فصل 13

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فصل 13

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Chapter 13 The employees of Deyo Plastics worked double shifts. There was talk of triple shifts if NASA increased the order again. No

one minded. The overtime pay was spectacular and the funding was limitless.

Woven carbon thread ran slowly through the press, which sandwiched it between polymer sheets. The completed material was

folded four times and glued together. The resulting thick sheet was then coated with soft resin, and taken to the hot-room to set.


Now that NASA can talk to me, they won’t shut the hel up.

They want constant updates on every Hab system, and they’ve got a room ful of people trying to micromanage my crops. It’s

awesome to have a bunch of dipsh@ts on Earth teling me, a botanist, how to grow plants.

I mostly ignore them. I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the best botanist on the planet.

One big bonus: Email! Just like the days back on Hermes, I get data dumps. Of course they relay email from friends and family, but

NASA also sends along choice messages from the public. I’ve gotten email from rock stars, athletes, actors and actresses, and even the


The coolest one is from my alma-mater, the University of Chicago. They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officialy

“colonized” it. So technicaly, I colonized Mars.

In your face, Neil Armstrong!

I go to the rover five times a day to check mail. They can get a message from Earth to Mars, but they can’t get it another 10 meters to

the Hab. But hey, I can’t bit@h. My odds of living through this are way higher now.

Last I heard, they solved the weight problem on Ares 4’s MDV. Once it lands here, they’l ditch the heat shield, al the life support

stuff, and a bunch of empty fuel tanks. Then they can take the seven of us (Ares 4’s crew plus me) al the way to Schiapareli. They’re

already working on my duties for the surface ops. How cool is that?

In other news, I’m learning Morse Code. Why? Because it’s our back-up communication system. NASA figured a decades-old probe

isn’t ideal as a sole means of communication.

If Pathfinder craps out, I’l spel messages with rocks, which NASA wil see with satelites. They can’t reply, but at least we’d have

one-way communication. Why Morse Code? Because making dots and dashes with rocks is a lot easier than making letters.

It’s a sh@tty way to communicate. Hopefuly it won’t come up.

All chemical reactions complete, the sheet was sterilized and moved to a cleanroom. There, a worker cut a strip off the edge.

Dividing the strip in to squares, he put each through a series of rigorous tests.

Having passed inspection, the sheet was then cut to shape. The edges were folded over, sewn, and resealed with resin. A man

with a clipboard made final inspections, independently verifying the measurements, then approved it for use.


The meddling botanists have grudgingly admitted I did a good job. They agree I’l have enough food to last til Sol 900. Bearing that in

mind, NASA has fleshed out the mission details of the supply probe.

At first, they were working on a desperate plan to get a probe here before Sol 400. But I bought another 500 sols of life with my

potato farm so they have more time to work on it.

They’l launch next year during the Hohmann Transfer Window, and it’l take almost 9 months to get here. It should arrive around Sol

It’l have plenty of food, a spare Oxygenator, Water Reclaimer, and comm system. Three comm systems, actualy. I guess they aren’t

taking any chances, what with my habit of being nearby when radios break.

Got my first email from Hermes today. NASA’s been limiting direct contact. I guess they’re afraid I’l say something like “You

abandoned me on Mars you fu@kwits!” I know the crew is surprised to hear from the Ghost of Mars Missions Past, but c’mon. I wish

NASA was less of a nanny sometimes. Anyway, they finaly let one email through from Martinez:

Dear Watney: Sorry we left you behind, but we don’t like you. You’re sort of a

smart-ass. And it’s a lot roomier on Hermes without you. We have to take turns

doing your tasks, but it’s only botany (not real science) so it’s easy. How’s Mars?


My reply:

Dear Martinez: Mars is fine. When I get lonely I think of that steamy night I

spent with your mom. How are things on Hermes? Cramped and claustrophobic?

Yesterday I went outside and looked at the vast horizons. I tell ya, Martinez, they

go on forever!


The employees carefully folded the sheet, and placed it in an argon-filled airtight shipping container. Printing out a sticker,

the man with the clipboard placed it on the package. “Project Ares-3; Hab Canvas; Sheet AL102.”

The package was placed on a charter plane and flown to Edwards Air Force Base in California. It flew abnormally high, at

great cost of fuel, to ensure a smoother flight.

Upon arrival, the package was carefully transported by special convoy to Pasadena. Once there, it was moved to the JPL

White Room for probe assembly. Over the next 5 weeks, engineers in white bodysuits assembled Presupply 309. It contained

AL102 as well as 12 other Hab Canvas packages.


It’s almost time for the second harvest.


I wish I had a straw hat and some suspenders.

My re-seed of the potatoes went wel. I’m beginning to see that crops on Mars are extremely prolific, thanks to the bilions of dolars

worth of life support equipment around me. I now have 400 healthy potato plants, each one making lots of calorie-filed taters for my dining enjoyment. In just ten days they’l be ripe!

And this time, I’m not replanting them as seed. This is my food supply. Al natural, organic, Martian-grown potatoes. Don’t hear that

every day, do you?

You may be wondering how I’l store them. I can’t just pile them up; most of them would go bad before I got around to eating them.

