never have stepped foot in space while playing the fictional Captain Kirk, but at least he’s a real person who is on THE SAME PLANET!

In the little time I had left before the final newscast of my shift, I decided my colleague was just having some last-minute fun with me, an impression that was reinforced when she laughed at the joke and returned to her conversation with “Watney.”

Besides, I had just finished listening to Weir’s book on my commute, and with the movie in theaters this weekend, new developments about water on Mars seemed to be too much of a coincidence.

Without another thought on the matter, I put the finishing touches on the news I planned to present and headed into the studio.

It was only afterward that I discovered my failure to make like Mark Watney and look beyond the impossible. When I got back out in the newsroom there was an alert on my phone from the “New York Times” saying scientists are pretty sure there is liquid water on Mars.

They haven’t found anything like a lake or a flowing stream stocked with Martian trout, but a new analysis of photos taken by a NASA orbiter has space enthusiasts buzzing.

The photos show dark streaks down Martian slopes. Scientists say they are seasonal and are the best evidence yet of moisture from liquid H2O, although the water is said to be on the briny side.

“You weren’t kidding,” I said to no one in particular.

Not entirely, anyway.

As it turned out, “Watney” was really one of our science reporters, presumably calling to coordinate coverage of NASA’s announcement, the one about liquid water on Mars that I had just whiffed on.

I told myself later that I would have been hard pressed to fit it into my newscast, that the call came too late for me to reasonably include it without courting an on-air disaster. But for a space buff like me, missing a chance to help report on a story like that was disappointing.

Maybe I’ll take it more seriously the next time I’m told Mark Watney is on the phone.


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