LOG ENTRY: SOL 9
I have developed an immense sympathy for people who chase after mirages in the desert. Mirages are well documented and studied, so I always figured that if I got stranded somewhere and had to look for water I wouldn’t fall for the shiny image in the distance because I knew it was coming.
Joke’s on me.
Granted, I’m looking for a communications dish and not water but the principle is the same. I swear it seems like every time I turn around I see a perfectly curved edge of the dish in the sand or the remnants of the antennae sticking out from behind an outcrop of rocks, but when I go to investigate there’s nothing there but more Martian rocks. It’s like being convinced there’s a ghost in your room only to turn on the lights and find out it was a shirt that didn’t quite make it to the laundry hamper.
Long story short, I’m done. The communications dish is gone and even if it wasn’t there’s no guarantee I could get it to work. Tomorrow I’m focusing on keeping myself alive until NASA can rescue me. I’ll figure out how to talk to them after I know I’m not going to die.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 19
I want it on the record that ripping out staples really fucking hurts.
I’d also like to apologize to Greg, my best friend from first grade, for not believing him when he talked about how much it hurt when he tore one of his stitches during a fall on the playground. Buddy, you are a badass and I did not understand your pain.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 22
Martian soil is sandy as fuck, which I knew when I signed onto this mission but seems much more important now that my survival depends on it.
The problem with sandy soil is that it’s not really good for farming. That’s an understatement; sandy soil is really bad for farming. Luckily for me, potatoes are resilient little bastards and can grow in pretty much any conditions. The major problem with potatoes in sandy soil is that the soil loses water too quickly to properly support them, which means they require nearly constant care from the farmer to make sure they don’t dry out.
How am I going to find the time to tend to all my precious plants between marathoning 70’s TV shows and listening to The Beatles? I just don’t know.
Okay, so I’m joking. I’ll have to keep the humidity high and check to make sure the soil isn’t desiccated, but I was going to do that anyway. It will actually be a relief to have something concrete to do every day that I know is helping me survive.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 33 (3)
I really fucking miss my crew.
It’s been almost a month since I’ve seen them; you’d think it would have sunk in before now and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. Twenty seven sols is definitely long enough alone to say that I miss people, especially my people.
I swear I’m usually not this maudlin. I really can’t afford to be if I’m going to be stuck here for four years. But I had to cut up Martinez’s cross for fuel today and it really hit me how much I’m going to miss him. I’m not going to get to hear him complain every time he has to help gather materials for an experiment. I’m not going to hear him poke fun at botany not being a real science. I’m not going to get to chase after him in the morning when he steals the sugar before I can get any in my coffee.
The whole crew is my family, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve known Martinez the longest. He was my first friend in the astronaut candidate program, and we spent almost as much time joking around as we did studying. He was singled out early on for his piloting skills, and I’m pretty sure he had a major role in me getting picked for the sixth slot on the Ares 3 mission.
And now he’s not here.
On the other hand, Martinez’s piloting skills and bullheadedness with regards to his personal beliefs are the main reason I’ve still got a shot at this. Without all MDV fuel he didn’t use and the wood from the crucifix, I’d be up shit creek without a paddle.
Not literally though; without Martinez I wouldn’t have enough water to make a creek.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 37 (2)
In the vein of missing people recently, today I really need Vogel.
If he were here I’d probably be sitting happily in my bed in the Hab and not trying to sleep in the driver’s seat of the rover terrified out of my mind. He told me once that a large part of his training as a chemist was dedicated to avoiding accidentally making bombs, which is something I could have used about four hours ago.
He’d probably be able to come up with a simple solution that will completely escape me. But I’ll do my best and figure out with something that works; it’s not like I’ll be getting much sleep tonight anyway.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 40 (2)
Men of the Ares 3 mission, I have one question. Why - oh my god why - did none of us bring music on our personal data sticks?
If Mars doesn’t kill me the disco will.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 49
I am recording this message today from the sweltering weather here at the Hab. I have successfully reduced the hydrazine to give me 600 liters of water. At least I’m pretty sure I have. The atmospheric regulator says the Hab air composition is a 79-21 nitrogen-oxygen mix and I have no hydrazine left in the MDV fuel cells, so I’ll consider it mission complete.
Too bad the new living conditions mean that I’ve sweated through all of my clothes.
While the Hermes has a state of the art cooling system, the Hab was expected to make use of the Martian atmosphere for any and all air conditioning needs. This is because, unlike space, Mars does have an atmosphere and the Hab uses conduction to transfer heat to the gas molecules floating around outside. The best part is that because of convection the heated air rises away from the Hab and allows the process to repeat itself. Infinite cooling courtesy of Mars’s atmosphere!
This is very important because the Hab doesn’t really lose heat by radiation. The Hab is built of layered sheets of hydrogenated boron nitride nanofiber and it does a very good job of insulating.
