فصل 25

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فصل 25

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Chapter 25

LOG ENTRY: SOL 505

I finaly made it! I’m at the MAV!

Wel, right this second, I’m back in the rover. I did go in to the MAV to do a systems check and boot-up. I had to keep my EVA suit

on the whole time because there’s no life support in there just yet.

It’s going through a self check right now, and I’m feeding it oxygen and nitrogen with hoses from the rover. This is al part of the MAV’s design. It doesn’t bring air along. Why would it? That’s a needless weight when you’l have a Hab ful of air right next door.

I’m guessing folks at NASA are popping champagne right now and sending me lots of messages. I’l read them in a bit. First things first:

Get the MAV some life support. Then I’l be able to work comfortably inside.

And then I’l have a boring conversation with NASA. The content may be interesting, but the 14-minute transmission time between here

and Earth wil be a bit dul.

[13:07]HOUSTON: Congratulations from all of us here at Mission Control! Well

done! What’s your status?

[13:21]MAV: Thanks! No health or physical problems. The rover and trailer are

getting pretty worn out, but still functional. Oxygenator and Regulator both

working fine. I didn’t bring the Water Reclaimer. Just brought the water. Plenty of

potatoes left. I’m good to last till 549.

[13:36]HOUSTON: Glad to hear it. Hermes is still on track for a Sol 549 flyby. As

you know, the MAV will need to lose some weight to make the intercept. We’re going

to get you those procedures within the day. How much water do you have? What did

you do with urine?

[13:50]MAV: I have 550L of remaining water. I’ve been dumping urine outside along

the way.

[14:05]HOUSTON: Preserve all water. Don’t do any more urine dumps. Store it

somewhere. Turn the rover’s radio on and leave it on. We can contact it through

MAV.

“So is it ready?” Venkat asked.

“Yes, it’s ready.” Bruce said. “But you’re not going to like it.”

“Go on.”

“Bear in mind,” Bruce said, producing a booklet from his briefcase, “This is the end result of thousands of hours of work, testing, and

lateral thinking by al the best guys at JPL.”

“I’m sure it was hard to trim down a ship that’s already designed to be as light as possible,” Venkat said.

Bruce slid the booklet across the desk to Venkat. “The problem is the intercept velocity. The MAV is designed to get to Low Mars

Orbit, which is 4.1kps. But the Hermes flyby wil be 5.8kps.”

Venkat flipped through the pages. “Care to summarize?”

“Firstly, we’re going to add fuel. The MAV makes its own fuel from the Martian atmosphere, but it’s limited by how much Hydrogen it

has. It brought enough to make 19,397kg of fuel, as it was designed to do. If we can give it more hydrogen, it can make more.”

“How much more?”

“For every kilogram of hydrogen, it can make 13 kilograms of fuel. Watney has 550 liters of water. We’l have him electrolyze it to get

60kg of Hydrogen.” Bruce reached over the desk and flipped a few pages, pointing to a diagram. “The fuel plant can make 780kg of fuel

from that.”

“If he electrolyzes his water what’l he drink?”

“He can electrolyze urine, so we only need to set a few liters aside for the last couple of days.”

“I see. And what does 780kg of fuel buy us?” Venkat asked.

“It buys us 300kg of payload. It’s al about fuel versus payload. The MAV’s launch weight is over 12,600kg. We need to get that down

to 7,300kg. That’s accounting for the bonus fuel. So the rest of this booklet is how to remove over five thousand kilograms from the ship.”

Venkat leaned back. “Walk me through it.”

Bruce puled another copy of the booklet from his briefcase. “There were some gimmies right off the bat. The design presumes 500kg

of Martian soil and rock samples. Obviously we won’t do that. Also, there’s just one passenger instead of six. That saves 500kg when you consider their weight plus their suits and gear. And we can lose the other 5 acceleration chairs. And of course, we’l remove al nonessential gear. The med kit, tool kit, internal harnessing, straps, and anything else that isn’t nailed down. And some stuff that is.

