فصل 17

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فصل 17

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Chapter 17


Holy sh@t!

They’re coming back for me!

I don’t even know how to react. I’m choked up!

And I’ve got a sh@tload of work to do before I catch that bus home.

They can’t orbit. If I’m not in space when they pass by, al they can do is wave.

I have to get to Ares-4’s MAV. Even NASA accepts that. And when the nannies at NASA recommend a 3200km overland drive, you

know you’re trouble.

Schiapareli Crater here I come!

Wel… not right away. I stil have to do the aforementioned sh@tload of work.

My trip to Pathfinder was a quick jaunt compared to the epic journey that’s coming up. I got away with a lot of shortcuts because I

only had to survive 18 sols. This time, things are different.

I averaged 80km/sol on my way to Pathfinder. If I do that wel toward Schiapareli it’l take 40 sols. Cal it 50 to be safe.

But there’s more to it than just travel. Once I get there, I’l need to set up camp and do a bunch of MAV modifications. NASA

estimates they’l take 30 sols, 45 to be safe. Between the trip and the MAV mods, that’s 95 sols. Cal it 100 because “95” cries out to be approximated.

So I’l need to survive away from the Hab for 100 sols.

“What about the MAV?” I hear you ask (in my fevered imagination). “Won’t it have some supplies? Air and water at the very least?”

Nope. It’s got di@k-al.

It does have air tanks, but they’re empty. An Ares mission needs lots of O2, N2 and water anyway. Why send more with the MAV?

Easier to have the crew top off the MAV from the Hab. Fortunately for my crewmates, the mission plan had Martinez fil the MAV tanks

on Sol 1.

The flyby is on Sol 549, so I’l need to leave by 449. That gives me 257 sols to get my sh@t in gear.

Seems like a long time, doesn’t it?

In that time, I need to modify the rover to carry the Atmospheric Regulator, Oxygenator, and Water Reclaimer. I cal them “The Big

Three”. Al three need to be in the pressurized area, but the rover isn’t big enough. Al three need to be running at al times, but the rover’s batteries can’t handle that load for long.

The rover wil also need to carry al my food, water, solar cels, extra battery, my tools, some spare parts, and Pathfinder. As my sole

means of communication with NASA, Pathfinder gets to ride on the roof, Granny Clampett style.

I have a lot of problems to solve, but I have a lot of smart people to solve them. Pretty much the whole planet Earth.

NASA is stil working on the details, but the idea is to use both rovers. One to drive around, the other to act as a trailer for al the sh@t I have to bring.

I’l have to make structural changes to that trailer. And by “structural changes” I mean “cut a big hole in the hul.” Then I can move the Big Three in and use Hab canvas to loosely cover the hole. It’l baloon out when I pressurize the rover, but it’l hold.

How wil I cut a big chunk out of a rover’s hul? I’l let my lovely assistant Venkat Kapoor explain further:

[14:38]JPL: I’m sure you’re wondering how to cut a hole in the rover.

Our experiments show a rock sample drill can get through the hull. Wear and tear

on the bit is minimal (rocks are harder than carbon composite). You can cut holes

in a line, then chisel out the remaining chunks between them.

I hope you like drilling. The drill bit is 1cm wide, the holes will be 0.5cm

apart, and the length of the total cut is 11.4m. That’s 760 holes. And each one

takes 160 seconds to drill.

Problem: The drills weren’t designed for construction projects. They were

intended for quick rock samples. The batteries only last 240 seconds. You do have

two drills, but you’d still only get 3 holes done before needing to recharge. And

recharging takes 41 minutes.

That’s 173 hours of work, limited to 8 EVA hours per day. That’s 21 days of

drilling, and that’s just too long. All our other ideas hinge on this cut working.

If it doesn’t, we need time to come up with new ones.

So we want you to wire a drill directly to Hab power.

The drill expects 28.8V and pulls 9 Amps. The only lines that can handle that are

the rover recharge lines. They’re 36V, 10A max. Since you have two, we’re

comfortable with you modifying one.

We’ll send you instructions on how to step down the voltage and put a new breaker

in the line, but I’m sure you already know how.

I’l be playing with high voltage power tomorrow. Can’t imagine anything going wrong with that!


I managed to not kil myself today, even though I was working with high voltage. Wel, it’s not as exciting as al that. I disconnected the line before I fu@ked with it.

As instructed, I turned a rover charging cable into a dril power source. Getting the voltage was a simple matter of adding resistors,

which my electronics kit has in abundance.

