فصل 15

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فصل 15

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Chapter 15

Project Iris

[08:12]WATNEY: Test.

[08:25]JPL: Received! You gave us quite a scare there. Thanks for the “A-OK”

message. Our analysis of satellite imagery shows a complete detachment of Airlock

Is that correct? What’s your status? Include your personal health and Hab

equipment.

[08:39]WATNEY: If by “detachment” you mean “shot me out like a cannon” then yeah.

Minor cut on my forehead. Had some issues with my EVA suit (I’ll explain later). I

patched up the Hab and repressurized it (main air tanks were intact). I just got

power back online. Primary air and water tanks were unharmed. The rover, solar

array, and Pathfinder were out of blast range. I’ll run diagnostics on the Hab’s

systems while I wait for your next reply. By the way, who am I talking to?

[08:52]JPL: Venkat Kapoor, in Houston. Pasadena relays my messages. I’m going to

handle all direct communication with you from now on. Check the Oxygenator and

Water Reclaimer first. They’re the most important.

[09:05]WATNEY: Duh. Oxygenator functioning perfectly. Water Reclaimer is

completely offline. Best guess is water froze up inside and burst some tubing. I’m

sure I can fix it. Hab’s main computer also functioning without any problems. Any

idea what caused the Hab to blow up?

[09:18]JPL: Best guess is fatigue on the canvas near Airlock 1. The

pressurization cycle stressed it until it failed. From now on, alternate Airlock 2

and 3 for all EVAs. Also, we’ll be getting you a checklist and procedures for a

full canvas exam.

[09:31]WATNEY: Yay, I get to stare at a wall for several hours! By the way, the

farm is dead. I’ve recovered as many potatoes as I could and stored them outside. I

count 1841. That will last me 184 days. Including the remaining mission rations,

I’ll start starving on Sol 584.

[09:44]JPL: Yeah, we figured. Working on it.

“It’s Sol 122,” Bruce said. “We have until Sol 584 to get a probe to Mars. That’s 462 sols, which is 475 days.”

The assembled department heads of JPL furrowed their brows and rubbed their eyes.

“First they needed a presupply way ahead of schedule,” Bruce continued. “Now they need it even more ahead of schedule.”

He stood from his chair. “The positions of Earth and Mars aren’t ideal. The trip wil take 414 days. Mounting the probe to the booster

and dealing with inspections wil take 13 days. That leaves us with just 48 days to make this probe.”

Sounds of whispered exasperation filed the room. “Jesus,” someone said.

“It’s a whole new balgame,” Bruce continued. “Our focus is food. Anything else is a luxury. We don’t have time to make a powered-

descent lander. It’l have to be a tumbler. So we can’t put anything delicate inside. Say goodbye to the al the other crap we’d planned to send.”

“Where’s the booster coming from?”asked Norm Toshi, who was in charge of the reentry process.

“The EagleEye 3 Saturn probe,” Bruce said. “It was scheduled to launch next month. NASA put it on hold so we can have the

booster.”

“I bet the EagleEye team was pissed about that,” Norm said.

“I’m sure they were,” Bruce said. “But it’s the only booster we have that’s big enough. Which brings me to my next point: We only get

one shot at this. If we fu@k it up, Mark Watney dies.”

He looked around the room and let that sink in.

“We do have some things going for us,” he finaly said. “We have some of the parts built for the Ares 4 presupply missions. We can

steal from them, and that’l save us some time. Also, we’re sending food, which is pretty robust. Even if there’s a reentry problem and the probe impacts at high velocity, food is stil food.

“And we don’t need a precision landing. Watney can travel hundreds of kilometers if necessary. We just need to land close enough for

him to reach it. This ends up being a standard tumble-land presupply. Al we have to do is make it quickly. So let’s get to it.”

[08:02]JPL: We’ve spun up a project to get you food. It’s been in progress for a

week or so. We can get it to you before you starve, but it’ll be tight. It’ll just

be food and a radio. We can’t send an Oxygenator, Water Reclaimer, or any of that

other stuff without powered descent.

[08:16]WATNEY: No complaints here! You get me the food, I’ll be a happy camper.

I’ve got all Hab systems up and running again. The Water Reclaimer is working fine

now that I replaced the burst hoses. As for water supply, I have 620L remaining. I

started with 900L (300 to start with, 600 more from reducing hydrazine). So I lost

almost 300L to sublimation. Still, with the Water Reclaimer operational again, it’s

plenty.