“Next up,” he continued, “We’re ditching al life support. The tanks, pumps, heaters, air lines, CO2 absorption system, even the

insulation on the inner side of the hul. We don’t need it. We’l have Watney wear his EVA suit for the whole trip.”

“Won’t that make it awkward for him to use the controls?” Venkat asked.

“He won’t use any controls,” Bruce said. “Major Martinez wil pilot the MAV remotely from Hermes. It’s already designed for remote

piloting. It was remotely landed, after al.”

“What if something goes wrong?” Venkat asked.

“Martinez is the best trained pilot,” Bruce said. “If there is an emergency, he’s the guy you want controling the ship.”

“Hmm,” Venkat said cautiously. “We’ve never had a manned ship controled remotely before. But ok. Go on.”

“Since Watney won’t be flying the ship,” Bruce continued, “he won’t need any of those controls. We’l ditch the control panels and al

the power and data lines that lead to them.”

“Wow,” Venkat said. “We’re realy gutting this thing.”

“I’m just getting started,” Bruce said. “The power needs wil be dramaticaly reduced now that life support is gone, so we’l dump three

of the five batteries and the auxiliary power system. The Orbital Maneuvering System has 3 redundant thrusters. We’l get rid of those.

Also, the secondary and tertiary comm systems can go.”

“Wait, what?” Venkat said, shocked. “You’re going to have a remote controled ascent with no backup comm systems?”

“No point,” Bruce said. “If the comm system goes out during ascent, the time it takes to reacquire wil be too long to do any good. The

backups don’t help us.”

“This is getting realy risky, Bruce.”

Bruce sighed. “I know, Venkat. There’s just no other way. And I’m not even to the nasty stuff yet.”

Venkat rubbed his forehead. “By al means, tel me the nasty stuff.”

“We’l remove the nose airlock, the windows, and Hul Panel 19.”

Venkat blinked. “You’re taking the front of the ship off?”

“Sure,” Bruce said. “The nose airlock alone is 400kg. The windows are pretty damn heavy, too. And they’re connected by Hul Panel

19 so may as wel take that, too.”

“So he’s going to launch with a big hole in the front of the ship?”

“We’l have him cover it with Hab canvas.”

“Hab canvas? For a launch to orbit!?”

Bruce shrugged. “The hul’s mostly there to keep the air in. Mars’s atmosphere is so thin you don’t need a lot of streamlining. By the

time the ship’s going fast enough for air resistance to matter, it’l be high enough that there’s practicaly no air. We’ve run al the simulations.

Should be good.”

“You’re sending him to space under a tarp.”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Like a hastily loaded pick up truck.”

“Yeah. Can I go on?”

“Sure, can’t wait.”

“We’l also have him remove the back panel of the pressure vessel. It’s the only other panel he can remove with the tools on-hand.

Also, we’re getting rid of the auxiliary fuel pump. Sad to see it go, but it weighs too much for its usefulness. And we’re nixing a Stage One engine.”

“An engine?”

“Yeah. The Stage One booster works fine if one engine goes out. It’l save us a huge amount of weight. Only during the Stage One

ascent, but stil. Pretty good fuel savings.”

Bruce fel silent.

“That it?” Venkat asked.

“Yeah.”

Venkat sighed. “You’ve removed most of the safety backups. What’s this do to the estimated odds of failure?”

“It’s about 4%.”

“Jesus Christ.” Venkat said. “Normaly we’d never even consider something that risky.”

“It’s al we’ve got, Venk,” Bruce said. “We’ve tested it al out and run simulations galore. We should be ok if everything works the way

its supposed to.”

“Yeah. Great.” Venkat said.

[08:41]MAV: You fu@king kidding me?

[09:55]HOUSTON: Admittedly, they are very invasive modifications, but they have

to be done. The procedure doc we sent has instructions for each of these steps with

tools you have on hand. Also, you’ll need to start electrolyzing water to get the

hydrogen for the fuel plant. We’ll send you procedures for that shortly.