I had to make my own a 9 Amp breaker. I strung three 3A breakers in paralel. There’s no way for 9A to get through that without

tripping al three in rapid succession.

Then I had to rewire a dril. Pretty much the same thing I did with Pathfinder. Take out the battery and replace it with a power line from the Hab. But this time it was a lot easier.

Pathfinder was too big to fit through any of my airlocks, so I had to do al the rewiring outside. Ever done electronics while wearing a

space suit? Pain in the ass. I even had to make a workbench out of MAV landing struts, remember?

Anyway, the dril fit in the airlock easily. It’s only a meter tal, and shaped like a jackhammer. We did our rock sampling standing up,

like Apolo astronauts.

Also, unlike my Pathfinder hatchet-job, I had the ful schematics of the dril. I removed the battery and attached a power line where it

used to be. Then, taking the dril and it’s new cord outside, I connected it to the modified rover charger and fired it up.

Worked like a charm! The dril whirled away with happy abandon. Somehow, I had managed to do everything right the first try. Deep

down, I thought I’d fry the dril for sure.

It wasn’t even midday yet. I figured why not get a jump on driling?

[10:07] Watney: Power line modifications complete. Hooked it up to a drill, and

it works great. Plenty of daylight left. Send me a description of that hole you

want me to cut.

[10:25] JPL: Glad to hear it. Starting on the cut sounds great. Just to be clear,

these are modifications to Rover 1, which we’ve been calling “the trailer.” Rover 2

(the one with your modifications for the trip to Pathfinder) should remain as-is

for now.

You’ll be taking a chunk out of the roof, just in front of the airlock in the

rear of the vehicle. The hole needs to be at least 2.5m long and the full 2m width

of the pressure vessel.

Before any cuts, draw the shape on the trailer, and position the trailer where

Pathfinder’s camera can see it. We’ll let you know if you got it right.

[10:43] Watney: Roger. Take a pic at 11:30 if you haven’t heard from me by then.

The rovers are made to interlock so one can tow the other. That way you can rescue your crewmates if the sh@t hits the fan. For that

same reason, rovers can share air via hoses you connect between them. That little feature wil let me share atmosphere with the trailer on my long drive.

I’d stolen the trailer’s battery long ago; it had no ability to move under it’s own power. So I hitched it up to my awesomely modified

rover and towed it in to place near Pathfinder.

Venkat told me to “draw” the shape I plan to cut, but he neglected to mention how. It’s not like I have a Sharpie that can work out on

the surface. So I vandalized Martinez’s bed.

The cots are basicaly hammocks. Lightweight string woven loosely into something that’s comfortable to sleep on. Every gram counts

when making stuff to send to Mars.

I unraveled Martinez’s bed and took the string outside. I taped it to the trailer hul along the path I planned to cut. Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

I can see what NASA has in mind. The rear of the trailer has an airlock that we’re not going to mess with. The cut is just ahead of it,

and wil leave plenty of space for The Big Three to stand.

I have no idea how NASA plans to power the Big Three for 24½ hours a day and stil have energy left to drive. I bet they don’t know,

either. But they’re smart; they’l work something out.

[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the

other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling.

[12:07] Watney: That’s what she said.

[12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?

First, I depressurized the trailer. Cal me crazy, but I didn’t want the dril explosively launched at my face.

Then I had to pick somewhere to start. I thought it’d be easiest to start on the side. I was wrong.

The roof would have been better. The side was a hassle because I had to hold the dril paralel to the ground. This isn’t your dad’s

Black & Decker we’re talking about. It’s a meter long and only safe to hold by the handles.

Getting it to bite was nasty. I pressed it against the hul and turned it on, but it wandered al over the place. So I got my trusty hammer and screwdriver. With a few taps, I made a smal chip in the carbon composite.

That gave the bit a place to seat, so I could keep driling in one place. As NASA predicted, it took about two minutes to get al the way


I folowed the same procedure for the second hole and it went much smoother. After the third hole, the dril’s overheat light came on.

It wasn’t designed to operate constantly for so long. Fortunately, it sensed the overheat and warned me. So I leaned it against the

workbench for a few minutes and it cooled down. One thing you can say about Mars: It’s really cold. The thin atmosphere doesn’t conduct heat very wel, but it cools everything eventualy.

I had already removed the dril’s cowling (the power cord needed a way in). A pleasant side effect is the dril cools even faster. Though

I’l have to clean it thoroughly every few hours as dust accumulates.

