LOG ENTRY: SOL 6
I’m pretty much screwed.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, andit’s turned into a nightmare.
I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find iteventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record . . . I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of thecrew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be aday of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say,“Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”
And it’ll be right, probably. ’Cause I’ll surely die here. Just noton Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.
Let’s see . . . where do I begin?
The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send peopleto another planet for the very first time and expand the horizonsof humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thingand came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love ofthe world.
Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. Theygot a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home.
Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. CommanderLewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually,I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be“in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command.
I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crewdie of old age. I presume they got back to Earth all right. Guys,if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you hadto do. In your position I would have done the same thing. I don’tblame you, and I’m glad you survived.
I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any laymanwho may be reading this. We got to Earth orbit the normal way,through an ordinary ship to Hermes. All the Ares missions useHermes to get to and from Mars. It’s really big and cost a lot soNASA built only one.
Once we got to Hermes, four additional unmanned missionsbrought us fuel and supplies while we prepared for our trip. Onceeverything was a go, we set out for Mars. But not very fast. Goneare the days of heavy chemical fuel burns and trans- Mars injectionorbits.
Hermes is powered by ion engines. They throw argon out theback of the ship really fast to get a tiny amount of acceleration. Thething is, it doesn’t take much reactant mass, so a little argon (anda nuclear reactor to power things) let us accelerate constantly thewhole way there. You’d be amazed at how fast you can get goingwith a tiny acceleration over a long time.
I could regale you with tales of how we had great fun on the trip,but I won’t. I don’t feel like reliving it right now. Suffice it to say wegot to Mars 124 days later without strangling each other.
From there, we took the MDV (Mars descent vehicle) to the surface. The MDV is basically a big can with some light thrustersand parachutes attached. Its sole purpose is to get six humans fromMars orbit to the surface without killing any of them.
And now we come to the real trick of Mars exploration: havingall of our crap there in advance.
A total of fourteen unmanned missions deposited everything wewould need for surface operations. They tried their best to land allthe supply vessels in the same general area, and did a reasonablygood job. Supplies aren’t nearly so fragile as humans and can hit theground really hard. But they tend to bounce around a lot.
Naturally, they didn’t send us to Mars until they’d confirmedthat all the supplies had made it to the surface and their containersweren’t breached. Start to finish, including supply missions, a Marsmission takes about three years. In fact, there were Ares 3 suppliesen route to Mars while the Ares 2 crew were on their way home.
The most important piece of the advance supplies, of course, wasthe MAV. The Mars ascent vehicle. That was how we would getback to Hermes after surface operations were complete. The MAVwas soft- landed (as opposed to the balloon bounce- fest the othersupplies had). Of course, it was in constant communication withHouston, and if there had been any problems with it, we wouldhave passed by Mars and gone home without ever landing.
The MAV is pretty cool. Turns out, through a neat set of chemicalreactions with the Martian atmosphere, for every kilogram ofhydrogen you bring to Mars, you can make thirteen kilograms offuel. It’s a slow process, though. It takes twenty- four months to fillthe tank. That’s why they sent it long before we got here.
You can imagine how disappointed I was when I discovered theMAV was gone.
It was a ridiculous sequence of events that led to me almost dying,and an even more ridiculous sequence that led to me surviving.The mission is designed to handle sandstorm gusts up to 150 kph. So Houston got understandably nervous when we got whackedwith 175 kph winds. We all got in our flight space suits and huddledin the middle of the Hab, just in case it lost pressure. But the Habwasn’t the problem.
The MAV is a spaceship. It has a lot of delicate parts. It can putup with storms to a certain extent, but it can’t just get sandblastedforever. After an hour and a half of sustained wind, NASA gave theorder to abort. Nobody wanted to stop a monthlong mission afteronly six days, but if the MAV took any more punishment, we’d allhave gotten stranded down there.
We had to go out in the storm to get from the Hab to the MAV.That was going to be risky, but what choice did we have?
Everyone made it but me.
Our main communications dish, which relayed signals from theHab to Hermes, acted like a parachute, getting torn from its foundationand carried with the torrent. Along the way, it crashed throughthe reception antenna array. Then one of those long thin antennaeslammed into me end- first. It tore through my suit like a bulletthrough butter, and I felt the worst pain of my life as it rippedopen my side. I vaguely remember having the wind knocked out ofme (pulled out of me, really) and my ears popping painfully as thepressure of my suit escaped.
The last thing I remember was seeing Johanssen hopelesslyreaching out toward me.
I awoke to the oxygen alarm in my suit. A steady, obnoxious beepingthat eventually roused me from a deep and profound desire tojust die.
The storm had abated; I was facedown, almost totally buried insand. As I groggily came to, I wondered why I wasn’t more dead.
The antenna had enough force to punch through the suit and myside, but it had been stopped by my pelvis. So there was only onehole in the suit (and a hole in me, of course).