[09:09]MAV: You’re sending me into space in a convertible.

[09:24]HOUSTON: There will be Hab canvas covering the holes. It will provide

enough aerodynamics in Mars’s atmosphere.

[09:38]MAV: So it’s a ragtop. Much better.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 506

On the way here, in my copious free time, I designed a “workshop.” I figured I’d need space to work on stuff without having to wear

an EVA suit. I devised a briliant plan whereby the current bedroom would become the new home of the Regulator and Oxygenator, and

the now-empty trailer would become my workshop.

It’s a stupid idea and I’m not doing it.

Al I need is a pressurized area that I can work in. I somehow convinced myself that the bedroom wasn’t an option because it’s a hassle

to get stuff into it. But it won’t be that bad.

It attaches to the rover airlock, so the only way to get stuff in is annoying. Bring the stuff into the rover, attach the bedroom to the airlock from the inside, inflate it, bring the stuff in to the bedroom. I’l also have to empty the bedroom of al tools and equipment to fold it up any time I need to do an EVA.

So yeah, it’l be annoying, but al it costs me is time. And I’m actualy doing wel on that front. I have 43 more sols before Hermes flies

by. And looking at the procedure NASA has in mind for the modifications, I can take advantage of the MAV itself as a workspace.

The lunatics at NASA have me doing al kinds of rape to the MAV, but I don’t have to open the hul til the end. So the first thing I’l do

is clear out a bunch of clutter, like chairs and control panels and the like. Once they’re out, I’l have a lot of room in there to work.

But I didn’t do anything to the soon-to-be-mutilated MAV today. Today was al about system checks. Now that I’m back in contact

with NASA, I have to go back to being al “safety first.” Strangely, NASA doesn’t have total faith in my kludged-together rover or my

method of piling everything into the trailer. They had me do a ful systems check on every single component.

Everything’s stil working fine, though it’s wearing down. The Regulator and Oxygenator are less than peak efficiency (to say the least)

and the trailer leaks some air every day. Not enough to cause problems, but it’s not a perfect seal. NASA’s pretty uncomfortable with it, but we don’t have any other options.

Then, they had me run a ful diagnostic on the MAV. That’s in much better shape. Everything’s sleek and pristine and perfectly

functional. I’d almost forgotten what new hardware even looks like.

Pity I’m going to tear it apart.

“You kiled Watney,” Lewis said.

“Yeah,” Martinez said, scowling at his monitor. The words “Colision with Terrain” blinked accusingly.

“I puled a nasty trick on him,” Johanssen said. “I gave him a malfunctioning altitude readout and made engine 3 cut out too early. It’s a deadly combination.”

“Shouldn’t have been a mission failure,” Martinez said. “I should have noticed the readout was wrong. It was way off.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Lewis said. “That’s why we dril. You’ve stil got three weeks to get it right.”

“Wil do,” Martinez said.

“We only got a week of remote launch training,” Johanssen said. “It was only supposed to happen if we scrubbed before landing. We’d

launch the MAV to have it act as a satelite. It was a cut-your-losses scenario.”

“It’s mission-critical now,” Lewis said. “So get it right.”

“Aye, Commander.” Martinez said.

“Resetting the Sim,” Johanssen said. “Anything specific you want to try?”

“Surprise me,” Martinez said.

Leaving the control room, Lewis made her way to the reactor. Climbing “up” the ladder toward the center of the ship, the centripetal

force on her diminished to nearly zero as she reached the core. Vogel looked up from a computer console. “Commander?”

“How are the engines?” She asked, grabbing a wal-mounted handle to stay attached to the slowly turning room.

“Al working within tolerance,” Vogel said. “I am now doing a diagnostic on the reactor. I am thinking that Johanssen is busy with the

launching training. So perhaps I do this diagnostic for her.”

“Good idea,” Lewis said. “And how’s our course?”

“Al is wel,” Vogel said. “No adjustments necessary. We are stil on track to planned trajectory within 4 meters.”

“Keep me posted if anything changes.”

“Ja, Commander.”