[08:31]JPL: Good, keep us posted on any mechanical or electronic problems. By the

way, the name of the probe we’re sending is “Iris”. Named after the Greek goddess

who traveled the heavens with the speed of wind. She’s also the goddess of

rainbows.

[08:47]WATNEY: Gay probe coming to save me. Got it.

Rich Purnel sipped coffee in the silent building. Only his cubicle iluminated the otherwise dark room. Continuing with his computations, he ran a final test on the software he’d written. It passed.

With a relieved sigh, he sank back in his chair. Checking the clock on his computer, he shook his head. 3:42am.

Being an astrodynamicist, Rich rarely had to work late. His job was to find the exact orbits and course corrections needed for any

given mission. Usualy, it was one of the first parts of a project; al the other steps being based on the orbit.

But this time, things were reversed. Iris needed an orbital path, and nobody knew when it would launch. A non-Hoffman Mars-transfer

isn’t chalenging, but it does require the exact locations of Earth and Mars.

Planets move as time goes by. A course calculated for a specific launch date wil work only for that date. Even a single day’s difference would result in missing Mars entirely.

So Rich had to calculate many courses. He had a range of 25 days during which Iris might launch. He calculated one course for each.

He began an email to his boss.

Mike, he typed, Attached are the courses for Iris, in 1-day increments. We should start peer-review and vetting so they can be officially accepted. And you were right, I was here almost all night.

It wasn’t that bad. Nowhere near the pain of calculating orbits for Hermes. I know you get bored when I go in to the math, so

I’ll summarize: The small, constant thrust of Hermes’s ion drives is much harder to deal with than the large point-thrusts of

presupply probes.

All 25 of the courses take 414 days, and vary only slightly in thrust duration and angle. The fuel requirement is nearly

identical for the orbits and is well within the capacity of EagleEye’s booster.

It’s too bad. Earth and Mars are really badly positioned. Heck, it’s almost easier to-

He stopped typing.

Furrowing his brow, he stared in to the distance.

“Hmm.” he said.

Grabbing his coffee cup, he went to the break room for a refil.

“I know you’re al busy,” Teddy said, “so let’s make this fast. I need status on Project Iris from al departments. Venkat, let’s start with you.”

“The mission team’s ready,” Venkat said. “There was a minor turf war between the Ares-3 and Ares-4 presupply control teams. The

Ares-3 guys said they should run it, cause while Watney’s on Mars, Ares-3 is stil in progress. The Ares-4 team points out it’s their co-

opted probe in the first place. I ended up going with Ares-3.”

“Did that upset Ares-4?” Teddy asked.

“Yeah, but they’l get over it. They have 13 presupply missions coming up. They won’t have time to be pissy.”

“Mitch,” Teddy said to the flight controler, “What about the launch?”

“We’ve got a control room ready,” Mitch replied. “I’l oversee the launch, then hand cruise and landing over to Venkat’s guys.”

“Media?” Teddy said, turning to Annie Montrose.

“I’m giving daily updates to the press,” she said. “Everyone knows Watney’s fu@ked if this doesn’t work. The public hasn’t been this

engaged in ship construction since Apolo 11. CNN’s ‘The Watney Report’ has been the #1 show in its time-slot for the past two weeks.”

“The attention is good,” Teddy said. “It’l help get us emergency funding from Congress. Maurice, how’s the booster?”

“It’s al right for now,” said Maurice Stein, Director of Pad Operations. “But it’s not ideal. EagleEye 3 was set to launch. Boosters

aren’t designed to stand upright and bear the stress of gravity for long periods. We’re adding external supports that we’l remove before launch. It’s easier than disassembly. Also the fuel is corrosive to the internal tanks, so we had to drain it. In the mean time, we’re performing inspections on al systems every three days.”

“Good, good,” Teddy nodded. “Now for the big question: Bruce? How’s Iris coming along?”

“We’re behind,” Bruce said with a tired shake of his head. “We’re going as fast as we can, but it’s just not fast enough.”

“I can find money for overtime,” Teddy offered.

“We’re already working around the clock.”

“How far behind are we walking about?” Teddy asked.

“We’ve been at it 29 days; so we only have 19 left,” Bruce explained. “After that, the Pad needs 13 days to mount it on the booster.

We’re at least two weeks behind.”

“Is that as far behind as you’re going to get?” Teddy asked. “Or wil you slip more?”

