NASA ‘s public relations (PR) machine is increasingly turning towards and becoming more reliant on Hollywood to keep the public, politicians and funding sources interested and excited about its work, according to PR experts.

They say this is reflected in this week’s NASA announcement about the agency having detected flowing water on Mars, which was aptly supported by the premiere of the Matt Damon-Ridley Scott movie ‘The Martian’.

Although the agency says the release of the Mar’s water news and ‘The Martian’ premiere wasn’t coordinated and was purely coincidental, the PR experts are not buying it. They say both bits of news were great for NASA’s Mars project and as a PR exercise, was a blockbuster.

The experts say that even though the agency’s plans do not have astronauts on the “red planet” till at least 2035, it needs to keep public awareness and interest for the project ongoing – hence Hollywood.

NASA has been closely involved in the development and now the promotion of  ‘The Martian’, offering technical advice and hosting its producers, set designers and actors at its Pasadena, California Jet Propulsion Lab.  NASA even held sneak premiers of the movie at various locations and opened its Cape Canaveral and Houston facilities for ‘The Martian’ events. Tonight the space agency is hosting an online “So You Want to be a Martian” panel discussion with NASA officials and two actors from the movie for 10,000 invited students.

Although Andy Weir, the California software engineer who wrote the novel on which the film is based, says flattering NASA wasn’t one of his aims, he admits, “I think they’re petty happy with the movie because it will increase public interest. My sole purpose for writing is entertainment. I portray NASA as pretty cool, but I think NASA is pretty cool.”

‘The Martian’ starring Matt Damon tells the story of fictitious NASA astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars. Since starting work on the movie, Damon has become an avid supporter of NASA and human space exploration. In a promotional video for the movie he says, “The journey to Mars will forever change our history books, rewriting what we know about the red planet and expanding a human presence deeper into the solar system.”

Space exploration experts say that because NASA’s Congress funding is uncertain, the Hollywood connection is important to keep interest and public support, which usually equates to ongoing financial support. This might be why NASA has gone out of its way to consult on other recent big budget space movies such as ‘Interstellar’, ‘Europa Report’, ‘Gravity’, and now ‘The Martian’.

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