Insulation isn’t the primary purpose though; it’s designed to have multiple layers of the nanofiber to protect against ionizing solar radiation. It’s a thicker version of the material in our suits. Apparently the most efficient way to block particle radiation is with something of a similar size, and the combination of hydrogen and boron is really good at blocking solar particle radiation. We’ll still be exposed to the galactic cosmic radiation while on Mars, but the atmosphere will block some of it and we were only supposed to be here for thirty sols.
Thirty sols, ha!
I’m not in a bad position though. The effectiveness of the Hab canvas and my suit means that I’m receiving an effective dose similar to that of people in high exposure jobs back on earth. That sounds bad but the limits for exposure on earth are minuscule even in high exposure jobs.
There’s a but attached to that, of course, because I can’t have anything good on Mars without a downside. In this case the downside is that the radiation I am being exposed to is really fucking dangerous.
Galactic cosmic radiation is made of really big particles that travel really fast and do a lot of damage to important things like my DNA. And neither my suit nor the Hab can stop them. The good news is that the flux rate of cosmic radiation is extremely low; enough so that even the four years here on Mars will only barely put me over the NASA limit of 1 Sievert for Ares astronauts. That leads to a 5.5% increased risk of cancer over the course of my life, which I am pretty okay with. I mean, I’m probably going to need a colonoscopy as soon as I get back to earth, but I got to go to Mars.
It’s not like I was expecting this to be a risk free venture either. Although long term radiation exposure wasn’t on the list of likely problems, it was still on one of the legal statements I signed detailing that I understood the risks of space travel when I was selected for the Ares 3 mission. It was a lot like the scene in The Hobbit movie where Bilbo gets the giant contract detailing all the grisly ways he could die if he joins the expedition, except we had more papers to sign.
My colleagues on the Hermes won’t have the same problem though. The Hermes has a giant inductor built within the circumference of the ship that acts as a current loop to create a protective electormagnetic field similar to earth’s. It requires a lot of electricity, but the Hermes is designed to accommodate it with a system that utilizes every form of energy it can from the heat we produce to solar panels that soak up all the light they can get.
While I wouldn’t say no to an electromagnetic field to protect me from cosmic radiation, what I really miss is the cooling system. Even with the reuse of heat energy and radiating excess heat out into space, the Hermes still gets hot enough to necessitate a cooling system. While I’ll admit that the potatoes probably love it at an oppressive 30 ºC with near 100% humidity, I don’t. I’m more a fan of the cool summers we got in Chicago and the wind coming off the lake.
Still, it’ll make a good story when I get home. Imagine the looks I’ll get when I tell them about how I built a sauna on Mars!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 67(2)
So in the theme of dying from radiation poisoning, now I might die from acute radiation poisoning!
Well, probably not. I’m going to go dig of the RTG to heat the rover for the Sirius 4 mission to get Pathfinder. If the RTG breaks open while I’m near it, I’m not going to go down with a long drawn out fight with cancer. Nope, I’ll just feel really really shitty then lose cognitive function and keel over dead.
NASA left the RTG on Mars for four years before we got here though, and they built the heavy lead shielding to hold well enough that it wouldn’t break before Commander Lewis drove away in the rover to dispose of it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the container will hold for another four years in the Martian atmosphere, but compared to everything else I’m facing this is a small risk.
And hey, maybe if it does crack open and irradiate me I’ll pull a Bruce Banner and turn into the Hulk. I’ve always wanted to be a superhero.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 77
I’m currently making a List of Things That Need Fixing for my trip to Schiaparelli crater. The first Thing on the list is my sleeping arrangements. If I have to spend 40 sols cooped up in the cab of the rover I will kill something, probably my back. My back definitely hurts right now and I’ve only been sleeping in here for six sols.
It also looks like I’ll have to move the RTG around to make room for the life support equipment, which is too bad because the heat it puts off right now is just about perfect.
The good news is that the solar cells are functioning exactly as planned and are leaving me enough daylight hours to do my driving and set them up. This is crucial for me because in almost exactly two Martian years I am going to be driving on my 3200 kilometer journey to the Ares 4 landing site, which means that I’ll be getting the same angle and length of sunlight each day that I’m getting now. So if the solar panels work on this trip, they’ll work on my trip to Schiaparelli crater.
Music is also on The List. I am not listening to disco when I drive to Schiaparelli. Maybe I’ll take Johanssen’s Beatles collection. Or maybe I’ll record myself singing something; I can’t possibly sound worse than what Lewis has on this thumb drive.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 84
It is such a relief to be driving today. I never thought I’d say that, but Pathfinder was really heavy and the less heavy lifting I have to do the happier I am. Plus I can just follow my tracks from when I came in, so the driving has been blissfully mindless so far.
I’m taking soil samples every time I have to suit up and leave the rover. I did it on the way to get Pathfinder too, and I made sure to dig 30 centimeters down and label every sample with enough detail to make Lewis happy. Or at least with all the details I had. I don’t know exactly where I was each time I took samples, but I gave it my best guess. NASA will probably be able to recreate my trip to Pathfinder back on earth and tell me my exact coordinates, so hopefully they’ll still be usable.
