فصل 23

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فصل 23

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Chapter 23


I think I can work this out.

I’m on the very edge of a storm. I don’t know its size or heading. But it’s moving, and that’s something I can take advantage of. I don’t have to wander around exploring it. It’l come to me.

The storm is just dust in the air; it’s not dangerous to the rovers. I can think of it as “Percent power loss.” I checked yesterdays power generation and it was 97% of optimal. So right now, it’s a 3% storm.

I need to make progress and I need to regenerate oxygen. Those are my two main goals. I use 20% of my overal power to reclaim

oxygen (when I stop for Air Days). If I end up in an 81% part of the storm, I’l be in real trouble. I’l run out of oxygen even if I dedicate al available power to it. That’s the fatal scenario. But realy, it’s fatal much earlier than that. I need power to move or I’l be stranded until the storm passes or dissipates. That could be months.

The more power I generate, the more I’l have for movement. With clear skies, I dedicate 80% of my total power toward movement. I

get 90km per sol this way. So Right now, at 3% loss, I’m getting 3.3km less than I should.

It’s ok to lose some driving distance per sol. I have plenty of time, but I can’t let myself get too deep in the storm or I’l never be able to get out.

At the very least, I need to travel faster than the storm. If I can go faster, I can maneuver around it without being enveloped. I need to find out how fast it’s moving.

I can do that by sitting here for a sol. I can compare tomorrow’s wattage to today’s. Al I have to do is make sure to compare the same

times of day. Then I’d know how fast the storm is moving, at least in terms of percent power loss.

But I need to know the shape of the storm, too.

Dust storms are big. They can be thousands of kilometers across. So when I work my way around it, I’l need to know which way to

go. I’l want to move perpendicular to the storm’s movement, and in whatever direction has less storm.

So here’s my plan:

Right now, I can go 86km (because I couldn’t get a ful battery yesterday). I’m going to leave a solar cel here and drive 40km due

south. Then I’l drop off another solar cel and drive another 40km due south. I’l have three points of reference across 80km.

The next day, I’l go back to colect the cels and get the data. By comparing the wattage at the same time of day in those three

locations, I’l learn the shape of the storm. If the storm is thicker to the south, I’l go north to get around it. If it’s thicker north, I’l go south.

I’m hoping to go south. Schiapareli is southeast of me. Going north would add a lot of time to my total trip.

There’s one slight problem with my plan: I don’t have any way to “record” the wattage from an abandoned solar cel. I can easily track and log wattage with the rover computer, but I need something I can drop off and leave behind. I can’t just take readings as I drive along. I need readings at the same time in different places.

So I’m going to spend today working on some mad science. I have to make something that can log wattage. Something I can leave

behind with a single solar cel.

Since I’m stuck here for the day anyway, I’l leave the solar cels out. I may as wel get a ful battery out of it.


It took al day yesterday and today, but I think I’m ready to measure this storm.

When I packed for this road trip, I made sure to bring al my kits and tools. Just in case I had to repair the rover en-route.

I made the bedroom in to a lab. I stacked my supply containers to form a rudimentary table, and used a sample box as a stool.

I needed a way to track the time of day and the wattage of the solar cel. The tricky part is logging it. And the solution is the extra EVA suit I brought along.

The cool thing about EVA suits is they have cameras recording everything they see. There’s a camera on the right arm (or the left if the astronaut is left handed), and one above the faceplate. A time-stamp is burned in to the lower left corner of the image, just like the shaky home videos Dad used to take.

My electronics kit has several power meters. So I figure: why make my own logging system? I can just film the power meter al day


So that’s what I set up.

First, I harvested the cameras from my spare EVA suit. I had to be careful; I didn’t want to ruin the suit. It’s my only spare. I had to get the cameras and the lines leading to their memory chips.

I put a power meter in to a smal sample container, then glued a camera to the underside of the lid. When I sealed up the container, the

camera was properly recording the readout of the power meter.

For testing, I used rover power. How wil it get power once I abandon it on the surface? Wel, it turns out it’s going to be attached to a 2 square meter solar cel. That’l be plenty. And I put a smal rechargeable battery in the container to tide it over during nighttime (again, harvested from the spare EVA suit).

The next problem is heat, or the lack thereof. As soon as I take this thing out of the rover, it’l start cooling down mighty fast. Once it gets too cold, the electronics wil stop working entirely.

So I needed a heat source. And my electronics kit provided the answer. Resistors. Lots and lots of them. The camera and power meter

only need a tiny fraction of what a solar cel can make. So I’m dumping the rest of the energy through resistors.