So instead, I’l do something that wouldn’t work at al on Earth: Throw them outside.

Most of the water wil be sucked out by the near-vacuum; what’s left wil freeze solid. Any bacteria planning to rot my taters wil die


In other news, I got email from Venkat Kapoor:

Mark, some answers to your earlier questions:

No, we will not tell our Botany Team to “Go fu@k themselves.” I understand you’ve

been on your own for a long time, but we’re in the loop now, and it’s best if you

listen to what we have to say.

The Cubs finished the season at the bottom of the NL Central.

The data transfer rate just isn’t good enough for the size of music files, even

in compressed formats. So your request for “Anything, oh god ANYTHING but Disco” is

denied. Enjoy your boogie fever.

Also, an uncomfortable side note… NASA is putting together a committee. They

want to see if there were any avoidable mistakes that led you to being stranded.

Just a heads-up. They may have questions for you later on.

Keep us posted on your activities.


My reply:

Venkat, tell the investigation committee they’ll have to do their witch-hunt

without me. And when they inevitably blame Commander Lewis, be advised I’ll

publicly refute it.

Also please tell them that each and every one of their mothers are prostitutes.


PS: Their sisters, too.

The presupply probes for Ares-3 launched on 14 consecutive days during the Hohmann Transfer window. Presupply 309 was

launched third. The 251 day trip to Mars was uneventful, needing only two minor course adjustments.

After several aerobraking maneuvers to slow down, it made its final descent toward Acidalia Planitia. First, it endured

reentry via a heat shield. Later, it released a parachute and detached the now expended shield.

Once its onboard radar detected it was 30 meters from the ground, it cut loose the parachute and inflated balloons all around

its hull. It fell unceremoniously to the surface, bouncing and rolling, until it finally came to rest.

Deflating its balloons, the onboard computer reported the successful landing back to Earth.

Then it waited 23 months.


The Water Reclaimer is acting up.

Six people wil go through 18 liters of water per day. So it’s made to process 20. But lately, it hasn’t been keeping up. It’s doing 10,


Do I generate 10 liters of water per day? No, I’m not the urinating champion of al time. It’s the crops. The humidity inside the Hab is a lot higher than it was designed for, so the Water Reclaimer is constantly filtering it out of the air.

I’m not worried about it. Water is water. The plants use it, I use it. If need be, I can piss on the plants directly. It’l evaporate and condense on the wals. I could make something to colect it, I’m sure. Thing is, the water can’t go anywhere. It’s a closed system. Plus, I made like 600 liters from MDV fuel (remember the “explosive Hab” incident?). I could take baths and stil have plenty left over.

NASA, however, is absolutely sh@tting itself. They see the Water Reclaimer as a critical survival element. There’s no backup, and they

think I’l die instantly without it. To them, equipment failure is terrifying. To me, it’s “Tuesday.”

So instead of preparing for my harvest, I have to make extra trips to and from the rover to answer their questions. Each new message

instructs me to try some new solution and report the results back.

So far we’ve worked out it’s not the electronics, refrigeration system, instrumentation, or temperature. I’m sure it’l turn out to be a little hole somewhere, then NASA wil have 4 hours of meetings before teling me to cover it with duct tape.

Lewis and Beck opened Presupply 309. Working as best they could in their bulky EVA suits, they removed the various portions

of Hab canvas and lay them on the ground. Three entire presupply probes were dedicated to the Hab.

Following a procedure they had practiced hundreds of times, they efficiently assembled the pieces. Special seal-strips between

the patches ensured air-tight mating.

After erecting the main structure of the Hab, they assembled the three airlocks. Sheet AL102 had a hole perfectly sized for

Airlock 1. Beck stretched the sheet tight to the seal-strips on the airlock’s exterior.

Once all airlocks were in place, Lewis flooded the Hab with air and AL102 felt pressure for the first time. They waited an

hour. No pressure was lost; the setup had been perfect.


My conversation with NASA about the Water Reclaimer was boring and riddled with technical details. So I’l paraphrase it for you:

Me: “This is obviously a clog. How about I take the it apart and check the internal tubing?”

NASA: (After 5 hours of deliberation) “No. You’l fu@k it up and die.”

So I took it apart.

Yeah, I know. NASA has a lot of ultra-smart people and I should realy do what they say. And I’m being too adversarial, considering

they spend al day working on how to save my life.

I just get sick of being told how to wipe my ass. Independence was one of the things they looked for when choosing Ares astronauts.

It’s a 13-month mission, most of it spent many light-minutes away from Earth. They wanted people who would act on their own initiative,

but at the same time, obey their Commander.

If Commander Lewis were here, I’d do whatever she said, no problem. But a committee of faceless bureaucrats back on Earth? Sorry,

I’m just having a tough time with it.

I was realy careful. I labeled every piece as I dismantled it, and laid everything out on a table. I have the schematics in the computer, so nothing was a surprise.

And just as I’d suspected, there was a clogged tube. The Water Reclaimer was designed to purify urine and strain humidity out of the

air (you exhale almost as much water as you piss). I’ve mixed my water with soil, making it mineral water. The minerals built up in the

Water Reclaimer.