Even if the samples aren’t useful they make me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, which our psychologist back in Huston would tell me is a good thing.
Regardless, NASA likes having lots of samples - which is why they landed us in a dried up river system to start with - and now they’re going to get data from all of the 800 kilometers between Ares 3 and Pathfinder. Happy very early birthday, NASA! Here’s hoping this present gets to you in the next four years, because if it doesn’t I’m toast!
In other news, I’ve been considering what to do with the RTG around when I get back to the Hab.
NASA would tell me to “put that thing back where it came from or so help me” and go bury the RTG 4 kilometers away like a good little astronaut.
But the thing is, I’m going to have to drive to the Ares 4 landing site, right? And that’s a 3200 kilometer trip. I’ll need to RTG again for that trip, so if the shielding breaks before I make it to Schiaparelli crater I’ll be fucked anyway. The question ends up being, is the casing more likely to break buried in the ground or sitting in the Hab?
Honestly I’m not sure which would be better. I’ll probably go bury it back where I found it because that’s the NASA recommended solution and they have a lot of people with a lot more knowledge about this sort of thing than me. There’s also the very valid points that the RTG is big and I can’t really afford to sacrifice valuable farmland to keep it in the Hab, and I don’t really have any reason to keep it around. There’s nothing I can think of to do with a giant space heater in the Hab that the Hab doesn’t already do on its own.
If I think of something though, I’m going to go dig that sucker up and bring it back. Watch me.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 99
Holy shit! I talked to NASA today! Actually talked to them holy shit!
This is the first actual conversation I’ve had with anyone since sol 6. Spelling out messages one byte at a time is really not the same.
Okay, I’ve calmed down a little bit. I’m still more excited about being able to use the solar system’s slowest IM server with NASA than I have been since I got selected for the astronaut candidate program.
Actually, I’m probably more excited about this.
Except that mission control apparently decided not to tell the crew that I’m alive.
What. The. Fuck.
Did they actually consult anyone on that? Like, anyone who has emotions? Like maybe Dr. Shields, the lovely psychologist who interviewed the entire crew before we left and is qualified to weigh in on decisions like that? Because I’m pretty sure they’d have told the crew if they gave it an ounce of though.
Too bad I can’t do anything on my own. This isn’t high school where I could sneak out of my window at night and walk down to the park for a clandestine date. If NASA doesn’t want me to have contact with the Hermes, there’s no way I can make it happen on my own.
Goddammit. The crew deserves to know I’m alive.
They’ll find out eventually though, and I hope it’s sooner rather than later because I miss the shit out of them.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 115
NASA told the crew I was alive after I yelled at them via Pathfinder, but I’m only receiving my first message from Commander Lewis today. You’d think an organization with as much intelligence and motivation as NASA would be able to get it done faster, but apparently the red tape slowed things down.
Bureaucracy at its finest.
Still, I’m getting a message from Lewis today and I have to come up with something to reply with. I want her to know it wasn’t her fault (or the crew’s, but I know Lewis and I know she’s going to try to take this one by herself), but I don’t want that to be the entire message. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what she sends me.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 115 (2)
I get to have a beer with the commander when I get back to earth. I’m going to need a moment.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 116
My conversations with NASA have been eerily reminiscent of Disney recently.
Me: I’m 41 years old! I’m not a child anymore!
NASA: Mark needs constant supervision. Someone to watch over him. Keep him out of trouble.
At least they haven’t sent a talking crab named Sebastian to follow me around and give exasperated sighs every time I do something.
Don’t get me wrong, having NASA for support and conversation has improved my Martian experience a lot. With Pathfinder up and working, I’d probably give it a 1/10. It might have rated a 2/10, but the micromanaging is grating.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 120
I’m pretty sure Murphy’s Law was written with me in mind.
I’ve got the Hab back up and running but everything is dead. The potatoes are dead. The soil is dead. The laptops are dead. Thank god the main computer was designed to survive a Hab breach or I’d be working exclusively in the rover.
The most annoying thing that came out of this explosion has been the Great Martian Potato Migration that I was trying to avoid. The exploding airlock sent some of my poor potato plants - and my existing supply of potatoes - flying out into the Martian atmosphere with nothing to stop them from disappearing to the same place the Hab communications dish vanished to on sol 6.
I’m not likely to find all of them even when I do get around to scavenging farther away from the Hab than the rover. So even if I did manage to grow enough potatoes to last me until sol 600, I’m probably not going to be able to eat all of them.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 130
NASA says that they still have a viable rescue plan for me.
They’ve pushed up the resupply probe launch so that it’ll arrive around the time I run out of food. Here’s hoping it lands before I run out of food, because driving the rover out to wherever the probe crashes down is not going to be fun on an empty stomach.
