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Chapter 8 “Helo, and thank you for joining us,” Cathy said to the camera. “Today on CNN’s Mark Watney Report: Several EVAs over the past
few days… what do they mean? What progress has NASA made on a rescue option? And how wil this affect the Ares 4 preparations?
“Joining us today is Dr. Venkat Kapoor, Director of Mars Missions for NASA. Dr. Kapoor, thank you for coming.”
“A pleasure to be here, Cathy,” Venkat said.
“Dr. Kapoor,” Cathy began, “Mark Watney is the most-watched man in the solar system, wouldn’t you say?”
Venkat nodded. “Certainly the most watched by NASA. We have al 12 of our Martian satelites taking pictures whenever his site’s in
view. The European Space Agency has both of theirs doing the same.”
“Al told, how often do you get these images?”
“Every few minutes. Sometimes there’s a gap, based on the satelite orbits. But it’s enough that we can track al his EVA activities.”
“Tel us about these latest EVAs.”
“Wel,” Venkat began, “It looks like he’s preparing Rover 2 for a long trip. On Sol 65, he took the battery from the other rover and
attached it with a homemade sling. The next day, he detached 14 solar cels and stacked them on the rover’s roof.”
“And then he took a little drive, didn’t he?” Cathy prompted.
“Yes he did. Sort of aimlessly for an hour, then back to the Hab. He was probably testing it. Next time we saw him was two days later,
when he drove 4km away, then back. Another incremental test, we think. Then, over the past couple of days, he’s been stocking it up with supplies.”
“Hmm,” Cathy said, “Most analysts think Mark’s only hope of rescue is to get to the Ares 4 site. Do you think he’s come to the same
“Probably,” Venkat said. “He doesn’t know we’re watching. From his point of view, Ares 4 is his only hope.”
“Do you think he’s planning to go soon? He seems to be getting ready for a trip.”
“I hope not,” Venkat said. “There’s nothing at the site other than the MAV. None of the other presupplies. It would be a very long,
very dangerous trip, and he’d be leaving the safety of the Hab behind.”
“Why would he risk it?”
“Communication,” Venkat said. “Once he reaches the MAV, he could contact us.”
“So that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?”
“Communication would be a great thing. But traversing 3,200km to Ares 4 is incredibly dangerous. We’d rather he stayed put. If we could talk to him, we’d certainly tel him that.”
“He can’t stay put forever, right?” she asked. “Eventualy he’l need to get to the MAV.”
“Not necessarily,” Venkat said. “JPL is experimenting with modifications to the MDV so it can make a brief overland flight after
“I’d heard that idea was rejected as being too dangerous,” Cathy said.
“Their first proposal was, yes. Since then, they’ve been working on safer ways to do it.”
“With only three and a half years before Ares 4’s scheduled launch, is there enough time to make and test modifications to the MDV?”
“I can’t answer that for sure. But remember, we made a lunar lander from scratch in seven years.”
“Excelent point,” Cathy smiled. “So what are his odds right now?”
“No idea,” Venkat said. “But we’re going to do everything we can to bring him home alive.”
“How’d I do today?” Venkat asked.
“Eeeh,” Annie said. “You shouldn’t say things like ‘Bring him home alive.’ It reminds people he might die.”
“Think they’re going to forget that?”
“You asked my opinion. Don’t like it? Go fu@k yourself.”
“You’re such a delicate flower, Annie. How’d you end up NASA’s Communications Director?”
“Beats the fu@k out of me,” Annie said.
“Guys,” said Bruce Ng, Director of JPL. “I need to catch a flight back to LA in three hours. Is Teddy coming or what?”
“Quit bit@hing, Bruce,” Annie said. “None of us want to be here.”
“So,” said Hermes Flight Director Mitch Henderson “Who are you, again?”
“Um,” Mindy said, “I’m Mindy Park. I work in SatCon.”
“You a director or something?”
“No, I just work in SatCon. I’m a nobody.”
Venkat looked to Mitch “I put her in charge of tracking Watney. She gets us the imagery.”
“Huh,” said Mitch. “Not the Director of SatCon?”
“Bob’s got more to deal with than just Mars. Mindy’s handling al the Martian satelites, and keeps them pointed at Mark.”