Bruce shrugged. “If we don’t have any more problems, it’l be two weeks late. But we always have problems.”

“Give me a number,” Teddy said.

“15 days,” Bruce responded. “If I had another 15 days, I’m sure we could get it done in time.”

“Al right,” Teddy said. “Let’s create 15 days.”

Turning his attention to the Ares-3 Flight Surgeon, Teddy asked “Dr. Keler, can we reduce Watney’s food intake to make the rations

last longer?”

“Sorry, but no,” Keler said. “he’s already at a minimal calorie count. In fact, considering the amount of physical labor he does, he’s

eating far less than he should. And it’s only going to get worse. Soon his entire diet wil be potatoes and vitamin supplements. He’s been saving protein-rich rations for later use, but he’l stil be malnourished.”

“Once he runs out of food, how long until he starves to death?” Teddy asked.

“Presuming an ample water supply, he might last three weeks. Shorter than a typical hunger strike but remember he’l be malnourished

and thin to begin with.”

“Remember,” Venkat interjected, “Iris is a tumbler; he might have to drive a few days to get it. And I’m guessing it’s hard to control a rover when you’re literaly starving to death.”

“He’s right,” Dr. Keler confirmed. “Within 4 days of running out of food, he’l barely be able to stand up, let alone control a rover. Plus, his mental faculties wil rapidly decline. He’d have a hard time even staying awake.”

“So the landing date’s firm,” Teddy said. “Maurice, can you get it on the booster in less than 13 days?”

Maurice pondered. “Wel… It only takes 3 days to actualy mount it. The folowing 10 are for testing and inspections.”

“How much can you reduce those?”

“With enough overtime, I could get the mounting down to 2 days. That includes transport from Pasadena to Cape Canaveral. But the

inspections can’t be shortened. They’re time-based. We do checks and re-checks with set intervals between them to see if something

deforms or warps. If you shorten the intervals, you invalidate the inspections.”

“How often do those inspections reveal a problem?” Teddy asked.

A silence fel over the room.

“Uh,” Maurice stammered. “Are you suggesting we don’t do the inspections?”

“No,” said Teddy. “Right now I’m asking how often they reveal a problem.”

“About one in twenty launches.”

“And how often is the problem they reveal a would-be mission-failure?”

“I’m, uh, not sure. Maybe half the time?”

“So if we skip the inspections and testing, we have a 1 in 40 chance of mission failure?” Teddy asked.

“That’s 2.5%,” Venkat said, steeping in. “Normaly, that’s grounds for a countdown halt. We can’t take a chance like that.”

“ ‘Normaly’ was a long time ago,” Teddy said calmly. “97.5% is better than zero. Can anyone think of a safer way to get more time?”

He looked around the table. Blank faces stared back.

“Al right, then. Speeding up the mounting process and skipping inspections buys us 11 days. If Bruce can pul a rabbit out of a hat and

get done sooner, Maurice can do some inspections.”

“What about the other 4 days?” Venkat asked, stil frowning at skipping inspections.

“I’m sure Watney can stretch the food to last 4 extra days, malnutrition notwithstanding,” Teddy said, looking to Dr. Keler.

“I-” Keler started. “I can’t recommend-”

“Folks,” Teddy interrupted. “I understand your positions. We have procedures. Skipping those procedures means risk. Risk means

trouble for your department. But now isn’t the time to cover our asses. We have to take risks or Mark Watney dies.”

Turning to Keler, he said “Make the food last another 4 days.”

Keler nodded silently.

“Rich,” said Mike.

Rich Purnel concentrated on his computer screen. His cubicle was a landfil of printouts, charts, and reference books. Empty coffee

cups rested on every surface; take-out packaging littered the ground.

“Rich,” Mike said, more forcefuly.

Rich looked up. “Yeah?”

“What the hel are you doing?”

“Just a little side project. Something I wanted to check up on.”

“Wel… that’s fine, I guess,” Mike said, “but you need to do your assigned work first. I asked for those satelite adjustments two weeks ago and you stil haven’t done them.”

“I need some supercomputer time.” Rich said.

“You need supercomputer time to calculate routine satelite adjustments?”

“No, it’s for this other thing I’m working on,” Rich said.

“Rich, seriously. You have to do your job.”

Rich thought for a moment. “Would now be a good time for a vacation?” He asked.

Mike sighed. “You know what, Rich? I think now would be an ideal time for you to take a vacation.”

