فصل 10

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فصل 10

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Chapter 10


Seven days since Pathfinder, and seven days closer to home.

As I’d hoped, my inbound tracks gave me a path back to Lewis Valey. Then it was four sols of easy driving. The hils to my left made

it impossible to get lost, and the terrain was smooth.

But al good things come to an end. I’m back in Acidalia Planitia now. My outgoing tracks are long gone. It’s been 16 days since I was

last here. Even timid weather would clear them out in that time.

On my way out, I should have made a pile of rocks every time I camped. The land is so flat they’d be visible for kilometers.

On second thought, thinking back to making that damn ramp… ugh.

So once again I am the desert wanderer, using Phobos to navigate, and hoping I don’t stray too far. Al I need to do is get within 40km

of the Hab and I’l pick up the beacon.

I’m feeling optimistic. For the first time, I think I might get off this planet alive. With that in mind, I’m taking soil and rock samples every time I do an EVA.

At first, I figured it was my duty. If I survive, geologists wil love me for it. But then it started to get fun. Now, as I drive, I look forward to that simple act of bagging rocks.

It just feels nice to be an astronaut again. That’s al it is. Not a reluctant farmer, not an electrical engineer, not a long haul trucker. An astronaut. I’m doing what astronauts do. I missed it.


I got 2 seconds of signal from the Hab beacon today, then lost it. But it’s a good sign. I’ve been traveling vaguely north-northwest for two days. I must be a good 100km from the Hab; it’s a miracle I got any signal at al. Must have been a moment of perfect weather


During the boring-ass days, I’m working my way through “The Six Milion Dolar Man” from Commander Lewis’s inexhaustible

colection of ‘70s tripe.

I just watched an episode where Steve Austin fights a Russian Venus probe that landed on Earth by mistake. As an expert in

interplanetary travel, I can tel you there are no scientific inaccuracies in the story. It’s quite common for probes to land on the wrong planet. Also, the probe’s large, flat-panel hul is ideal for the high-pressure Venusian atmosphere. And, as we al know, probes often refuse to obey directives, choosing instead to attack humans on sight.

So far, Pathfinder hasn’t tried kil me. But I’m keeping an eye on it.


I found the Hab signal today. I have a solid bearing and direction to go. No more chance to get lost. According to the computer, I’m

24718 meters away.

I’l be home tomorrow. Even if the rover has a catastrophic failure, I’l be fine. I can walk to the Hab from here.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I am realy fu@king sick of being in this rover. I’ve spent so much time seated or laying down, my back is al screwed up. Of al my crewmates, the one I miss most right now is Beck. He’d fix my aching back.

Though he’d probably give me a bunch of sh@t about it. “Why didn’t you do stretching exercises? Your body is important! Eat more

fiber,” or whatever.

At this point I’d welcome a health lecture.

During training, we had to practice the dreaded “Missed Orbit” scenario. In the event of a second-stage failure during MAV ascent,

we’d be in orbit, but too low to reach Hermes. We’d be skimming the upper atmosphere, so our orbit would rapidly decay. NASA would

remotely operate Hermes and bring it in for rendezvous. Then we’d get the hel out of there before Hermes caught too much drag.

To dril this, they made us stay in the MAV simulator for 3 miserable days. Six people in an ascent vehicle originaly designed for a 23

minute flight. It got a little cramped. And by “a little cramped” I mean “We wanted to kil each other”.

Once we got out, Commander Lewis declared “what happened in Missed Orbit stays in Missed Orbit.” It may seem trite, but it

worked. We put it behind us and got back to normal.

I’d give anything for just five minutes of Missed Orbit training. I’m realy feeling alone lately. Up til this road trip, I’ve been too busy to mope. But the long, dul days with nothing to do realy drives it home. I’m further away from other humans than anyone has ever been.

Man, I hope I get Pathfinder working again.


Home sweet home!

Today I write from my gigantic, cavernous Hab!

The first thing I did when I got in was wave my arms wildly while running in circles. Felt great! I was in that damn rover for 22 sols, and couldn’t even walk without suiting up.

I’l need to endure twice that to get to Ares 4, but that’s a problem for later.

After a few celebratory laps around the Hab, it was time to get to work.

First, I fired up the Oxygenator and Atmospheric Regulator. Checking the air levels, everything looked good. There was stil CO2, so

the plants hadn’t suffocated without me exhaling for them.

Naturaly I did an exhaustive check on my crops, and they’re al healthy.

I added my bags of sh@t to the manure pile. Lovely smel, I can tel you. But once I mixed some soil in, it died down to tolerable levels. I dumped my box o’ pee into the Water Reclaimer.

I’d been gone over three weeks, and had left the Hab very humid for the sake of the crops. That much water in the air can cause any

amount of electrical problems, so I spent the next few hours doing ful systems checks on everything.

Then I kind of lounged around for a while. I wanted to spend the rest of the day relaxing, but I had more to do.

Suiting up, I went out to the rover and dragged the solar cels off the roof. Over the next few hours, I put them back where they

belonged, wiring them into the Hab’s power grid.

Getting the Lander off the roof was a hel of a lot easier than getting it up there. I detached a strut from the MAV platform and dragged it over to the rover. Leaning it against the hul and digging the other end in to the ground for stability, I had a ramp.

I should have brought that strut with me to the Pathfinder site. Live and learn.

There’s no way to get the Lander in the airlock. It’s just too big. I could probably dismantle it and bring it in a piece at a time, but there’s a pretty compeling reason not to.