“Why Mindy?” Mitch asked.
“She noticed he was alive in the first place.”
“She gets a promotion cause she was in the hot seat when the imagery came through?”
“No,” Venkat frowned, “She gets a promotion cause she figured out he was alive. Stop being a di@k, Mitch. You’re making her feel
Mitch looked over to Mindy. “Sorry.”
Mindy looked at the table and managed to say “’k.”
Teddy entered the room. “Sorry I’m late. Let’s get started,” He took his seat. “Venkat, what’s Watney’s status?”
“Alive and wel,” Venkat said. “No change from my email earlier today.”
“What about the RTG. Does the public know about that yet?” Teddy asked.
Annie leaned forward. “So far, so good,” she said. “The images are public, but we have no obligation to tel them our analysis. Nobody
has figured it out yet.”
“Why did he dig it up?”
“Heat, I think,” Venkat said. “He wants to make the rover do long trips. It uses a lot of energy keeping warm. The RTG can heat up
the interior without soaking battery power. It’s a good idea, realy.”
“How dangerous is it?” Teddy asked.
“As long as the container’s intact, no danger at al. Even if it cracks open he’l be ok if the pelets inside don’t break. But if the pelets break too, he’s a dead man.”
“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Teddy said. “JPL, how are the MDV plans coming along?”
“We came up with a plan a long time ago,” Bruce said. “You rejected it.”
“Bruce,” Teddy cautioned.
Bruce sighed. “The MDV wasn’t made for liftoff and lateral flight. Packing more fuel in doesn’t help. We’d need a bigger engine and
don’t have time to invent one. So we need to lighten the MDV.
“We have an idea. The MDV can be its normal weight on primary descent. If we made the heat shield and outer hul detachable, they
could ditch a lot of weight after landing at Ares 3, and have a lighter ship for the traverse to Ares 4. We’re running the numbers now.”
“Keep me posted,” Teddy said. He turned to Mindy. “Miss Park. Welcome to the big leagues.”
“Sir,” Mindy said.
“What’s the biggest gap in coverage we have on Watney right now?”
“Um,” Mindy said. “Once every 41 hours, we’l have a 17 minute gap. The orbits work out that way.”
“You had an immediate answer,” Teddy said. “Good.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I want that gap down to four minutes,” Teddy said. “I’m giving you total authority over satelite trajectories and orbital adjustments.
Make it happen.”
“Yes, sir,” Mindy said, with no idea how to do it.
Teddy looked to Mitch. “Mitch, your email said you had something urgent?”
“Yeah,” Mitch said. “How long are we gonna’ keep this from the Ares 3 crew? They al think Watney’s dead. It’s a huge drain on
Teddy looked to Venkat.
“Mitch,” Venkat said. “We discussed this-“
“No, you discussed it,” Mitch interrupted. “They think they lost a crewmate. They’re devastated.”
“And when they find out they abandoned a crewmate?” Venkat asked, “Wil they feel better then?”
Mitch poked the table with his finger “They deserve to know. You don’t think Commander Lewis can’t handle the truth?”
“It’s a matter of morale,” Venkat said. “They can concentrate on getting home-“
“I make that cal,” Mitch said. “I’m the one who decides what’s best for the crew. And I say we bring them up to speed.”
After a few moments of silence, al eyes turned to Teddy.
He thought for a moment. “Sorry, Mitch, I’m with Venkat on this one,” he said. “But as soon as we come up with a plan for rescue, we
can tel Hermes. There needs to be some hope or there’s no point in teling them.”
“Bulsh@t,” Mitch grumbled, crossing his arms. “Total bulsh@t,”
“I know you’re upset,” Teddy said calmly, “We’l make it right. Just as soon as we have some idea how to save Watney.”
Teddy let a few seconds of calm pass before moving on.
“Ok, JPL’s on the rescue option,” he said with a nod toward Bruce. “But it would be part of Ares 4. How does he stay alive til then?
Venkat opened a folder and glanced at the paperwork inside. “I had every team check and double-check the longevity of their
systems. We’re pretty sure the Hab can keep working for 4 years. Especialy with a human occupant fixing problems as they arise. But
there’s no way around the food issue. He’l start starving in a year. We have to send him supplies. Simple as that.”
