Movie-goers, at least from the looks of it, are thoroughly enjoying Ridley Scott’s galactic blockbuster The Martian, which opened in theaters Friday and stars Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on the airless surface of Mars.
But most audience members probably aren’t even half as thrilled as NASA is.
It’s not that the film portrays NASA in a particularly favorable light, since the plot (spoilers!) revolves around astronauts actively defying the organization to rescue their friend—whose survival NASA doesn’t even make public, at first. Still, the movie’s intense focus on the space agency, and especially on its futuristic Mars-related exploration technology, is drumming up a lot of invaluable publicity.
And NASA, which usually looks on with dismay as its budget is ruthlessly slashed year after year, is taking every bit of free attention it can get. Through an aggressive promotional campaign for The Martian, NASA is trumpeting its real-life plan to send astronauts to Mars in 2030 and raising support for the program on social media with #JourneyToMars.
The space agency is even posting graphics that compare similarities and differences between the movie’s mission and its counterpart. In a blog post Friday, NASA published some meticulous image comparisons that explain many of its technologies, such as deep-space propulsion and analog missions, in terms of how they relate to the film. The post already has nearly 2,000 notes on Tumblr. On Twitter, NASA has gone all in:
Box offices report that the movie raked in $18 million on its first day alone. If these figures keep up over the next few weeks, that’s a whole lot of enthusiasm toward NASA that the agency never could have afforded to buy for itself.