Floating to the other side of the core, Lewis took the other ladder out, again gaining gravity as she went “down”. She made her way to

the Airlock 2 ready room.

Beck held a coil of metal wire in one hand and a pair of work gloves in the other. “Heya, Commander. What’s up?”

“I’d like to know your plan for recovering Mark.”

“Easy enough if the intercept is good,” Beck said. “I just finished attaching al the tethers we have into one long line. It’s 214 meters long. I’l have the MMU pack on, so moving around wil be easy. I can get going up to around 10 meters per second safely. Any more and

I risk breaking the tether if I can’t stop in time.”

“How fast a relative velocity can you handle, you think?”

“You mean once I get to Mark? I can grab the MAV easily at 5 meters per second. 10 meters per second is kind of like jumping on to

a moving train. Anything more than that and I might miss.”

“So, including the MMU safe speed, we need to get within 20 meters per second of his velocity.”

“And the intercept has to be within 214 meters,” Beck said. “Pretty narrow margin of error.”

“We’ve got a lot of leeway,” Lewis said. “The launch wil be 52 minutes before the intercept and it takes 12 minutes. As soon as

Mark’s S2 engine cuts out we’l know our intercept point and velocity. If we don’t like it, we’l have 40 minutes to correct. Our engine’s 2

milimeters per second may not seem like much, but in 40 minutes it can move us up to 5.7 kilometers.”

“Good,” Beck said. “And 214 meters isn’t a hard limit, per se.”

“Yes it is,” Lewis corrected.

“Nah,” Beck said. “I know I’m not supposed to go untethered, but without my leash I could get way out there-”

“Not an option.” Lewis said.

“But we could double or even triple our safe intercept range-”

“We’re done talking about this.” Lewis said sternly.

“Aye, Commander.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 526

There aren’t many people who can say they’ve vandalized a three bilion dolar spacecraft. But I’m one of them.

I’ve been puling critical hardware out of the MAV left and right. It’s nice to know that my launch to orbit won’t have any pesky back-

up systems weighing me down.

First thing I did was remove the smal stuff. Then came the things I could disassemble. Like the crew seats, several of the back-up

systems, and the control panels.

I’m not improvising anything. I’m folowing a script sent by NASA, which was set up to make things as easy as possible. Sometimes I

miss the days when I made al the decisions myself. Then I shake it off and remember I’m infinitely better with a bunch of geniuses deciding what I do than making sh@t up as I go along.

Periodicaly, I suit up, crawl into the airlock with as much junk as I can fit, and dump it outside. The area around the MAV looks like

the set of Sanford and Son.

I learned about Sanford and Son from Lewis’s colection. Seriously, that woman needs to see someone about her 70’s problem.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 529

I’m turning my pee in to rocket fuel. It’s easier than you’d think.

Urine is mostly water. Separating hydrogen and oxygen only requires a couple of electrodes and some current. The problem is

colecting the hydrogen. I don’t have any equipment for puling hydrogen out of the air. The Atmospheric Regulator doesn’t even know how.

The last time I had to get hydrogen out of the air (back when I turned the Hab in to a bomb) I burned it to turn it in to water. Obviously that would be counter-productive.

But NASA thought everything through and gave me a process. First, I disconnected the rover and trailer from each other. Then, while

wearing my EVA suit, I depressurized the trailer and back-filed it with pure oxygen at one fourth of an atmosphere. Then I opened a

plastic box ful of urine and put a couple of electrodes in. That’s why I needed the atmosphere. Without it, the urine would just boil

immediately and I’d be hanging around in an piss-based atmosphere.

The electrolysis separated the hydrogen and oxygen from each other. Over time, it reduced the urine to a realy gross sludge as it puled

the water out. Now the trailer was ful of even more oxygen and also hydrogen. Pretty dangerous, actualy.

Then I fired up the Atmospheric Regulator. It doesn’t even recognize hydrogen, but it knows how to yank oxygen out of the air. I broke

al the safeties and set it to pul 100% of the oxygen out. After it was done, al that was left was hydrogen. That’s why I started out with an atmosphere of pure oxygen. So the regulator could separate it later.