By 17:00, when the sun began to set, I had driled 75 holes. A good start, but there’s stil tons to do. Eventualy (probably tomorrow)

I’l have to start driling holes that I can’t reach from the ground. For that I’l need something to stand on.

I can’t use my “workbench.” It’s got Pathfinder on it, and the last thing I’m going to do is mess with that. But I’ve got three more MAV

landing struts. I’m sure I can make a ramp or something.

Anyway, that’s al stuff for tomorrow. Tonight is about eating a full ration for dinner.

Awww yeah. That’s right. I’m either getting rescued on Sol 549 or I’m dying. That means I have 35 days of extra food. I can indulge

once in a while.


I average a hole every 3.5 minutes. That includes the occasional breather to let the dril cool off.

I learned this by spending al damn day driling. After 8 hours of dul, physicaly intense work, I had 137 holes to show for it.

It turned out to be easy to deal with places I couldn’t reach. I didn’t need to modify a landing strut after al. I just had to get something to stand on. I used a geological sample container (also known as “a box”).

Before I was in contact with NASA, I would have worked more than 8 hours. I can stay out for 10 before even dipping in to

“emergency” air. But NASA’s got a lot of Nervous Nelies who don’t want me out longer than spec.

With today’s work, I’m about ¼ of the way through the whole cut. At least, ¼ of the way through the driling. Then I’l have 759 little

chunks to chisel out. And I’m not sure how wel carbon composite is going to take to that. But NASA’l do it a thousand times back on

Earth and tel me the best way to get it done.

Anyway, at this rate, it’l take 4 more days of (boring-ass) work to finish the driling.

I’ve actualy exhausted Lewis’s supply of sh@tty ‘70’s TV. And I’ve read al of Johanssen’s mystery books.

I rifled through other crewmates’ stuff to find entertainment. But al of Vogel’s stuff is in German, Beck brought nothing but medical

journals, and Martinez didn’t bring anything.

I’m got realy bored, so I decided to pick a theme song!

Something appropriate. And naturaly, it should be something from Lewis’s godawful ‘70’s colection. It wouldn’t be right any other


There are plenty of great candidates: Life on Mars by David Bowie, Rocket Man by Elton John, Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sulivan.

But I settled on Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees.


Another day, another bunch of holes. 145 this time (I’m getting better.) I’m half-way done. This is getting realy old.

But at least I have encouraging messages from Venkat to cheer me on!

[17:12] Watney: 145 holes today. 357 total.

[17:31] JPL: We thought you’d have more done by now.


Anyway, I’m stil bored at night. I guess that’s a good thing. Nothing’s wrong with the Hab, there’s a plan to save me, and the physical

labor is making me sleep wonderfuly.

I miss tending the potatoes. The Hab isn’t the same without them.

There’s stil soil everywhere. No point in lugging it back outside. Lacking anything better to do, I ran some tests on it. Amazingly, some of the bacteria survived. The population is strong and growing. That’s pretty impressive, when you consider it was exposed to near-vacuum and sub-arctic temperatures for over 24 hours.

My guess is pockets of ice formed around some of the bacteria, leaving a bubble of survivable pressure inside, and the cold wasn’t

quite enough to kil them. With hundreds of milions of bacteria, it only takes one survivor to stave off extinction.

Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die anymore than I do.


I fu@ked up.

I fu@ked up big time. I made a mistake that might kil me.

I started my EVA around 08:45, same as always. I got my hammer and screwdriver and started chipping the trailer’s hul. It’s a pain in

the ass to make a chip before each driling, so I make al the day’s chips in a single go.

After chipping out 150 divots (hey, I’m an optimist), I got to work.

It was the same as yesterday and the day before. Dril through, relocate. Dril through, relocate. Dril through a third time, then set the dril aside to cool. Repeat that process over and over til lunchtime.

At 12:00, I took a break. Back in the Hab, I enjoyed a nice lunch and played some chess against the computer (it kicked my ass).

Then back out for the day’s second EVA.

At 13:30 my ruination occurred, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

The worst moments in life are heralded by smal observations. The tiny lump on your side that wasn’t there before. Coming home to

your wife and seeing two wine glasses in the sink. Any time you hear “We interrupt this program…”

For me, it was when the dril didn’t start.

Only three minutes earlier, it was working fine. I had finished a hole and set the dril aside to cool. Same as always.

But when I tried to get back to work, it didn’t work. The power light wouldn’t even come on.

