Andy Weir Is Looking Forward to the Space Boom

Weir's books take seriously the limits of human knowledge and planning when it comes to space travel.


In bestselling novelist Andy Weir's vision, space is always trying to kill you and has probably already killed some of your friends. But the heroes of The MartianArtemis, and Project Hail Mary somehow manage to use their astonishingly but not quite implausibly broad basic science knowledge to triumph over the elements. While Weir stubbornly resists political classification, his books are scientifically and economically literate and take seriously the limits of human knowledge and planning. Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward exchanged emails with Weir in July about the climate, the future, and what to read next.

Q: When humans make it back to the moon, how will we get there and what will we do there?

A: I imagine it will be on spacecraft made specifically for that purpose. The more relevant thing is how those spacecraft get out of Earth's gravity well. And for that I think it will be via private spaceflight companies. As for what we do there: initially research. Similar to [the International Space Station], but on a lunar base. But once it becomes cheap enough for middle-class people to afford transport to and from the moon, we'll see a tourist industry.

Q: Is Mars viable as a site two for human civilization?

A: No, the moon is much more viable. If things go wrong, Earth can help a moon base. Or, at worst, the lunar inhabitants can return to Earth. The moon is only a few days' travel away. Mars is months of travel.

Q: What's the most interesting or undercovered thing happening in space science right now?

A: The continued reduction of the price to [low Earth orbit]. The cheaper it becomes to put mass into orbit, the closer we get to a potentially profitable space industry. Then we'll see a "space boom" every bit as massive as the air-travel boom of the early 20th century.

Q: The paperback of Project Hail Mary is out soon. In that book you imagine the ways humanity might respond to a climate disaster. While the situation of that book isn't identical to our own current circumstances, is there a technological solution—whole or partial—to climate change that you're optimistic about?

A: There's no environmental message to Project Hail Mary. There are no political messages in any of my stories. In the book, the disaster facing Earth wasn't due to humanity causing harm to ourselves or the environment. It was an external factor adversely affecting the environment. Just want to make that clear.

As for technological solutions to climate change: fusion power and high-density energy storage. Get those two working, and working cheaply, and you will see an end to climate damage. But so long as the environmentally harmful forms of energy generation are cheaper, they will always be the ones employed.

Q: What is the best science fiction or space-based novel that you didn't write? (Bonus points if it's moon-related.)

A: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. And for Moon-related novels, I have to go with Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

Q: What is the role of science fiction in driving real-life space exploration?

A: Not much, in my opinion. Really it's just a form of entertainment. I think it's easy for entertainers to overestimate their effect on science. There's really nothing a sci-fi author thinks of, technology-wise, that a scientist hasn't already thought of.