Then I opened the inner airlock door and had it evacuate the trailer. It pumped al the air in to the airlock’s holding tank. And there you have it, a tank of pure hydrogen.

The final step was to take the airlock’s holding tank to the MAV and transfer the contents to the MAV’s hydrogen tanks. I’ve said this

many times before but: Hurray for standardized valve systems!

Once I fed it the hydrogen, I fired up the fuel plant and it got to work making the additional fuel I’d need.

I’l need to go through this process several more times as the launch date approaches. I could have done this al at once, but NASA

doesn’t want me to run low on water until we’re close to launch. They’d rather I electrolyze urine over time because I’ve already “used” that water.

If I survive this, I’l tel people I pissed my way in to orbit.

[19:22]JOHANSSEN: Hello, Mark.

[19:23]MAV: Johanssen!? Holy crap! They finally letting you talk to me directly?

[19:24]JOHANSSEN: Yes, NASA gave the OK for direct communication an hour ago.

We’re only 35 light-seconds apart, so we can talk in near-realtime. I just set up

the system and I’m testing it out.

[19:24]MAV: What took them so long to let us talk?

[19:25]JOHANSSEN: The psych team was worried about personality conflicts.

[19:25]MAV: What? Just cause you guys abandoned me on a godforsaken planet with

no chance of survival?

[19:26]JOHANSSEN: Funny. Don’t make that kind of joke with Lewis.

[19:27]MAV: Roger. So uh… thanks for coming back to get me.

[19:27]JOHANSSEN: It’s the least we could do. How is the MAV retrofit going?

[19:28]MAV: So far, so good. NASA put a lot of thought into the procedures. They

work. That’s not to say they’re easy. I spent the last 3 days removing Hull Panel

19 and the front window. Even in Mars-G they’re heavy motherfu@kers.

[19:29]JOHANSSEN: When we pick you up, I will make wild, passionate love to you.

Prepare your body.

[19:29]JOHANSSEN: I didn’t type that! That was Martinez! I stepped away from the

console for like 10 seconds!

[19:29]MAV: I’ve really missed you guys.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 543

I’m… done?

I think I’m done.

I did everything on the list. The MAV is ready to fly. And in 6 sols, that’s just what it’l do. I hope.

It might not launch at al. I did remove an engine, after al. I could have fu@ked up al sorts of things during that process. And there’s no way to test the ascent stage. Once you light it, it’s lit.

Everything else, however, wil go through tests from now until launch. Some done by me, some done remotely by NASA. They’re not

teling me the failure odds, but I’m guessing they’re the highest in history. Yuri Gagarin had a much more reliable and safe ship than I do.

And Soviet ships were fu@king deathtraps.

“Al right,” Lewis said, “tomorrow’s the big day.”

The crew floated in the Rec. They had halted the rotation of the ship in preparation for the upcoming operation.

“I’m ready,” Martinez said. “Johanssen threw everything she could at me. I got al scenarios to orbit.”

“Everything other than catastrophic failures,” Johanssen corrected.

“Wel yeah,” Martinez said. “Kind of pointless to simulate an ascent explosion. Nothing we can do.”

“Vogel,” Lewis said, “How’s our course.”

“It is perfect,” Vogel said. “We are within one meter of projected path and two centimeters per second of projected velocity.”

“Good,” she said. “Beck, how about you?”

“Everything’s al set up, Commander,” Beck said. “I linked al the tethers I could find and spooled them up in Airlock 2. My suit and

MMU are prepped and ready.”

“Ok,” Lewis said. “The battle plan is pretty obvious. Martinez wil fly the MAV, Johanssen wil sysop the ascent. Beck and Vogel, I

want you in Airlock 2 with the outer door open before the MAV even launches. You’l have to wait 52 minutes, but I don’t want to risk any technical glitches with the airlock or your suits. Once we reach intercept, it’l be Beck’s job to get Watney.”