NASA also tells me they have a project in the works to figure out how to come rescue me with the Ares 4 MDV. They’ve shunted all their resources for it into the Iris probe since their timeframe shrank, but they sounded pretty confident that it’s doable.
Hooray! I won’t have to drive to Schiaparelli crater!
Well, I won’t have to drive to Schiaparelli crater if the program goes through, which I’m pretty skeptical about.
I mean, exactly how much money can they justify spending on one astronaut? The Iris probe alone has to have cost them millions and millions that could have been funneled into other projects, and once it’s obvious that I won’t die public support will fizzle out and with it emergency funding from congress.
For argument’s sake let’s say that they do figure out how to modify the MDV to come pick me up. I’m sure it’s possible - the scientists at NASA are brilliant and so are their pilots - but from an outsider’s point of view it honestly sounds a little scary. Using a vehicle with thrust that can’t even lift its own weight to fly seven astronauts 3200 kilometers around a planet with basically no atmosphere? Not the sort of thing pencil pushers are likely to green light.
The final nail in the coffin is that I can drive to Schiaparelli. It’s a much riskier plan, sure, but it’s much riskier for me and not the six astronauts who will be on the Ares 4 mission. There’s also all the soil and rock samples I could take between here and Schiaparelli via rover that I couldn’t get if they sent the MDV. Once that argument occurs to the public, I’ll bet the money for MVD modifications will vanish.
Not that I’m hoping the project gets slashed. I’d love to ride an MDV all the way to Schiaparelli; I just don’t think it’ll happen.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 168
I would like to report that as a botanist and mechanical engineer, I am doing an admirable job analyzing these rock samples. I would also like to report that these rocks are sandstone and not interesting at all. Seriously, Lewis, how did you get through college if this was what you had to look forward to every day?
Aside from the rocks, the other experiments are going well. That’s because the equipment has easy to follow instructions, not because I can interpret the results. Luckily I have this handy thing call a thumb drive that can store the data until I can get it to someone who can interpret it. Technology is amazing like that.
All joking aside, it is nice to be doing experiments again. After the airlock decided to see how far it could throw me I haven’t had a whole lot to do around the Hab. My farm is dead, which leaves me exactly nothing to do in my own specialty beyond my day to day maintenance and repairs. I’ve also gone through all the entertainment we brought; I even tried reading one of Beck’s medical journals even though I only understood every other word. You’d think a biology degree would prepare you for a journal on medical biology but apparently not. Jeez.
So I talked NASA’s ear off until they gave me experiments to run. Well, initially they told me to keep running the experiments we were supposed to do in the remaining 24 days of mission. But there’s only so much of that I can do with just one person when the schedule was designed for six, so they worked up a modified set of experiments I can do all by myself.
They’ve also tried to have me avoid doing EVA’s so that I can conserve my rations and carbon dioxide filters. There will be plenty of time for me to go collect samples after the resupply arrives with food and filters, but it won’t do me a lick of good if I don’t have the resources to go out and get the probe when it lands.
So here I am sitting at the spectroscopy machine waiting for it to pop out the chemical composition of a soil sample from the Pathfinder site.
Ho hum, just another day on Mars.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 170
The Iris probe launch was a success!
Huston says that their astrodynamics division predicts the probe bouncing down on Sol 588. For those of you following along at home, that’s four sols after my food is scheduled to run out.
Normally four days without food isn’t a huge problem. With access to water, a healthy person can go easily go four days without food and still be capable of doing things like walking around on Mars. Unfortunately, I no longer meet the qualifications of a healthy person. A diet of 1500 calories per day is barely enough to keep me going as is, and is nowhere near what I need if I intend to drive a rover after four days of fasting.
It’s almost like the starvation diet is unhealthy or something.
NASA’s solution to this, of course, is to have me eat even less until the probe touches down.
Basically, anyway. They want me to reduce my rations and begin eating potatoes now so that I can eat the last few prepackaged meals in the days leading up to the probe’s arrival. That way I’ll have enough energy to go get it if it doesn’t land in my front yard.
Still, this is a terrible plan.
In part this is a terrible plan because the prepackaged meals are hard as shit to ration. Think of it like a ramen package, because all our food is freeze dried and dehydrated beyond all recognition. Someone tells you to eat exactly three quarters of the calories in a ramen package. How do you do it? The noodles are in one giant block and the seasoning is in one little package. So you guestimate and probably get it wrong and end up with a wacky diet that your body does its level best to balance out.
Okay, so that might just be me but I’m hungry and alone on Mars so I’m going to plead the fifth about whether or not I always stuck strictly to my rationing. I thought I’d have an extra 44 sols of food before the airlock exploded on me so I could afford the occasional luxury of a full meal.
At least I’ll have full rations and then some once the Iris probe lands. And until then I have over a year to come up with something better than NASA’s ‘starve yourself more’ plan.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 172
So while I was thinking about what to do, I decided to run a few tests on the soil from my farm.