Resistors heat up. It’s what they do. There’s my heat source.

I made and tested two “power loggers”, and confirmed the images were being properly recorded.

Then I had an EVA. I detached two of my solar cels and hooked them up to the power loggers. I let them log happily for an hour, then

brought them back in to check the results. They worked great.

It’s getting toward nightfal now. Tomorrow morning, I’l leave one power logger behind, and head south.

While I was working, I left the Oxygenator going (why not?). So I’m al stocked up on O2 and good to go.

The solar cel efficiency for today was 92.5%. Compared to yesterday’s 97%. So right now, the storm is moving at 4.5% per sol. If I

were to stay here another 16 sols, it would get dark enough to kil me.

Just as wel I’m not going to stay here.


Everything went as planned today. No hiccups. I can’t tel if I’m driving deeper in to the storm or out of it. It’s hard to tel if the ambient light is less or more than it was yesterday. The human brain works hard to abstract that out.

I left a power-logger behind when I started out. Then, after 40km travel due south, I had a quick EVA to set up another. Now I’ve

gone the ful 80km, set up my solar cels for charging, and I’m logging the wattage.

Tomorrow, I’l have to reverse course and pick up the power-loggers. It may be dangerous; I’l be driving right back in to a known

storm area. But the risk is worth the gain.

Also, have I mentioned I’m sick of potatoes? Because, by God, I am sick of potatoes. If I ever return to Earth, I’m going to buy a nice

little home in Western Australia. Because Western Australia is on the opposite side of Earth from Idaho.

I bring it up because I dined on a meal pack today. I had saved 5 packs for special occasions. I ate the first of them 29 sols ago when I left for Schiapareli. I totaly forgot to eat the second when I reached the half-way point 9 sols ago. So I’m enjoying my belated half-way feast.

It’s probably more accurate to eat it today anyway. Who knows how long it’l take me to go around this storm. And if I end up stuck in

the storm and doomed to die, I’m totaly eating the other earmarked meals.


Have you ever taken the wrong freeway entrance? You need to drive to the next exit to turn around, but you hate every inch of travel

because you’re going away from your goal.

I felt like that al day. I’m now back where I started yesterday morning. Yuk.

Along the way, I picked up the power-logger I’d left behind at the half-way point. Just now I brought in the one I’d left here yesterday.

Both loggers worked they way I’d hoped. I downloaded each of their video recordings to a laptop and advanced them to noon. Finaly

I had solar efficiency readings from three locations along an 80km line, al from the same time of day.

As of noon yesterday, the northern-most logger showed 12.3% efficiency loss, the middle one was a 9.5% loss, and the rover

recorded a 6.4% loss at its southernmost location. It paints a pretty clear picture: the storm front runs northwest to southeast. And I already worked out it’s traveling west.

The best way to avoid it is to go south.

Finaly, some good news! South is what I wanted. I won’t lose much time.

Sigh… I have to drive the same god damned path a third time tomorrow.


I think I’m getting ahead of the storm.

Having traveled along Mars Highway 1 al day, I’m back at my campsite from yesterday. Tomorrow, I’l finaly make real headway

again. I was done driving and had the camp set up by noon. The efficiency loss here is 15.6%. Compared to the 17% loss at yesterday’s

camp, this means I can outrun the storm as long as I keep heading south.


The storm is probably circular. They usualy are. But I could just be driving in to an alcove. If that’s the case, I’m just fu@king dead, ok?

There’s only so much I can do.

I’l know soon enough. If the storm is circular, I should get better and better efficiency every day until I’m back to 100%. One I reach

100% that means I’m completely south of the storm and I can start going east again. We’l see.

If there were no storm, I’d be going directly southwest toward my goal. As it is, going only south, I’m not nearly as fast. I’m traveling 90km per day as usual, but I only get 37km closer to Schiapareli because Pythagoras is a di@k. I don’t know when I’l finaly clear the

storm and be able to beeline to Schiapareli again. But one thing’s for sure: My plan to arrive on Sol 495 is boned.

Sol 549. That’s when they come for me. If I miss it, I’l spend the rest of my very short life here. And I stil have the MAV to modify

before then, too.



Air day. A time for relaxation and speculation.

For relaxation, I read 100 pages of Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun courtesy of Johanssen’s digital book colection. I think Linda Marshal is the murderer.

As for speculation, I speculated on when the hel I’l get past this fu@king storm.

I’m stil going due south every day; and stil dealing with efficiency loss (though I’m keeping ahead of it). Every day of this crap I’m only getting 37km closer to the MAV instead of 90. Pissing me off.

