فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter 9


It’s the evening of my 8th day on the road. “Sirius 4” has been a success so far.

I’ve falen in to a routine. Every morning I wake up at dawn. First thing I do is check oxygen and CO2 levels. Then I eat a breakfast

pack and drink a cup of water. After that, I brush my teeth, using as little water as possible, and shave with an electric razor.

The rover has no toilet. We were expected to use our suits’ reclamation systems for that. But they aren’t designed to hold twenty days

worth of output.

My morning piss goes in a resealable plastic box. When I open it, the rover reeks like a truck-stop men’s room. I could take it outside

and let it boil off. But I worked hard to make that water, and the last thing I’m going to do is waste it. I’l feed it to the Water Reclaimer when I get back.

Even more precious is my manure. It’s critical to the potato farm and I’m the only source on Mars. Fortunately, when you spend a lot

of time in space, you learn how to sh@t in a bag. And if you think things are bad after opening the piss box, imagine the smel after I drop anchor.

Then I go outside and colect the solar cels. Why didn’t I do it the previous night? Because trying to dismantle and stack solar cels in

total fu@king darkness isn’t fun. I learned that the hard way.

After securing the cels, I come back in, turn on some sh@tty ‘70’s music, and start driving. I putter along at 25kph, the rover’s top

speed. It’s comfortable inside. I wear hastily made cut-offs and a thin shirt while the RTG bakes the interior. When it gets too hot I detach the insulation duct-taped to the hul. When it gets too cold, I tape it back up.

I can go almost 2 hours before the battery runs out. I do a quick EVA to swap cables, then I’m back at the wheel for the second half

of the day’s drive.

The terrain is very flat. The undercarriage of the rover is taler than any of the rocks around here, and the hils are gently-sloping affairs, smoothed by eons of sandstorms.

When the other battery runs out, it’s time for another EVA. I pul the solar cels off the roof and lay them on the ground. For the first

few sols, I lined them up in a row. Now I plop them wherever, trying to keep them close to the rover out of sheer laziness.

Then comes the incredibly dul part of my day. I sit around for 12 hours with nothing to do. And I’m getting sick of this rover. The

inside’s the size of a van. That may seem like plenty of room, but try being trapped in a van for 8 days. I look forward to tending my potato farm in the wide open space of the Hab.

I’m nostalgic for the Hab. How fu@ked up is that?

I have sh@tty ‘70’s TV to watch, and a bunch of Poirot novels. But mostly I spend my time thinking about getting to Ares 4. I’l have to

do it someday. How the hel am I going to survive a 3,200km trip in this thing? It’l probably take 50 days. I’l need the Water Reclaimer

and the Oxygenator, maybe some of the Hab’s main batteries, then a bunch more solar cels to charge everything… where wil I put it al?

These thoughts pester me throughout the long boring days.

Eventualy, it gets dark and I get tired. I lay among the food packs, water tanks, extra O2 tank, piles of CO2 filters, box of pee, bags

of sh@t, and personal items. I have a bunch of crew jumpsuits to serve as bedding, along with my blanket and pilow. Basicaly, I sleep in a pile of junk every night.

Speaking of sleep… G’night.


By my reckoning, I’m about 100km from Pathfinder. Technicaly it’s “Carl Sagan Memorial Station.” But with al due respect to Carl, I can cal it whatever the hel I want. I’m the King of Mars.

As I mentioned, it’s been a long, boring drive. And I’m stil on the outward leg. But hey, I’m an astronaut. Long-ass trips are my


Navigation is tricky.

The Hab’s nav beacon only reaches 40km, then it’s too faint. I knew that’d be an issue when I was planning this little road trip, so I

came up with a briliant plan that didn’t work.

The computer has detailed maps, so I figured I could navigate by landmarks. I was wrong. Turns out you can’t navigate by landmarks if

you can’t find any god damned landmarks.

Our landing site is at the delta of a long-gone river. If there are any microscopic fossils to be had, it’s a good place to look. Also, the water would have dragged rock and soil samples from thousands of kilometers away. With some digging, we could get a broad geological


That’s great for science, but it means the Hab’s in a featureless wasteland.

I considered making a compass. The rover has plenty of electricity and the med kit has a needle. Only one problem: Mars doesn’t have

a magnetic field.

So I navigate by Phobos. It whips around Mars so fast it actualy rises and sets twice a day, running west to east. It’s isn’t the most

accurate system, but it works.

Things got easier on Sol 75. I reached a valey with a rise to the west. It had flat ground for easy driving, and I just needed to folow the edge of the hils. I named it “Lewis Valey” after our fearless leader. She’d love it there, geology nerd that she is.