I had been knocked back quite a ways and rolled down a steephill. Somehow I landed facedown, which forced the antenna to astrongly oblique angle that put a lot of torque on the hole in the suit.It made a weak seal.
Then, the copious blood from my wound trickled down towardthe hole. As the blood reached the site of the breach, the water init quickly evaporated from the airflow and low pressure, leaving agunky residue behind. More blood came in behind it and was alsoreduced to gunk. Eventually, it sealed the gaps around the hole andreduced the leak to something the suit could counteract.
The suit did its job admirably. Sensing the drop in pressure, itconstantly flooded itself with air from my nitrogen tank to equalize.Once the leak became manageable, it only had to trickle new airin slowly to relieve the air lost.
After a while, the CO2 (carbon dioxide) absorbers in the suitwere expended. That’s really the limiting factor to life support. Notthe amount of oxygen you bring with you, but the amount of CO2you can remove. In the Hab, I have the oxygenator, a large pieceof equipment that breaks apart CO2 to give the oxygen back. Butthe space suits have to be portable, so they use a simple chemicalabsorption
process with expendable filters. I’d been asleep longenough that my filters were useless.
The suit saw this problem and moved into an emergency modethe engineers call “bloodletting.” Having no way to separate out theCO2, the suit deliberately vented air to the Martian atmosphere, thenbackfilled with nitrogen. Between the breach and the bloodletting,it quickly ran out of nitrogen. All it had left was my oxygen tank.
So it did the only thing it could to keep me alive. It started backfillingwith pure oxygen. I now risked dying from oxygen toxicity,as the excessively high amount of oxygen threatened to burn up mynervous system, lungs, and eyes. An ironic death for someone witha leaky space suit: too much oxygen.
Every step of the way would have had beeping alarms, alerts,and warnings. But it was the high- oxygen warning that woke me.
The sheer volume of training for a space mission is astounding.I’d spent a week back on Earth practicing emergency space suitdrills. I knew what to do.
Carefully reaching to the side of my helmet, I got the breach kit.It’s nothing more than a funnel with a valve at the small end and anunbelievably sticky resin on the wide end. The idea is you have thevalve open and stick the wide end over a hole. The air can escapethrough the valve, so it doesn’t interfere with the resin making agood seal. Then you close the valve, and you’ve sealed the breach.
The tricky part was getting the antenna out of the way. I pulledit out as fast as I could, wincing as the sudden pressure drop dizziedme and made the wound in my side scream in agony.
I got the breach kit over the hole and sealed it. It held. The suitbackfilled the missing air with yet more oxygen. Checking my armreadouts, I saw the suit was now at 85 percent oxygen. For reference,Earth’s atmosphere is about 21 percent. I’d be okay, so long asI didn’t spend too much time like that.
I stumbled up the hill back toward the Hab. As I crested therise, I saw something that made me very happy and something thatmade me very sad: The Hab was intact (yay!) and the MAV wasgone (boo!).
Right that moment I knew I was screwed. But I didn’t want tojust die out on the surface. I limped back to the Hab and fumbledmy way into an airlock. As soon as it equalized, I threw off myhelmet.
Once inside the Hab, I doffed the suit and got my first goodlook at the injury. It would need stitches. Fortunately, all of us hadbeen trained in basic medical procedures, and the Hab had excellentmedical supplies. A quick shot of local anesthetic, irrigate thewound, nine stitches, and I was done. I’d be taking antibiotics for acouple of weeks, but other than that I’d be fine.
I knew it was hopeless, but I tried firing up the communicationsarray. No signal, of course. The primary satellite dish had brokenoff, remember? And it took the reception antennae with it. The Hab had secondary and tertiary communications systems, but they wereboth just for talking to the MAV, which would use its much morepowerful systems to relay to Hermes. Thing is, that only works ifthe MAV is still around.
I had no way to talk to Hermes. In time, I could locate the dishout on the surface, but it would take weeks for me to rig up any repairs,and that would be too late. In an abort, Hermes would leaveorbit within twenty- four hours. The orbital dynamics made the tripsafer and shorter the earlier you left, so why wait?
Checking out my suit, I saw the antenna had plowed throughmy bio- monitor computer. When on an EVA, all the crew’s suits arenetworked so we can see each other’s status. The rest of the crewwould have seen the pressure in my suit drop to nearly zero, followedimmediately by my bio- signs going flat. Add to that watchingme tumble down a hill with a spear through me in the middle of asandstorm . . . yeah. They thought I was dead. How could they not?
They may have even had a brief discussion about recovering mybody, but regulations are clear. In the event a crewman dies onMars, he stays on Mars. Leaving his body behind reduces weightfor the MAV on the trip back. That means more disposable fuel anda larger margin of error for the return thrust. No point in givingthat up for sentimentality.
So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicatewith Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in aHab designed to last thirty- one days.
If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimerbreaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll justkind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually runout of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I’m screwed.