I wasn’t worried. If al else failed, I had another dril. It would take a few hours to wire it up, but that’s hardly a concern.

The power light being off meant there was probably something wrong with the line. A quick glance at the airlock window showed the

lights were on in the Hab. So there were no systemic power problems. I checked my new breakers and sure enough, al three had tripped.

I guess the dril puled a little too much amperage. No big deal. I reset the breakers and got back to work. The dril fired right up, and I was back to making holes.

Doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? I certainly didn’t think so at the time.

I finished my day at 17:00 after driling 131 holes. Not as good as yesterday, but I lost some time to the dril malfunction.

I reported my progress.

[17:08] Watney: 131 holes today. 488 total. Minor drill issue; it tripped the

breakers. There may be an intermittent short in the drill, probably in the

attachment point of the power line. Might need to redo it.

Earth an Mars are just over 18 light-minutes apart now. Usualy, NASA responded within 25 minutes. But this time, no reply came.

Remember, I do al my communication from Rover 2, which relays everything through Pathfinder. I can’t just lounge in the Hab awaiting a

reply; I have to stay in the rover until they acknowledge the message.

[17:38] Watney: Have received no reply. Last message sent 30 minutes ago. Please


I waited another 30 minutes. Stil no reply. Fear started to take root.

Back when JPL’s Nerd Brigade hacked the rover and Pathfinder to be an poor-man’s IM client, they sent me a cheat sheet for

troubleshooting. I executed the first instruction:

[18:09] Watney: system_command: STATUS

[18:09] SYSTEM: Last message sent 00h31m ago. Last message received 26h17m ago.

Last ping reply from probe received 04h24m ago. WARNING: 52 unanswered pings.

Pathfinder was no longer talking to the rover. It had stopped answering pings 4 hours and 24 minutes ago. Some quick math told me

that was around 13:30 today.

The same time the dril died.

I tried not to panic. The troubleshooting sheet has a list of things to try if communication is lost. They are (in order):

Confirm power stil flowing to Pathfinder. Reboot rover. Reboot Pathfinder by disconnecting/reconnecting power. Instal rover’s comm software on the other rover’s computer, try from there. If both rovers fail, problem is likely with Pathfinder. Check connections very closely. Clean Pathfinder of Martian dust. Spel message in Morse Code with rocks, include things attempted. Problem may be recoverable with remote update of Pathfinder.

I only got as far as step 1. I checked Pathfinder’s connections and the negative lead was no longer attached.

I was elated! What a relief! With a smile on my face, I fetched my electronics kit and prepared to reattach the lead. I puled it out of the probe to give it a good cleaning (as best I can with the gloves of my space suit) and noticed something strange. The insulation had melted.

I pondered this development. Melted insulation usualy means a short. More current than the wire could handle had passed through. But

the bare portion of the wire wasn’t black or even singed, and the positive lead’s insulation wasn’t melted at al.

Then, one by one, the horrible realities of Mars came in to play. The wire wouldn’t be burnt or singed. That’s a result of oxidization.

And there’s no oxygen in the air. There likely was a short after al. But with the positive lead being unaffected, the power must have come from somewhere else…

And the dril’s breaker tripped around the same time…

Oh… sh@t…

The internal electronics for Pathfinder included a ground lead to the hul. This way it could not build up a static charge in Martian

weather conditions (no water and frequent sandblasting can make impressive static charge).

The hul sat on Panel A, one of four sides of the tetrahedron which brought Pathfinder the Mars. The other 3 sides are stil in Ares Valis where I left them.

Between Panel A and the workbench were the Mylar baloons Pathfinder had used to tumble-land. I had shredded many of them to

transport it. Stil, a lot of material remained; enough to reach around Panel A and be in contact with the hul. I should mention that Mylar is conductive.

At 13:30, I leaned the dril against the workbench. The dril’s cowling was off to make room for the power line. The workbench is

metal. If the dril leaned against the workbench just right, it could make a metal-to-metal connection.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Power traveled from the dril line’s positive, through the workbench, through the Mylar, through Pathfinder’s hul, through a bunch of

extremely sensitive and irreplaceable electronics, and out the negative lead of Pathfinder’s power line.

Pathfinder operates on 50 miliamps. It got nine thousand miliamps, which plowed through the delicate electronics, frying everything along the way. The breakers tripped, but it was too late.

Pathfinder’s dead. I’ve lost the ability to contact Earth.

I’m on my own.

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