I cleaned out the tubing and put it al back together. It completely solved the problem. I’l have to do it again some day, but not for 100

sols or so. No big deal.

I told NASA what I did. Our (paraphrased) conversation was:

Me: “I took it apart, found the problem, and fixed it.”

NASA: “di@k.”

AL102 shuddered in the brutal storm. Withstanding forces and pressure far greater than its design, it rippled violently against

the airlock seal-strip. Other sections of canvas undulated along their seal-strips together, acting as a single sheet, but AL102 had no such luxury. The airlock barely moved, leaving AL102 to take the full force of the tempest.

The layers of plastic, constantly bending, heated the resin from pure friction. The new, more yielding environment allowed the

carbon fibers to separate.

AL102 stretched.

Not much. Only 4 millimeters. But the carbon fibers, usually 500 microns apart, now had a gap eight times that width in their


After the storm abated, the lone remaining astronaut performed a full inspection of the Hab. But he didn’t notice anything

amiss. The weak part of canvas was concealed by a seal-strip.

Designed for a mission of 31 sols, AL102 continued well past its planned expiration. Sol after sol went by, with the lone

astronaut traveling in and out of the Hab almost daily. Airlock 1 was closest to the rover charging station, so the astronaut

preferred it to the other two.

When pressurized, the airlock expanded slightly; when depressurized, it shrunk. Every time the astronaut used the airlock, the

strain on AL102 relaxed, then tightened anew.

Pulling, stressing, weakening, stretching…


I woke up last night to the Hab shaking.

The medium-grade sandstorm ended as suddenly as it began. It was only a category 3 storm with 50kph winds. Nothing to worry

about. Stil, it’s bit disconcerting to hear howling winds when you’re used to utter silence.

I’m worried about Pathfinder. If the sandstorm damaged it, I’l have lost my connection to NASA. Logicaly, I shouldn’t worry. The

thing’s been on the surface for decades. A little gale won’t do any harm.

When I head outside, I’l confirm Pathfinder’s stil functional before moving on to the sweaty, annoying work of the day.

Yes, with each sandstorm comes the inevitable Cleaning of the Solar Cels. A time honored tradition by hearty Martians such as myself.

It reminds me of growing up in Chicago and having to shovel snow. I’l give my dad credit; he never claimed it was to build character or

teach me the value of hard work.

“Snow-blowers are expensive,” he used to say. “You’re free.”

Once, I tried to appeal to my mom. “Don’t be such a wuss,” She suggested.

In other news, It’s seven sols til the harvest, and I stil haven’t prepared. For starters, I need to make a hoe. Also, I need to make an outdoor shed for the potatoes. I can’t just pile them up outside. The next major storm would cause The Great Martian Potato Migration.

Anyway, al that wil have to wait. I’ve got a ful day today. After cleaning the solar cels, I have to check the whole solar array make

sure the storm didn’t hurt it. Then I’l need to do the same for the rover.

I better get started.

Airlock 1 slowly depressurized to 1/90th of an atmosphere. Watney, donning an EVA suit, waited for it to complete. He had done it

literaly hundreds of times. Any apprehension he may have had on Sol 1 was long gone. Now it was merely a boring chore before exiting to

the surface.

As the depressurization continued, the Hab’s atmosphere compressed the airlock and AL102 stretched for the last time.

On Sol 119, the Hab breached.

The initial tear was less than 1 milimeter. The perpendicular carbon fibers should have prevented the rip from growing. But countless

abuses had stretched the vertical fibers apart and weakened the horizontal ones beyond use.

The ful force of the Hab’s atmosphere rushed through the breach. Within a tenth of a second, the rip was a meter long, running paralel

to the seal-strip. It propagated al the way around until it met its starting point. The airlock was no longer attached to the Hab.

The unopposed pressure violently launched the airlock like a cannonbal as the Hab exploded. Inside, the surprised Watney slammed

against the airlock’s back door with the force of the expulsion.

The airlock flew 40 meters before hitting the ground. Watney, barely recovered from the earlier shock, now endured another as he hit

the front door, face first.

His faceplate took the brunt of the blow, the safety glass shattering into hundreds of smal cubes. His head slammed against the inside of the helmet, knocking him senseless.

The airlock tumbled across the surface for a further 15 meters. The heavy padding of Watney’s suit saved him from many broken

bones. He tried to make sense of the situation, but was barely conscious.

Finaly done tumbling, the airlock rested on its side amid a cloud of dust.

Watney, on his back, stared blankly upward through the hole in his shattered faceplate. A gash in his forehead trickled blood down his


Regaining some of his wits, he got his bearings. Turning his head to the side, he looked through the back door’s window. The colapsed

Hab rippled in the distance, a junkyard of debris strewn across the landscape in front of it.

Then, a hissing sound reached his ears. Listening carefuly, he realized it was not coming from his suit. Somewhere in the phone-booth

sized airlock, a smal breach was letting air escape.

He listened intently to the hiss. Then he touched his broken faceplate. Then he looked out the window again.

“You fu@king kidding me?” He said.

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