Remember that testing soil for organic material and growing plants was one of my original mission experiments, so I have all the equipment and the expertise to do it. I figured I should at least record what was in my soil, since I conclusively proved that it was possible to grow earth plants on Mars.
Imagine my surprise when I found live bacteria in my soil.
I know they’re alive because they moved. I figured everything would be dead so I didn’t bother to heat fix my slides and holy shit there are living bacteria in my soil.
My soil might not be as dead as I thought!
Unfortunately I don’t know exactly what bacteria are growing in my soil. Fecal bacteria are extremely hardy and (surprise!) present in the fecal matter I used to fertilize my potatoes. They are also not very conducive to fixing nitrogen or growing plants. If I had access to a microbiology or bacteriology lab I could figure out if they were soil bacteria or fecal bacteria, but we weren’t expecting to find anything alive on Mars so I don’t even have a gram staining kit. The only thing I can tell you is that the bacteria are bacillus by shape, and that tells me jack all about what they are.
But there’s a chance that they are soil bacteria. A fairly good chance, actually, since they must have survived depressurization by being sequestered in frozen water pockets in the soil. And if they are, I can use them to restart my farm.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 173
So I have the soil and water necessary to rebuild a greenhouse in my Hab, but I no longer have any viable potatoes. They’re a little bit larger than bacteria and not really capable of surviving being frozen in water pockets.
Luckily I also have beans and peas from our Thanksgiving-dinner-that-wasn’t.
If any of them are still capable of germinating, I’ll be back in business. They were vacuum sealed before we left, so I don’t really need to worry about the depressurization. The only problem would be the temperature extremes from when the Hab deflated. No one is entirely sure what temperature extremes the seeds can withstand, but we botanists do know that it’s a very wide range.
They might grow. My professional diagnosis is a strong maybe.
Just to be safe, I’ll start over again with spreading the bacteria around the dirt. I don’t want to be planting my potential food supply in barren soil. I’ll start tomorrow.
Ugh, this is going to kill my back.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 219
I have a sprout!
It’s in the plot where I put the beans. It’s not too surprising since bean seeds, especially black bean seeds like I have, are exceptionally hardy. The plants not so much. I’m going to have to be extremely careful if I want these little guys to grow into anything that can give me produce.
Another blessing is that beans require less water than potatoes. They also have a smaller yield than potatoes, but beggars can’t be choosers. For me this means I’ll have to be careful to watch the root systems to make sure the soil is draining properly. Soil on earth or in pots generally drains well, but my farmland is 10 centimeters thick and spread across a flat space of ground that makes its drainage ability suspect. Beans also dislike humid climates, but I already disabled the sauna option in the Hab so that’s okay.
Being a vine, beans also need something to grow on, so I’ve gone out and pulled up all my ASCII signs from around Pathfinder and I’m ready to repurpose the metal stakes as bean poles. These beans are going to receive the best care Mars can offer by the best botanist on the planet.
The bad news is that if the beans sprouted first, the peas probably aren’t going to. Garden peas like the ones they sent us with are one of the fastest growing garden plants, which means they would have sprouted before the beans if they were going to grow at all. It’s unfortunate because I could get two generations of peas in the same amount of time I get one generation of beans, so they would have been my second choice of crop after potatoes. But since I don’t need to have a huge produce to tide me over until the Iris probe lands, the beans will do just fine.
I also sent a message to Martinez today thanking him for being a stubborn little shit and being so good at his job. Why, you ask? Because his contributions to our mission have managed to save my life no less than four times. Once with the MDV fuel, once with his crucifix, once by virtue of his EVA suit being roughly the same size as mine and in pristine condition, and now because he insisted that bean dip was a traditional Thanksgiving dish at his house and if the rest of us white folk got our mashed potatoes he would damn well have his black beans.
So thanks, Martinez, for making sure they put black beans in our food supply. I’d be starving without you, buddy.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 266
Today my crewmates made it back to earth.
NASA told me they left the Hermes and landed back on earth without any problems. They’ll be kept at the medical facilities for a while before they’re released back into the wild. Living in low gravity for as long as we do can have some serious side effects and NASA doctors need to give them a clean bill of health and help them habituate to earth gravity before they’re free to leave.
Plus the mission debrief.
I hope NASA doesn’t give them the third degree over leaving me here; it was the right thing to do and I’ll stand behind Commander Lewis’ decision on that even if I don’t make it off this stupid red hellhole. Besides, that would be a shitty welcome back to earth and I imagine they’re going to get enough of it from the media, no need for NASA to compound the problem. Maybe Dr. Shields will step in and stop mission control from being too insensitive.
Aside from knowing my crewmates are safe, the best part of them being back home is that they can write me from NASA and I should get the messages faster. During their trip home NASA didn’t send any code to the Hermes to let them talk to me directly, and made them go through headquarters in Huston so that mission control could censor anything they thought might lower moral.
They’ll still be censored, but at least now it’ll be faster. I can’t wait to hear from them.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 380
I present this log to you today with a crisis on my hands: almost all the prepackaged food is gone.