“Great!” Rich smiled. “I’l start right now.”

“Sure,” Mike said. “Go on home. Get some rest.”

“Oh, I’m not going home,” said Rich, returning to his calculations.

Mike rubbed his eyes. “Ok, whatever. About those satelite orbits…?”

“I’m on vacation,” Rich said without looking up.

Mike shrugged and walked away.

[08:01]WATNEY: How’s my care package coming along?

[08:16]JPL: A little behind schedule, but we’ll get it done. In the mean time, we

want you to get back to work. We’re satisfied the Hab’s is in good condition.

Maintenance only takes you 12 hours per week. We’re going to pack the rest of your

time with research and experiments.

[08:31]WATNEY: Great! I’m sick of sitting on my ass. I’m going to be here for

years. You may as well make use of me.

[08:47]JPL: That’s what we’re thinking. We’ll get you a schedule as soon as the

science team puts it together. It’ll be mostly of EVAs, geological samples, soil

tests, and weekly self-administered medical tests. Honestly, this is the best

“bonus Mars time” we’ve had since the Opportunity lander.

[09:02]WATNEY: Opportunity never went back to Earth.

[09:17]JPL: Sorry. Bad analogy.

The Whiteroom was abuzz with activity as technicians sealed Iris in to the specialy-designed shipping container.

The other two shifts watched from the observation deck. They had rarely seen their own homes in two months; a makeshift bunkroom

had been set up in the cafeteria. Fuly a third of them would normaly be asleep at this hour, but they did not want to miss this moment.

The shift leader tightened the final bolt. As he retracted the wrench, the engineers broke in to applause. Many of them were in tears.

After 62 days of grueling work, Iris was complete.

“The launch preparations are complete,” Annie Montrose said to the press room. “Iris is ready to go. The scheduled launch is 9:14am.

“Once launched, it wil stay in orbit for at least three hours. During that time, mission control wil gather exact telemetry in preparation for the trans-Mars injection burn. Once that’s complete the mission wil be handed off to the Ares-3 presupply team, who wil monitor its

progress over the folowing months. It wil take 414 days to reach Mars. ”

“About the payload,” a reporter asked, “I hear there’s more than just food?”

“That’s true,”Annie smiled. “We alocated 100 grams for luxury items. There are some handwritten letters from Mark’s family, a note

from the President, and a USB drive filed with music from al ages.”

“Any disco?” someone asked.

“No disco,” Annie said, as chuckles cascaded through the room.

CNN’s Cathy Warner spoke up “If this launch fails, is there any recourse for Watney?”

“There are risks to any launch,” Annie said, “but we don’t anticipate problems. The weather at the Cape is clear with warm

temperatures. Conditions couldn’t be better.”

“Is there any spending limit to this rescue operation?” another reporter asked. “Some people are beginning to ask how much is too

much.”

“It’s not about the bottom line,” Annie said, prepared for the question. “It’s about a human life in immediate danger. But if you want to look at it financialy, consider the value of Mark Watney’s extended mission. His prolonged mission and fight for survival is giving us more knowledge about Mars than the rest of the Ares program combined.”

“Do you believe in God, Venkat?” Mitch asked.

“Sure, lots of ‘em,” Venkat said. “I’m Hindu.”

“Ask ‘em al for help with this launch.”

“Wil do.”

Mitch stepped forward to his station in the large control room. He glanced at the many screens on the far wal, and the dozens of

people at their stations.

He put his headset on and said. “This is the Flight Director. Begin Launch Status Check.”

“Roger that, Houston,” came the reply from the Launch Control Director in Florida. “CLCDR checking al stations are manned and

systems ready,” he broadcast, “Give me a go/no-go for launch. Talker?”

“Go.” came the response.

“Timer.”

“Go,” Came another voice.

“QAM1.”

“Go.”

Resting his chin on his hands, Mitch stared at the center screen. It showed the Pad video feed. The booster, amid cloudy water vapor

from the cooling process, stil had EagleEye3 stenciled on the side.

“QAM2.”

“Go.”

“QAM3.”

“Go.”

Venkat leaned against the back wal. An administrator, his job was done. He could only watch and hope. His gaze fixated on the far

wal’s displays. In his mind he saw the numbers, the shift juggling, the outright lies and borderline crimes he’d committed to put this mission together. It would al be worthwhile if it worked.

“FSC.”

“Go.”

“Prop 1.”