“What about an Ares 4 presupply?” Said Teddy. “Land it at Ares 3 instead.”
“That’s what we’re thinking, yeah,” Venkat confirmed. “Problem is, the original plan was to launch presupplies a year from now.
They’re not ready yet.
“It takes 8 months to get a probe to Mars in the best of times. The positions of Earth and Mars right now… it’s not the best of times.
We figure we can get there in 9 months. Presuming he’s rationing his food, he’s got enough to last 350 more days. That means we need to
build a presupply in three months. JPL hasn’t even started yet.”
“That’l be tight,” Bruce said. “Making a presupply is a 6 month process. We’re set up to pipeline a bunch of them at once, not to
make one in a hurry.”
“Sorry, Bruce,” Teddy said. “I know we’re asking a lot, but you have to find a way.”
“We’l find a way,” Bruce said. “But the OT alone wil be a nightmare.”
“Get started. I’l find you the money.”
“There’s also the booster,” Venkat said. “The only way to get a probe to Mars with the planets in their current positions is to spend a
butt-load of fuel. We only have one booster capable of doing that. The Delta IX that’s on the pad right now for the EagleEye 3 Saturn
probe. We’l have to steal that. I talked to ULA, and they just can’t make another booster in time.”
“The EagleEye 3 team wil be pissed, but ok,” said Teddy. “We can delay their mission if JPL gets the payload done in time.”
Bruce rubbed his eyes. “We’l do our best.”
“He’l starve to death if you don’t,” Teddy said.
Venkat sipped his coffee and frowned at his computer. A month ago it would have been unthinkable to drink coffee at 9pm. Now it
was necessary fuel. Shift schedules, fund alocations, project juggling, out and out looting of other projects… he’d never puled so many
stunts in his life.
“NASA’s a large organization,” he typed. “It doesn’t deal with sudden change well. The only reason we’re getting away with it
is the desperate circumstances. Everyone’s pulling together to save Mark Watney, with no interdepartmental squabbling. I can’t
tell you how rare that is. Even then, this is going to cost tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. The MDV
modifications alone are an entire project that’s being staffed up. Hopefully, the public interest will make your job easier. We
appreciate your continued support, Congressman, and hope you can sway the Committee toward granting us the emergency
funding we need. ”
He was interrupted by a knock at his door. Looking up, he saw Mindy.
“Sorry to bother you,” Mindy said.
“No bother,” Venkat said. “I could use a break. What’s up?”
“He’s on the move,” she said.
Venkat slouched in his chair. “Any chance it’s a test drive?”
She shook her head. “He drove straight away from the Hab for almost two hours, did a short EVA, then drove for another two. We
think the EVA was to change batteries.”
Venkat sighed heavily. “Maybe it’s just a longer test? An overnight trip, kind of thing?”
“He’s 76km from the Hab,” Mindy said. “For an overnight test, wouldn’t he stay within walking distance?”
“Yes he would,” Venkat said. “Damn it. We’ve had teams run every conceivable scenario. There’s just no way he can make it to Ares
4 with that set-up. We never saw him load up the Oxygenator or Water Reclaimer. He can’t possibly have enough basics to live long
“I don’t think he’s going to Ares 4,” Mindy said. “If he is, he’s taking a weird path.”
“Oh?” said Venkat.
“He went south-southwest. Schiapareli Crater is southeast.”
“Ok, maybe there’s hope,” Venkat said. “What’s he doing right now?”
“Recharging. He’s got al the solar cels set up,” Mindy said. “Last time he did that, it took 12 hours. I was going to sneak home for
some sleep if that’s ok.”
“Sure, sounds good. We’l see what he does tomorrow. Maybe he’l go back to the Hab.”
“Maybe,” Mindy said, unconvinced.
“Welcome back,” Cathy said to the camera. “We’re chatting with Marcus Washington, from the US Postal Service. So, Mr.
Washington, I understand the Ares 3 mission caused a Postal Service first. Can you explain to our viewers?”
“Uh yeah,” said Marcus. “Everyone thought he was dead for over two months. In that time, the Postal Service issued a run of
commemorative stamps honoring his memory. 20,000 were printed, and sent to post offices around the country.”