“He might be in bad shape when I get him,” Beck said. “The stripped-down MAV wil get up to 12 g’s during the launch. He could be

unconscious and may even have internal bleeding.”

“Just as wel you’re our doctor,” Lewis said. “Vogel, if al goes according to plan, you’re puling Beck and Watney back aboard with

the tether. If things go wrong, you’re Beck’s backup.”

“Ja,” Vogel said.

“I wish there was more we could do right now,” Lewis said. “But al we have left is the wait. Your work schedules are cleared. Al

scientific experiments are suspended. Sleep if you can, run diagnostics on your equipment if you can’t.”

“We’l get him, Commander,” Martinez said. “24 hours from now, Mark Watney wil be right here in this room.”

“Let’s hope so, Major.” Lewis said. “Dismissed.”

“Final checks for this shift are complete,” Mitch said in to his headset. “Timekeeper.”

“Go, flight,” said the Timekeeper.

“Time until MAV launch?”

“16 hours, 9 minutes, 40 seconds… mark.”

“Copy that. Al stations: Flight Director shift change.” He took his headset off and rubbed his eyes.

Brendan Hutch took the headset from him and put it on. “Al stations, Flight Director is now Brendan Hutch.”

“Cal me if anything happens,” Mitch said. “If not, I’l see you tomorrow.”

“Get some sleep, boss,” Brendan said.

Venkat watched from the observation booth. “Why ask the Timekeeper?” he mumbled. “It’s on the huge mission clock in the center

screen.”

“He’s nervous,” Annie said. “You don’t often see it, but that’s what Mitch Henderson looks like when he’s nervous. He double and

triple checks everything.”

“Fair enough,” Venkat said.

“They’re camping out on the lawn, by the way,” Annie said. “Reporters from al over the world. Our press rooms just don’t have

enough space.”

“The media loves a drama,” he sighed. “It’l be over tomorrow, one way or another.”

“What’s our role in al this?” Annie said. “If something goes wrong, what can Mission Control do?”

“Nothing,” Venkat said. “Not a damned thing.”

“Nothing?”

“It’s al happening 12 light-minutes away. That means it takes 24 minutes for them to get the answer to any question they ask. The

whole launch is 12 minutes long. They’re on their own.”

“Oh,” Annie said. “So we’re just observers in al this?”

“Yes,” Venkat said. “Sucks, doesn’t it?”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 549

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sh@tting myself. In 4 hours, I’m going to ride a giant explosion into orbit. This is something I’ve done a few times before, but never with a jury-rigged mess like this.

Right now, I’m sitting in the MAV. I’m suited up because there’s a big hole in the front of the ship where the window and part of the hul used to be. I’m “awaiting launch instructions.” Realy, I’m just awaiting launch. I don’t have any part in this. I’m just going to sit in the acceleration couch and hope for the best.

Last night, I ate my final meal pack. It’s the first good meal I’ve had in weeks. I’m leaving 41 potatoes behind. That’s how close I came to starvation.

I carefuly colected samples from my entire journey. But I can’t bring any of them with me. So I put them in a container a few hundred

meters from here. Maybe some day they’l send a probe to colect them. May as wel make them easy to pick up.

This is it. There’s nothing after this. There isn’t even an abort procedure. Why make one? We can’t delay the launch. Hermes can’t stop

and wait. No matter what, we’re launching on schedule.

I face the very real possibility that I’l die today. Can’t say I like it. It wouldn’t be so bad if the MAV blew up. I wouldn’t know what hit me.

If I miss the intercept I’l just float around in space until I run out of air. I have a contingency plan for that. I’l drop the oxygen mixture to zero and breathe pure nitrogen until I suffocate. It wouldn’t feel bad. The lungs don’t have the ability to sense lack of oxygen. I’d just get tired, fal asleep, then die.

I’ve had my last Martian potato. I’ve slept in the rover for the last time. I’ve had my last EVA on the surface. I’m leaving Mars today, one way or another.

About fu@king time.

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