“Go.”

Teddy sat in the VIP observation room behind mission control. His authority afforded him the very best seat: front-row center. His

briefcase lay at his feet and he held a blue folder in his hands.

“Prop 2.”

“Go.”

“PTO.”

“Go.”

Annie Montrose paced in her private office next to the press room. Nine televisions mounted to the wal were each tuned to a different

network; each network showed the launch pad. A glance at her computer showed foreign networks doing the same. The world was

holding its breath.

“ACC.”

“Go.”

“LWO.”

“Go.”

Bruce Ng sat in the JPL cafeteria along with hundreds of engineers who had given everything they had to Iris. They watched the large

TV with rapt attention. It was 6:13am in Pasadena, yet every single employee was present.

“AFLC.”

“Go.”

“Guidance.”

“Go.”

Milions of kilometers away, the crew of Hermes listened as they crowded around Johanssen’s station. The 2-minute transmission time

didn’t matter. They had no way to help; there was no need to interact. Johanssen stared intently at her screen, which displayed only the audio signal strength. Beck wrung his hands. Vogel stood motionless, his eyes fixed on the floor. Martinez prayed silently at first, then saw no reason to hide it. Commander Lewis stood apart, her arms folded across her chest.

“PTC.”

“Go.”

“Launch Vehicle Director.”

“Go.”

“Houston, this is Launch Control, we are go for launch.”

“Roger,” Mitch said checking the countdown. “This is Flight, we are go for launch on schedule.”

“Roger that Houston,” Launch Control said, “Launch on schedule.”

Once the clock reached -00:00:15, the television networks got what they were waiting for. The Timer Controler began the verbal

countdown. “15,” She said. “14… 13… 12… 11…”

Thousands had gathered at Cape Canaveral; the largest crowd ever to watch an unmanned launch. They listened to the Timer

Controler’s voice as it echoed across the grandstands.

“10… 9… 8… 7…”

Rich Purnel, entrenched in his orbital calculations, had lost track of time. He didn’t notice when his coworkers migrated to the large

meeting room where a TV had been set up. In the back of his mind, he thought the office was unusualy quiet, but he gave it no further

thought.

“6… 5… 4…”

“Ignition sequence start.”

“3… 2… 1…”

Clamps released; the booster rose amid a plume of smoke and fire, slowly at first, then racing ever faster. The assembled crowd

cheered it on its way.

“…and liftoff of the Iris Supply Probe,” the Timer Controler said.

As the booster soared, Mitch had no time to watch the spectacle on the main screen. “Trim?” He caled out.

“Trim’s good, Flight.” came the immediate response.

“Course?” He asked.

“On course.”

“Altitude 1000 meters,” someone said.

“We’ve reached safe-abort,” another person caled out, indicating that the ship could crash harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean if

necessary.

“Altitude 1500 meters.”

“Pitch and rol maneuver commencing.”

“Getting a little shimmy, flight.”

Mitch looked over to the Ascent Flight Director. “Say again?”

“A slight shimmy. On-board guidance is handling it.”

“Keep an eye on it,” Mitch said.

“Altitude 2500 meters.”

“Pitch and rol complete, 22 seconds til staging.”

The quick yet thorough design of Iris accounted for catastrophic landing failure. Rather than normal meal kits, most of the food was

cubed protein bar material. Even if Iris failed to deploy its tumble baloons and impacted at hundreds of kph, the protein cubes would stil be edible.

An unmanned mission, there was no cap on acceleration. The contents of the probe endured forces no human could survive. While

NASA had tested the effects of extreme G-forces on protein cubes, they had not done so with a simultaneous lateral vibration. Had they

been given more time, they would have.

The harmless shimmy, caused by a minor fuel mixture imbalance, rattled the payload. Mounted by strong bolts, Iris held firm. The

protein cubes inside did not.

The thrust compressed the food while the shimmy rattled it. An effect similar to liquefaction during an earthquake transformed the

protein cubes into a thick sludge. Stored in a compartment that originaly had no left-over space, the now-compressed substance had room

to slosh.

The shimmy also caused an imbalanced load, forcing the sludge toward the edge of its compartment. The shift in weight only aggravated

the problem and the shimmy grew stronger.

“Shimmy’s getting violent,” reported the Ascent Flight Director.

“How violent?” Mitch said.

“More than we like,” he said. “But the accelerometers caught it and calculated the new center of mass. The guidance computer is

adjusting the engines’ thrusts to counteract. We’re stil good.”