With no magnetic field, Mars has no defense against harsh solar radiation. If I were exposed to it, I’d get so much cancer, the cancer

would have cancer. So the Hab canvas shields from electromagnetic waves. This means the Hab itself it would block any transmissions if

the Lander were inside.

Speaking of cancer, it was time to get rid of the RTG.

It pained me to climb back into the rover, but it had to be done. If the RTG ever broke open, it would kil me to death.

NASA decided 4km was the safe distance, and I wasn’t about to second-guess them. Driving back to where Commander Lewis had

originaly dumped it, I ditched it in the same hole and drove back to the Hab.

I’l start work on the Lander tomorrow.

Now, to enjoy a good, long sleep in an actual cot. With the comforting knowledge that when I wake, my morning piss wil go into a



Today was al about repairs!

The Pathfinder mission ended because the Lander had an unknown critical failure. Once they lost contact with the Lander, they had no

idea what became of Sojourner. It might be in better shape. Maybe it just needs power. Power it couldn’t get with the solar panels

hopelessly caked with dust.

Setting it on my workbench, I pried open a panel to peek inside. The battery was a lithium thionyl chloride non-rechargeable. I figured

that out from some subtle clues: the shape of the connection points, the thickness of the insulation, and the fact that it had “LiSOCl2 NON-RCHRG” written on it.

I cleaned the solar panels thoroughly, then aimed a smal, flexible lamp directly at them. The battery’s long dead. But the panels might

be ok, and Sojourner can operate directly off them. We’l see if anything happens.

Then it was time to take a look at Sojourner’s daddy. I suited up and headed out.

On most landers, the weak point is the battery. It’s the most delicate component, and when it dies, there’s no way to recover.

Landers can’t just shut down and wait when they have low batteries. Their electronics won’t work unless they’re at a minimum

temperature. So they have heaters to keep the electronics warm. It’s a problem that rarely comes up on Earth, but hey. Mars.

Over time, the solar panels get covered with dust. Then winter brings colder temperatures and less daylight. This al combines into a big

“fu@k you” from Mars to your lander. Eventualy it’s using more power to keep warm than it’s getting from the meager daylight that makes

it through the dust.

Once the battery runs down, the electronics get too cold to operate, and the whole system dies. The solar panels wil recharge the

battery somewhat, but there’s nothing to tel the system to reboot. Anything that could make that decision would be electronics, which

would not be working. Eventualy, the now unused battery wil lose its ability to retain charge.

That’s the usual cause of death. And I sure hope it’s what kiled Pathfinder.

I piled some leftover parts of the MDV into a makeshift table and ramp. Then I dragged the Lander up to my new outdoor workbench.

Working in an EVA suit is annoying enough. Bending over the whole time would have been torture.

I got my toolkit and started poking around. Opening the outer panel wasn’t too hard and I identified the battery easily enough. JPL

labels everything. It’s a 40 Amp-hour Ag-Zr battery with an optimal voltage of 1.5V. Wow. They realy made those things run on nothin’

back then.

I detached the battery and headed back inside. I checked it with my electronics kit, and sure enough it’s dead, dead, dead. I could

shuffle across a carpet and hold more charge.

So I knew what it needed. 1.5 volts.

Compared to the makeshift crap I’ve been gluing together since Sol 6, this was a breeze. I have voltage controlers in my kit! It only

took me 15 minutes to put a controler on a reserve power line, then another hour to go outside and run the line to where the battery used to be.

Then there’s the issue of heat. It’s a good idea to keep electronics above -40C. The temperature today is a brisk -63C.

The battery was big and easy to identify, but I had no clue where the heaters were. Even if I knew, it’d be too risky to hook them

directly to power. I could easily fry the whole system.

So instead, I went to good old “Spare Parts” Rover 1, and stole it’s environment heater. I’ve gutted that poor rover so much, it looks

like I parked it in a bad part of town.

Bringing the heater to my “workbench,” I hooked it to Hab power. Then I rested it in the Lander where the battery used to be.

Now I wait. And hope.


I was realy hoping I’d wake up to a functional Lander, but no such luck. Its high-gain antenna is right where I last saw it. Why does

that matter? Wel, I’l tel ya…

If the Lander comes back to life (and that’s a big if) it’l try to establish contact with Earth. Problem is, nobody’s listening. It’s not like the Pathfinder team is hanging around JPL just in case their long dead probe is repaired by a wayward astronaut.

The Deep Space Network and SETI are my best bets for picking up the signal. If either of them caught a blip from Pathfinder, they’d

tel JPL.

JPL would quickly figure out what was going on, especialy when they triangulated the signal to my landing site.

They’d tel the Lander where Earth is, and it would angle the high-gain antenna appropriately. That there, the angling of the antenna, is how I’l know if it linked up.

So far, no action.

There’s stil hope. Any number of reasons could be delaying things. The rover heater is designed to heat air at 1 atmosphere. The thin

Martian air severely hampers its ability to work. So the electronics might need more time to warm up.

Also, Earth is only visible during the day. I (hopefuly) fixed the Lander yesterday evening. It’s morning now, so most of the intervening time has been night. No Earth.

Sojourner’s also showing no signs of life. It’s been in the nice, warm environment of the Hab al night, with plenty of light on its

sparkling clean solar cels. Maybe it’s running an extended self-check, or staying stil until it hears from the Lander or something.

I’l just have to put it out of my mind for now.



TIME 00:00:00
























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