I considered skipping the Air Day. I could go another couple of days before I ran out of oxygen, and getting away from the storm is

pretty important. But I decided against it. I’m ahead of the storm enough that I can afford one day of no movement. And I don’t know if a couple more days would help. Who knows how far the storm goes south?

Wel, NASA probably knows. And the news stations back on Earth are probably showing it. And there’s probably a website like

www.watch-mark-watney-die.com. So there’s like a hundred milion people or so who know exactly how far south it goes.

But I’m not one of them.



I am FINALLY past the god damned storm. Today’s power regen was 100%. No more dust in the air. With the storm moving

perpendicular to my direction of travel, it means I’m south of the southernmost point of the cloud (presuming it’s a circular storm. If it’s not then fu@k.)

Starting tomorrow, I can go directly toward Schiapareli. Which is good, cause I lost a lot of time. I went 540km due south while

avoiding that storm. I’m catastrophicaly off course.

Mind you, it hasn’t been that bad. I’m wel in to Terra Meridiani now, and the driving is a little easier here than the rugged ass-kicking terrain of Arabia Terra. Schiapareli is almost due east, and if my s@xtant and Phobos calculations are correct, I’ve got another 1030km to get there.

Accounting for air days and presuming 90km of travel per sol, I should arrive on Sol 505. Not too bad, realy. The Nearly-Mark-Kilin’

storm only ended up delaying me by 7 sols.

I’l stil have 44 sols to do whatever MAV modifications NASA has in mind.


I have an interesting opportunity here. And by “opportunity” I mean Opportunity.

I got pushed so far off course, I’m actualy not far from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. It’s about 300km away. I could

actualy get there and pul a Pathfinder on it. It would take about 4 sols.

Thing is, it’s not worth it. I’m only 13 sols away from the MAV. Why go out of my way to dig up another broken-ass rover to use as a

makeshift radio when I’l have a brand new, fuly functional communication system within a couple of weeks.

So, while it’s kind of neat that I’m within striking range of another rover (man we realy littered this planet with them, didn’t we?) it’s not relevant.

Besides, I’ve defiled enough future historical sites for now.


I need to put some thought in to the bedroom.

Right now, I can only have it set up when I’m inside the rover. It attaches to the airlock, so I can’t get out if it’s there. During my road trip that didn’t matter, because I had to furl it every day anyway. But once I get to the MAV, I won’t have to drive around anymore. Each decompress/recompress of the bedroom stresses the seams (I learned that lesson the hard way when the Hab blew up) so it’s best if I can

find a way to leave it out.

Holy sh@t. I just realized I actualy believe I’l get to the MAV. See what I did there? I casualy talked about what I’l do after I get to the MAV. Like it was nothing. No big deal. I’m just going to pop over to Schiapareli and hang with the MAV there.


Anyway, I don’t have another airlock. I’ve got one on the rover and one on the trailer and that’s it. They’re firmly fixed in place, so it’s not like I can detach one and attach it to the bedroom.

But I can seal the bedroom entirely. I don’t even have to do any bulsh@t hatchet jobs on it. The airlock attachment point has a flap I can unrol seal the opening with. Remember, I stole the airlock attachment from a pop-tent. It’s an emergency feature for pressure loss while in the rover. It’d be pretty useless if it couldn’t seal itself off.

Unfortunately, as an emergency device, it was never intended to be reusable. The idea was people seal themselves in the pop tent, then

the rest of the crew drives to wherever they are in the other rover and rescues them. The crew of the good rover detaches the pop tent

from the breached rover, and re-attaches it to theirs. Then they cut through the seal from their side to recover their crewmates.

To make sure this would always be an option, mission rules dictated no more than 3 people could be in a rover at once, and both

rovers had to be fuly functional or we couldn’t use either.

So here’s my briliant plan: I won’t use the bedroom as a bedroom anymore once I get to the MAV. I’l use it to house the Oxygenator

and Atmospheric Regulator. Then I’l use the trailer as my bedroom. Neat, eh?

The trailer has tons of space. I put a fu@kton of work in to making that happen. The baloon gives plenty of headroom. Not a lot of floor space, but stil lots of vertical area.

Also, the bedroom has several valve apertures in its canvas. I have the pop-tents to thank for that again. I just needed swaths of canvas so I stole it from wherever I could. I stole a lot from the pop tents, and they had valve apertures (triple redundant ones, actualy). NASA wanted to make sure the emergency shelter alows the crew on the outside to get air in to the crew on the inside.