Three sols later, Lewis Valey opened into a wide plain. So, again, I was left without references and relied on Phobos to guide me.

There’s probably symbolism there. Phobos is the god of fear, and I’m letting it be my guide. Not a good sign.

But today, my luck finaly changed. After two sols wandering the desert, I found something to navigate by. It was a 5km crater, so

smal it didn’t even have a listed name. But to me, it was the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Once I had it in sight, I knew exactly where I was.

I’m camped near it now, as a matter of fact.

I’m finaly through the blank areas of the map. Tomorrow, I’l have the Lighthouse to navigate by, and Hamelin crater later on. I’m in

good shape.

Now, on to my next task: Sitting around with nothing to do for 12 hours.

I better get started!


Almost made it to Pathfinder today, but I ran out of juice. Just another 22km to go!

An unremarkable drive. Navigation wasn’t a problem. As Lighthouse receded into the distance, the rim of Hamelin Crater came in to


I left Acidalia Planitia behind a long time ago. I’m wel into Ares Valis now. The desert plains are giving way to bumpier terrain, strewn with ejecta that never got buried by sand. It makes driving a chore; I have to pay more attention.

Up til now, I’ve been driving right over the rock-strewn landscape. But as I travel further south, the rocks are getting bigger and more plentiful. I have to go around some of them or risk damage to my suspension. The good news is I don’t have to do it for long. Once I get to Pathfinder, I can turn around and go the other way.

The weather’s been very good. No discernible wind, no storms. I think I got lucky there. There’s a good chance my rover tracks from

the past few sols are intact. I should be able to get back to Lewis Valey just by folowing them.

After setting up the solar panels, I went for a little walk. I never left sight of the rover; the last thing I want to do is get lost on foot. But I couldn’t stomach crawling back into that cramped, smely rat’s nest. Not right away.

It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hil? First guy to climb that hil! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a milion years!

I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than 31 sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on

Mars. First, first, first!

I wasn’t expecting to be first at anything. I was the 5th crewman out of the MDV when we landed, making me the 17th person to set

foot on Mars. The egress order had been determined years earlier. A month before launch, we al got tattoos of our “Mars Numbers.”

Johanssen almost refused to get her “15” because she was afraid it would hurt. Here’s a woman who had survived the centrifuge, the vomit comet, hard landing drils and 10k runs. A woman who fixed a simulated MDV computer failure while being spun around upside-down. But

she was afraid of a tattoo needle.

Man, I miss those guys.

I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet.

Ok, enough moping. Tomorrow, I’l be the first person to recover a Mars probe.


Victory! I found it!

I knew I was in the right area when I spotted Twin Peaks in the distance. The two smal hils are under a kilometer from the landing site.

Even better, they were on the far side of the site. Al I had to do was aim for them until I found the Lander.

And there it was! Right where it was supposed to be!

Pathfinder’s final stage of descent was a baloon-covered tetrahedron. The baloons absorbed the impact of landing. Once it came to

rest, they deflated and the tetrahedron unfolded to reveal the probe.

It’s actualy two separate components. The Lander itself, and the Sojourner rover. The Lander was immobile, while Sojourner

wandered around and got a good look at the local rocks. I’m taking both back with me, but the important part is the Lander. That’s the

part that can communicate with Earth.

I excitedly stumbled out and rushed to the site.

I can’t explain how happy I was. It was a lot of work to get here, and I’d succeeded.

The Lander was half buried. With some quick and careful digging, I exposed the bulk of it, though the large tetrahedron and the

deflated baloons stil lurked below the surface.

After a quick search, I found Sojourner. The little fela was only two meters from the Lander. I vaguely remember it was further away

when they last saw it. It probably entered a contingency mode and started circling the Lander, trying to communicate.

I quickly deposited Sojourner in my rover. It’s smal, light, and easily fit in the airlock. The Lander was a different story.

I had no hope of getting the whole thing back to the Hab. It was just too big. It was time for me to put on my mechanical engineer hat.

The probe was attached to the central panel of the unfolded tetrahedron. The other three sides were each attached with a metal hinge.

As anyone at JPL wil tel you, probes are delicate things. Weight is a serious concern, so they’re not made to stand up to much


When I took a crowbar to the hinges, they popped right off!

Then things got difficult. When I tried to lift the central panel assembly, it didn’t budge.

Just like the other three panels, the central panel had deflated baloons underneath it.

Over the decades, the baloons had ripped and filed with sand.