“And then it turned out he was alive,” Cathy said.
“Yeah,” said Marcus. “We stopped the run immediately and recaled the stamps, but thousands were already sold. The thing is, we
don’t print stamps of living people.”
“Has this ever happened before?” Cathy asked.
“No. Not once in the history of the Postal Service.”
“I bet they’re worth a pretty penny now.”
Marcus chuckled. “Maybe. But not too much. Like I said, thousands were sold. They’l be rare, but not super rare.”
Cathy chuckled then addressed the camera. “We’ve been speaking with Marcus Washington of the United States Postal Service. If
you’ve got a Mark Watney commemorative stamp, you might want to hold on to it. Thanks for dropping by, Mr. Washington.”
“Thanks for having me,” Marcus said.
“Our next guest is Dr. Irene Shields, Flight Psychologist for the Ares missions. Dr. Shields, welcome to the program.”
“Thank you,” Irene said, adjusting her microphone clip.
“Do you know Mark Watney personaly?”
“Of course,” Irene said. “I did monthly psych evaluations on each member of the crew.”
“What can you tel us about him? His personality, his mindset?”
“Wel,” Irene said, “He’s very inteligent. Al of them are, of course. But he’s particularly resourceful and a good problem-solver.”
“That may save his life,” Cathy interjected.
“It may indeed,” Irene agreed. “Also, he’s a good-natured man. Usualy cheerful, with a great sense of humor. He’s quick with a joke.
In the months leading up to launch, the crew was put through a grueling training schedule. They al showed signs of stress and moodiness.
Mark was no exception, but the way he showed it was to crack more jokes and get everyone laughing.”
“He sounds like a great guy,” Cathy said.
“He realy is,” Irene said. “He was chosen for the mission in part because of his personality. An Ares crew has to spend 13 months
together. Social compatibility is key. Mark not only fits wel in any social group, he’s a catalyst to make the group work better. It was a terrible blow to the crew when he ‘died.’”
“And they stil think he’s dead, right? The Ares 3 crew?”
“Yes they do, unfortunately,” Irene confirmed. “The higher-ups decided to keep it from them, at least for now. I’m sure it wasn’t an
Cathy paused for a moment, then said. “Al right. You know I have to ask: What’s going through his head right now? How does a man
like Mark Watney respond to a situation like this? Stranded, alone, no idea we’re trying to help?”
“There’s no way to be sure,” Irene said. “The biggest threat is giving up hope. If he decides there’s no chance to survive, he’l stop
“Then we’re ok for now, right?” Cathy said. “He seems to be working hard. He’s prepping the rover for a long trip and testing it. He
plans to be there when Ares 4 lands.”
“That’s one interpretation, yes,” Irene said.
“Is there another?”
Irene carefuly formed her answer before speaking. “When facing death, people want to be heard. They don’t want to die alone. He
might just want the MAV radio so he can talk to another soul before he dies.
“If he’s lost hope, he won’t care about survival. His only concern wil be making it to the radio. After that, he’l probably take an easier way out than starvation. The medical supplies of an Ares mission have enough morphine to be lethal.”
After several seconds of complete silence in the studio, Cathy turned to the camera. “We’l be right back.”
“Heya, Venk,” came Bruce’s voice from the speakerphone.
“Bruce, Hi,” said Venkat. “Thanks for clearing up some time. I wanted to talk about the presupply.”
“Sure thing. What’s on your mind?”
“Let’s say we soft-land it perfectly. How wil Mark know it happened? And how wil he know where to look?”
“We’ve been thinking about that,” said Bruce. “We’ve got some ideas.”
“I’m al ears,” Venkat said.
“We’l be sending him a comm system anyway, right? We could have it turn on after lading. It’l broadcast on the rover and EVA suit
frequencies. It’l have to be a strong signal, too.
“The rovers were only designed to communicate with the Hab and each other; the signal origin was presumed to be within 20km. The
receivers just aren’t very sensitive. The EVA suits are even worse. But as long as we have a strong signal we should be good.
“Once we land the presupply, we’l get its exact location from satelites, then broadcast that to Mark so he can go get it.”