“Keep me posted,” Mitch said.

“13 seconds til staging.”

The unexpected weight shift had not speled disaster. Al systems were designed for worst-case scenarios; each did their job admirably.

The ship continued toward orbit with only a minor course adjustment, implemented automaticaly by sophisticated software.

The first stage depleted its fuel, and the booster coasted for a fraction of a second as it jettisoned stage-clamps via explosive bolts. The now-empty stage fel away from the craft as the second-stage engines prepared to ignite.

The brutal forces had disappeared. The protein sludge floated free in the container. Given two seconds, it would have re-expanded and

solidified. But it was given only a quarter-second.

As the second stage fired, the craft experienced a sudden jolt of immense force. No longer contending with the dead-weight of the first

stage, the acceleration was profound. The 300kg of sludge slammed in to the back of its container. The point of impact was at the edge of Iris, nowhere near where the mass was expected to be.

Though Iris was held in place by five large bolts, the force was directed entirely to a single one. The bolt was designed to withstand

immense forces; if necessary to carry the entire weight of the payload. But it was not designed to sustain a sudden impact from a loose 300kg mass.

The bolt sheared. The burden was then shifted to the remaining four bolts. The forceful impact having passed, their work was

considerably easier than that of their falen comrade.

Had the pad crew been given time to do normal inspections, they would have noticed the minor defect in one of the bolts. A defect that

slightly weakened it, though would not cause failure on a normal mission. Stil, they would have swapped it out with a perfect replacement.

The off-center load presented unequal force to the four remaining bolts, the defective one bearing the brunt of it. Soon, it failed as wel.

From there, the other three failed in rapid succession.

Iris slipped from its supports in the payload bulb, slamming in to the hul.

“Woah!” exclaimed the Ascent Flight Director. “Flight, we’re getting a large precession!”

“What?” Mitch said as alerts beeped and lights flashed across al the consoles.

“Force on Iris is at 7 G’s,” someone said.

“Intermittent signal loss,” came another voice.

“Ascent, What’s happening here?” Mitch demanded.

“Al hel broke loose. It’s spinning on the long axis with a 17 degree precession.”

“How bad?”

“At least 5 rps, and faling off course.”

“Can you get it to orbit?”

“I can’t talk to it at al; signal failures left and right.”

“Comm!” Mitch shot to the Communications Director.

“Workin’ on it, Flight,” came the response. “There’s a problem with the onboard system.”

“Getting some major G’s inside, Flight.”

“Ground telemetry shows it 200 meters low of target path.”

“We’ve lost readings on the probe, Flight.”

Mitch zeroed in on that last comment. “Entirely lost the probe?” Mitch asked.

“Affirm, Flight. Intermittent signal from the ship, but no probe.”

“sh@t,” Mitch said. “It shook loose in the bay.”

“It’s dradeling, Flight.”

“Can it limp to orbit?” Mitch said. “Even super-low EO? We might be able to-”

“Loss of signal, Flight.”

“LOS here, too.”

“Same here.”

Other than the alarms, the room fel silent.

After a moment, Mitch said “Reestablish?”

“No luck,” said Comm.

“Ground?” Mitch asked.

“GC,” same the reply, “Vehicle had already left visual range.”

“SatCon?” Mitch asked.

“No satelite acquisition of signal.”

Mitch looked forward to the main screen. It was black now, with large white letters reading “LOS”.

“Flight,” came a voice over the radio, “US Destroyer Stockton reports debris faling from the sky. Source matches last known location

of Iris.”

Mitch put his head in his hands. “Roger,” he said.

Then he uttered the words every Flight Director hopes never to say: “GC, Flight. Lock the doors.”

It was the signal to start post-failure procedures.

From the VIP observation room, Teddy watched the despondent Mission Control Center. He took a deep breath, then let it out. He

looked forlornly at the blue folder, which contained the cheerful speech praising a perfect launch. Placing it in his briefcase, he then extracted the red folder with the other speech in it.

Venkat sat in his darkened office. He never decided to be in the dark. He’d just been lost in thought so long it got dark around him.

His mobile rang. His wife again. No doubt worried about him. He let it go to voice mail. He just couldn’t face her. Or anyone.

A brief chime came from his computer. Glancing over, he saw an email from JPL. A relayed message from Pathfinder:

[16:03]WATNEY: How’d the launch go?

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