By almost all I mean all but 12 meals. I have 204 sols before the Iris probe lands, which means I have 192 days of eating potatoes and beans.
This is worse than the disco, I am going to die.
Okay not really. But only because I got really really lucky.
I’m set for vitamins and minerals; I still have more than enough supplements and they have me completely covered well past the Ares 4 landing date. The problem then is protein. There are 9 essential amino acids that human bodies cannot synthesize and must come from the diet. The prepackaged rations have all 9 of them, but 12 servings of protein over 204 sols isn’t enough to prevent me from displaying deficiency symptoms.
Here’s where I got lucky: potatoes also have all 9 essential amino acids.
Potatoes are called a ‘complete’ food because they have all the essential amino acids, and I am one lucky bastard that I was able to grow as many as I have. That means I’ll have four days between when the probe lands and when I run out of potatoes. Four days on just beans sounds about as appetizing as 192 days on just potatoes, but it won’t kill me.
Beans are low on the amino acid methionine, but four days without it won’t hurt too much. And if I plan around it - which I fully intend to do - I’ll be able to supplement potatoes (and my precious 12 packaged meals) with beans to stretch the calories without losing any of the nutritional value.
In related news the beans are growing well. I harvested my first crop and reseeded all of it within the past week. I have time for another set of plants to grow up and produce beans before I’ll need it for food, so I might as well try to get as large a crop as I can. The more beans I can grow the more calories I can eat, and the more calories I can eat the farther I can go to retrieve the Iris probe.
I need that probe. It has non-disco, non-Beatles music on it.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 584
Today is the day my food was supposed to run out and I am proud to report that I am sitting in the Hab with a miniature forest full of bean plants and four prepackaged meals.
And no potatoes. If I never see another potato as long as I live it will be too soon.
I didn’t replant my second harvest of beans yet because I might need them to stretch my four remaining meals out until I can get to the Iris probe. Whatever I have left after I retrieve the supplies I’ll replant; I’m sure NASA will be interested in the ongoing data. It’s not a sustainable method of farming, but I think with careful planning and the right combination of plants it could be.
As for the Iris probe, it’s still on schedule to reach Mars in four sols. NASA is fairly sure it will land within a 200 kilometer radius of the Hab, which means I might have to take an extra day or three to reach it. I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll make it; I don’t feel significantly worse than I did when I went out to retrieve Pathfinder, and that was a much longer trip.
Plus I’m about to be eating full rations of real food while listening to real music. Hell yes.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 588
One hundred and fifty kilometers northwest. I guess at least NASA does accurate estimates.
The good news is that 150 kilometers is close enough that I’ll have beans left over once I get back, so I’ll be able to expand my farm a bit. I’ll also be bringing a kit to take soil samples since this is (another) bit of virgin terrain on Mars.
I’ll be taking a piece of Mars’ virginity!
Let me enjoy the joke, okay? It’s the only action I’m going to see for another two and a half years.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 590
I made it within 8 kilometers of the signal beacon on the Iris probe before the rover battery gave out yesterday and I was sorely tempted to walk the rest of the way. But then I remembered the worrywarts at NASA watching me from their eyes in the sky and decided to listen to their advice. Their advice being a very stern “do not strain yourself” which was repeated about twenty times the day before I left, and since I don’t want to be responsible for giving anyone at Huston ulcers I decided to be a good boy and wait.
Plus I’m not actually sure I could walk 8 kilometers in one go. So much for astronauts being in shape.
But that was yesterday and I can say with absolute confidence that I am glad I waited. If I’d walked there’s no way I’d be able to do anything with this probe.
I knew that it was a rush job even if NASA had much more diplomatic phrasing, but I had no idea it was this bad.
From the outside it looks like your average crash landed probe. The sides are more than a little dinged up and there’s a large scratch on the door, probably where it bounced off of a rock formation during landing.
On the inside it’s a mess.
NASA either must have had more trouble during the launch than they let on or the entry and landing on Mars was brutal. Everything is packaged in the loose white material that’s heat resistant and durable and those packages are strapped to the sides of the probe. Or rather, they were strapped to the sides of the probe. Now about half of them are piled up in a giant heap on the floor.
Luckily for me it’s basically impossible to break powdered foodstuff, so I don’t really have to worry about the rough treatment. Plus the way the probe is situated means that pile is right next to the probe entrance, so it’ll save me some effort hauling everything onto the rover.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 590 (2)
I had planned to spend the night here and start driving home to the Hab in the morning, but goddamn does my back hurt. The faster I can get back in a real bed instead of spending another night fidgeting in the rover the better.
Hab, here I come.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 592
Success! I have made it back to the Hab!
I intended to get a full night’s sleep before I start unloading my cargo, but the temptation of a hot meal was too much to pass up. I brought in one of the bundles and sorted through it just long enough to get something that had meat on the label.