In the end, I’l have the bedroom sealed with the Oxygenator and Atmospheric Regulator inside. It’l be attached to the trailer via hoses

to share the same atmosphere and I’l run a power line through one of the hoses. The rover wil serve as storage (because I won’t need to

get to the driving controls any more) and the trailer wil be completely empty. Then I’l have a permanent bedroom. I’l even be able to use it as a workshop for whatever MAV modifications I need to do on parts that can fit through the trailer’s airlock.

Of course, if the Atmospheric Regulator or Oxygenator have problems, I’l need to cut in to the bedroom to get to them. But I’ve been

here 492 sols and they’ve worked fine the whole time, so I’l take that risk.


I’l be at the entrance to Schiapareli crater tomorrow!

Presuming nothing goes wrong, that is. But hey, everything else has gone smoothly this mission, right? (That was sarcasm.)

Today’s an Air Day and for once, I don’t want it. I’m so close to Schiapareli, I can taste it. I guess it would taste like sand, mostly, but that’s not the point.

Of course, that won’t be the end of the trip. It’l take another 3 sols to get from the entrance to the MAV, but hot damn! I’m almost


I think I can even see the rim of Schiapareli. It’s way the hel off in the distance and it might just be my imagination. It’s 62km away, so if I’m seeing it, I’m only just barely seeing it.

Tomorrow, once I get to Entrance Crater, I’l turn south and enter the Schiapareli Basin via the “Entrance Ramp.” I did some back-of-

the-napkin math and the slope should be pretty safe. The elevation change from the rim to the basin is 1.5km, and the Ramp is at least

45km long. That makes for a 2-degree grade. No problem.

Tomorrow night, I’l sink to an al new low!

Lemme rephrase that…

Tomorrow night, I’l be at rock bottom!

No, that doesn’t sound good either…

Tomorrow night, I’l be in Giovanni Schiapareli’s favorite hole!

Ok, I admit I’m just fu@king around now.

For milions of years, the rim of the crater had been under constant attack from wind. It eroded the rocky crest like a river cuts through a mountain range. After aeons, it finaly breached the edge.

The high pressure zone created by the wind now had an avenue to drain. The breach widened more and more with each passing

milennium. As it widened, dust and sand particles carried along with the attack settled in the basin below.

Eventualy, a balance point was reached. The sand had piled up high enough to be flush with the land outside the crater. It no longer

built upward, but now outward. The slope lengthened until a new balance point was reached, one defined by the complex interactions of

countless tiny particles and their ability to maintain an angled shape. Entrance Ramp had been born.

The weather brought dunes and desert terrain. Nearby crater impacts brought rocks and boulders. The shape became uneven.

Gravity did its work. The ramp compressed over time. But it did not compress evenly. Differing densities shrunk at different rates.

Some areas became hard as rock while others remained as soft as talc.

While providing a smal average slope into the crater, the ramp itself was rugged and bitterly uneven.

Upon reaching Entrance Crater, the lone inhabitant of Mars turned his vehicle toward the Schiapareli Basin. The difficult terrain was

unexpected, but looked no worse than other terrain he routinely navigated.

He went around the smaler dunes, and carefuly crested the larger ones. He took care with every turn, every rise or fal in elevation,

and every boulder in his path. He thought through every course and considered al alternatives.

But it wasn’t enough.

The rover, while descending down a seemingly ordinary slope, drove off an invisible ridge. The dense, hard soil suddenly gave way to

soft powder. With the entire surface covered by at least 5cm of dust, there were no visual hints to the sudden change.

The rover’s left front wheel sank. The sudden tilt brought the right rear wheel completely off the ground. This in turn put more weight on the left rear wheel, which slipped from it’s precarious purchase into the powder as wel.

Before the traveler could react, the rover roled on to its side. As it did, the solar cels neatly stacked on the roof flew off and scattered like a dropped deck of cards.

The trailer, attached to the rover with a tow clamp, was dragged along. The torsion on the clamp snapped the strong composite like a

brittle twig. The hoses connecting the two vehicles also snapped. The trailer plunged head-long in to the soft soil and flipped over on to its baloon-roof, shuddering to an abrupt halt.

The rover was not so lucky. It continued tumbling down the hil, bouncing the traveler around like clothes in a dryer. After 20 meters,

the soft powder gave way to more solid sand and it shuddered to a halt.

The rover had come to rest on its side. The valves leading to the now missing hoses had detected the sudden pressure drop and closed.

The pressure seal was not breached.

The traveler was alive for now.

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