“But he’s probably not listening,” said Venkat. “Why would he be?”
“We have a plan for that. We’re going to make a bunch of bright green ribbons. Light enough to flutter around when dropped, even in
Mars’s atmosphere. Each ribbon wil have ‘MARK: TURN ON YOUR COMM’ printed on it. We’re working on a release mechanism
now. During the landing sequence, of course. Idealy, about 1000 meters above the surface.”
“I like it,” Venkat said. “Al he needs to do is notice one. And he’s sure to check out a bright green ribbon if he sees one outside.”
“That’s what we’re thinking,” said Bruce.
“Al right, good work. Keep me posted,” Venkat said.
“Venk,” said Bruce. “If he takes the ‘Watneymobile’ to Ares 4, this’l al be for nothing. I mean, we can land it at Ares 4 if that
“But he’l be without a Hab. Yeah,” Venkat said. “One thing at a time. Let me know when you come up with a release mechanism for
After terminating the cal, he saw an email from Mindy Park arrive. “Watney’s on the move again. ”
“Stil going in a straight line,” Mindy said, pointing to her monitor.
“I see,” Venkat said. “He’s sure as hel not going to Ares 4. Unless he’s going around some natural obstacle.”
“There’s nothing for him to go around,” Mindy said. “It’s Acidalia Planitia.”
“Are those the solar cels?” Venkat asked, pointing to the screen.
“Yeah,” Mindy said. “He did the usual 2 hour drive, EVA, 2 hour drive. He’s 156km from the Hab now.”
They both peered at the screen.
“Wait…” Venkat said. “Wait, no way…”
“What?” Mindy asked.
Venkat grabbed a pad of Post-Its and a pen. “Give me his location, and the location of the Hab.”
Mindy checked her screen. “He’s currently at… 28.9°N, 29.6°W.” With a few keystrokes, she brought up another file. “The Hab’s at
31.2°N, 28.5°W. What do you see?”
Venkat finished taking down the numbers. “Come with me,” he said, quickly walking out.
“Um,” Mindy stammered, folowing after. “Where are we going?” She asked when she caught up.
“SatCon break room,” Venkat said. “You guys stil have that map of Mars on the wal?”
“Sure,” Mindy said. “But it’s just a poster from the gift shop. I’ve got high quality digital maps on my computer-“
“Nope. I can’t draw on those,” he said. Then, rounding the corner to the break room, he pointed to the Mars map on the wal. “I can
draw on that.”
The break room was empty save a computer technician sipping a cup of coffee. The urgency of Venkat and Mindy’s entrance caught
“Good, it has latitude and longitude lines,” Venkat said. Looking at his Post-It, then sliding his finger along the map, he drew an X.
“That’s the Hab,” he said.
“Hey,” the technician said. “Are you drawing on our poster?”
“I’l buy you a new one,” Venkat said without looking back. Then, he drew another X. “That’s his current location. Get me a ruler.”
Mindy looked left and right. Seeing no ruler, she grabbed the technicians notebook.
“Hey!” The technician protested.
Using the notebook as a straight-edge, Venkat drew a line from the Hab to Mark’s location and beyond. Then took a step back.
“Yup! That’s where he’s going!” Venkat said excitedly.
“Oh!” Mindy said.
The line passed through the exact center of a bright yelow dot printed on the map.
“Pathfinder!” Mindy said. “He’s going to Pathfinder!”
“Yup!” Venkat said. “Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s like 800km from him. He can get there and back with supplies on-hand.”
“And bring Pathfinder and Sojourner Rover back with him,” Mindy added.
Venkat quickly puled out his cel phone. “We lost contact with it in 1997. If he can get it online again, we can communicate. It might
just need the solar cels cleaned. Even if it’s got a bigger problem, he’s an engineer!” Dialing, he added “Fixing sh@t is his job!”
Smiling for the first time in weeks, he held the phone to his ear and awaited a response. “Bruce? It’s Venkat. Everything just changed.
Watney’s headed for Pathfinder. Yeah! I know, right!? Dig up everyone who was on that project and get them to JPL now. I’l catch the
Hanging up, he grinned at the map. “Mark, you sneaky, clever, son of a bit@h!”
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