I remember when the whole crew was here we made fun of the meals NASA sent with us. Martinez used to joke that they all tasted the same and you couldn’t tell the eggs from the sausage without the food coloring because it all tasted the same. I bet he’d be laughing his ass off at how happy I am to see this processed energy powder again.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 624
Martinez managed to be assigned as the pilot for the Ares 4 mission!
I’ll bet the rest of the crew tried to get reassigned to come pick me up too, but I don’t know any of the other five astronauts coming with Ares 4. I’ll bet they picked Martinez because of the absurd piloting maneuvers they’re going to make him do with the MDV and then taking seven of us up in a MAV designed for six.
Still, that’ll be at least one friendly face when the Ares 4 crew comes for me, and I couldn’t be happier.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 712
It’s times like this that I’m really really really glad I was the crew’s maintenance guy. And by ‘times like this’ I mean ‘the fourth time I’ve had to take apart the water reclaimer.’
NASA gave up telling me not to take it apart and fix it after the second time I had to remove mineral buildup from the tubing, which is probably for the best since I’m going to have to do it at least three more times before I leave. I like to think they’ve reached a sort inner peace about what they can and can’t control and have realized that when something malfunctions I am going to fix it regardless of whether or not they think it’s a good idea.
This time though it’s not just a clogged tube, it’s a cracked tube. This part has already ruptured once and I don’t have another spare lying around so I’ll actually have to fix it. Honestly I’m surprised something like this didn’t happen sooner; the Hab is well past its expiration date and I haven’t really had any problems with my essential life support equipment.
Knock on wood.
I informed NASA of my problem and am waiting for them to get back to me about what to do. If I were still on my own I’d probably just wrap it in duct tape and call it a day, but I’ve got all of NASA working with me on this so there’s no harm in asking for help.
If this is the worst thing piece of equipment malfunction that I have, I’m going to owe the engineers who built this a lifetime of fruit baskets when I get back to earth.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 712 (2)
NASA told me to use duct tape.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 960
I just got the news that NASA will not be sending the MDV to come pick me up.
I’m going to have to drive to Schiaparelli crater on my own.
I sort of expected it, but it’s still pretty disappointing. I am seriously not looking forward to my 3200 kilometer road trip across Mars.
When I asked why they said that it was because they couldn’t modify the MDV to make the flight across Mars and still be within acceptable safety limits, which essentially means they decided not to risk the entire crew just to come pick up little old me. They also informed me that the surface ops they had planned for my time with the Ares 4 mission are still a go and that I needed to arrive at Schiaparelli crater with or before the Ares 4 crew. And as a bonus, the new plan means I’ll be able to bring soil samples with me from a) my farm, b) my trip to Pathfinder, and c) a previously untraveled 3200 kilometer stretch across Mars.
The data they sent me also included a procedure to modify the rovers into a proper convoy to that I can travel with. The plans seem pretty solid and look like something I might have come up with if I’d been planning this. Which I haven’t been, because I thought I’d be hitching a ride on the MDV.
It makes me wonder how long NASA knew the MDV pickup wasn’t going to work and just didn’t tell me.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 966
I’ve gone over the plans several times now, and everything checks out. NASA really spent a lot of time putting this one together and I’m glad I don’t have to do it on my own. I’ll still be making some slight changes - like with the pop out tent they’re expecting me to sleep in - but I can work on those later.
Before I make any lasting changes to my rovers, I’m driving out to get the RTG.
That’s right, NASA caved and admitted that my addition of the RTG was genius.
Not really, but they said it was an acceptable risk. Without the RTG I’ll use up too much energy on heat and put myself at risk for death by power failure if the solar cell efficiency decreases too much. They’re already operating below peak capacity, and it’s only going to get worse before I have to take them to Schiaparelli.
Plus I have another motivation for going to retrieve my favorite radiation hazard; I have come up with a use for the RTG in the Hab.
Since I started growing beans for science rather than sustenance I have significantly more floorspace in the Hab. As a result I can use some of the plastic bag material to make a watertight tub shaped in the non-greenhouse half of the Hab and fill it with water to take a bath.
I haven’t gotten the opportunity to test it out yet because I didn’t have a way to heat the water, but now that I need the RTG around anyway I intend to take a hot bath every day.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 971
First off, no, it did not take me five days to retrieve the RTG. It took me five days to properly soak in my hot water bath.
When I made it back to the rover this morning NASA reminded me that they do not have x-ray vision and cannot see what I am doing inside the Hab. Apparently I gave them a bit of a scare by disappearing for five days after retrieving the RTG. I told them I needed a break from the space paparazzi, which I was informed is not an appropriate response to worrying your bosses.
Too bad for them.
Now that I have had my spa day it’s time to get to work on rover modifications. I’m starting with using the rock drill to put holes through the ceiling of rover one aka the trailer. Neither of the rovers have a large enough internal capacity to hold the oxygenator, water reclaimer, and the atmospheric regulator without some adjustments, and I can’t make the trip to Schiaparelli without them.