I could cut off the baloons, but I’d have to dig to get to them. It wouldn’t be hard, it’s just sand. But the other three panels were in the damn way.

I quickly realized I didn’t give a crap about the condition of the other panels. I went back to my rover, cut some strips of Hab material, then braided them in to a primitive but strong rope. I can’t take credit for it being strong. Thank NASA for that. I just made it rope-shaped.

I tied one end to a panel, and the other to the rover. The rover was made for traversing extremely rugged terrain, often at steep angles.

It may not be fast, but it has great torque. I towed the panel away like a redneck removing a tree stump.

Now I had a place to dig. As I exposed each baloon, I cut it off. The whole task took an hour.

Then I hoisted the central panel assembly up and carried it confidently to the rover!

At least, that’s what I wanted to do. The damn thing is stil heavy as hel. I’m guessing it’s 200kg. Even in Mar’s gravity that’s a bit

much. I could carry it around the Hab easily enough, but lifting it while wearing an awkward EVA suit? Out of the question.

So I dragged it to the rover.

Now for my next feat: Getting it on the roof.

The roof was empty at the moment. Even with mostly-ful batteries, I had set up the solar cels when I stopped. Why not? Free energy.

I’d worked it out in advance. On the way here, two stacks of solar panels occupied the whole roof. On the way back, they would be a

single stack. It’s a little more dangerous; they might fal over. The main thing it they’l be a pain in the ass to stack that high.

I can’t just throw a rope over the rover and hoist Pathfinder up the side. I don’t want to break it. I mean, it’s already broken, they lost contact in 1997. But I don’t want to break it more.

I came up with a solution, but I’d done enough physical labor for one day, and I was almost out of daylight.

Now I’m in the rover, looking at Sojourner. It seems al right. No physical damage on the outside. Doesn’t look like anything got too

baked by the sunlight. The dense layer of Mars crap al over it protected it from long-term solar damage.

You may think Sojourner isn’t much use to me. It can’t communicate with Earth. Why do I care about it?

Because it has a lot of moving parts.

If I establish a link with NASA, I can talk to them by holding a page of text up to the Lander’s camera. But how would they talk to

me? The only moving parts on the Lander are the high gain antenna (which would have to stay pointed at Earth) and the camera boom.

We’d have to come up with a system where NASA could talk by rotating the camera head. It would be painfuly slow.

But Sojourner has six independent wheels that rotate reasonably fast. It’l be much easier to communicate with those. If nothing else, I

could draw letters on the wheels, and hold a mirror up to its camera. NASA’d figure it out and start speling things at me.

That al assumes I can get the Lander’s radio working at al.

Time to turn in. I’ve got a lot of backbreaking physical labor to do tomorrow. I’l need my rest.


Oh god I’m sore.

But it’s the only way I could think of to get the Lander safely on to the roof.

I built a ramp out of rocks and sand. Just like the ancient Egyptians did.

And if there’s one thing Ares Valis has, it’s rocks!

First, I experimented to find out how steep the grade could be. Piling up some rocks near the Lander, I dragged it up the pile, then

down again. Then I made it steeper, etc. I figured out I could pul it up a 30 degree grade. Anything more was too risky. I might lose my grip and send the Lander tumbling down the ramp.

The roof of the rover is over 2 meters from the ground. So I’d need a ramp almost 4 meters long. I got to work.

The first few rocks were easy. Then they started feeling heavier and heavier. Hard physical labor in a spacesuit is murder. Everything’s more effort because you’re lugging 20kg of suit around with you, and your movement is limited. I was panting within 20 minutes.

So I cheated. I upped my O2 mixture. It realy helped a lot. Probably shouldn’t make that a habit. Also, I didn’t get hot. The suit leaks heat faster than my body could ever generate it. The heating system is what keeps the temperature bearable. My physical labor just meant the suit didn’t have to heat itself as much.

After hours of grueling labor, I finaly got the ramp made. Nothing more than a pile of rocks against the rover, but it reached the roof.

I stomped up and down the ramp first, to make sure it was stable, then I dragged the Lander up. It worked like a charm!

I was al smiles as I lashed the Lander in place. I made sure it was firmly secured, and even stacked the solar cels in a big single stack (why waste the ramp?).

But then it hit me. The ramp would colapse as I drove away, and the rocks might damage the wheels or undercarriage. I’d have to

take the ramp apart to keep that from happening.


Tearing the ramp down was easier than putting it up. I didn’t need to carefuly put each rock in a stable place. I just dropped them

wherever. It only took me an hour.

And now I’m done!

I’l start heading home tomorrow, with my new 100kg broken radio.

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