Unfortunately the battery in the rock drill will only last long enough for me to drill for 4 minutes before it needs a 41 minute recharge, which means I would be stuck doing this job for 21 days before I finished the holes. NASA and I agree that 21 days drilling holes is excessively long, even if I do have time to spare, so I’ll be using a series of extension cords and resistors to hook the drill up to the Hab power supply.
Now drilling holes should only take me 3-ish days.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 975
Fucking shit this is not good.
There weren’t any new messages from NASA when I finished working on the rover today, which is pretty unusual since they’ve been sending me at least one message a day since I got Pathfinder up and working. So I went to go check on Pathfinder and it’s fried.
And there’s nothing I can do to fix it.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1038
Rover modifications are complete, and way in advance too.
I plan to leave for Schiaparelli crater on sol 1352, which gives me 60 sols to make it to the landing site before the Ares 4 mission touches down on sol 1412. I don’t think it will take me more than 50 sols even with all the stops I’ll need to make to power the oxygenator, but better safe than sorry. I also have an extra 30 sols of leeway if things really go tits up since Ares 4 is a 30 sol mission, but honestly I want to see real people again as soon as I can.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1261
The Ares 4 mission is supposed to launch today.
If the mission aborts or gets delayed too long I’m screwed, and I won’t even find out about it until I get to the MAV. So here’s a toast of real earth instant coffee to the astronauts and ground crew of the Ares 4: good luck and godspeed!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1281
I’ve been leaving Morse code messages for NASA, but it’s officially been 300 sols since I last talked to anyone.
I’m starting to understand why Tom Hanks painted a face on a beach ball and made it into his best friend. Being completely alone is awful.
But unlike Tom Hanks, I know that people are coming to get me. I’ve only got another 131 sols until I meet up with the Ares 4 crew, and compared to how long I’ve been here that’s just a drop in the bucket.
Look at me getting old and cynical. Some day when I’m back on earth I’m going to be that grandparent. “You think going off to college will make you homesick? When I was younger I spent four years away from home with no vacations! On Mars! You hear that? Mars!”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1326
There is a problem.
More specifically, there is a dust storm.
Dust storms on Mars are nothing like dust storms back on earth. Which is a shame because I could use a handy little tornado that picks up my Hab and dumps me in Oz. Even if I did have to fight a wicked witch it couldn’t be worse than living on a planet without a breathable atmosphere. And I’ve made water. Take that, wicked witch of the west.
I digress. Dust storms on Mars are very weak and hardly have any power, so I’m not in any danger of the Hab breaching again. But the dust storms do block out the sun and can last for months at a time which is bad news for me and my solar powered road trip.
Here at the Hab it won’t be a problem. The solar cell array makes significantly more power than I need for my day to day activities; enough that even if the solar cells were only operating at 10% of their normal efficiency my essential life support would still be online.
The rover not so much. I need at least 20% solar power sitting completely still to power the oxygenator and atmospheric regular enough to keep me alive. I’m also running dangerously low on carbon dioxide filters even after the resupply with the Iris probe, so without the regulator I’d be able to go about a week before I had to start bloodletting air.
The biggest problem is that dust storms on Mars can last for a long time. I’m supposed to leave on my 60 sol trip in just 45 sols, which is way sooner than this storm is likely to be over. Under optimal conditions I could delay my departure up to 40 sols and still expect to make it to Schiaparelli crater before the Ares 4 crew leaves, but I have no guarantee the dust storm would have ended by then, leaving me with very sub-optimal conditions.
If I delay leaving I run a high risk of missing the Ares 4 mission. If I leave as scheduled I run a slightly lower risk of getting stuck or delayed and still missing them. If I leave early I run an unknown risk of getting stuck in the storm and dying of power failure.
Now would be a very convenient time to have access to NASA’s weather satellites.
I’ll figure this out in the morning.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1327
I have an idea.
I can use the solar cells and the equipment here at the Hab to test the direction and relative magnitude of the storm. It’ll put me in the rover all day, but that’s not nearly as daunting a prospect as it was before I tricked it out for my cross country off-road trip.
So here’s the plan. I take four empty batteries and four solar cells and drive them out 30 kilometers from the Hab to the east, north, west, and south. Then I let them charge all day. The next day I drive out and pick them up and bring them back to the Hab to check how much power they’ve stored in the battery. Then I use math to figure out the percent efficiency of each of the cells (and the cells here at the Hab) and plot it on a map to figure out the direction of the storm center.
If luck is with me, the storm will be passing by to the north or the west and I won’t have to deal with it much on my trip. If I’m not lucky it’ll be to the southeast and cover the entire distance between me and Schiaparelli crater.
Fingers crossed it’s not to the southeast.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1328
The thickest part of the storm is slightly northeast of me and it’s moving west. Things could be a lot worse.
This means I’m going with option three and leave early. If I head south first it’s possible I could avoid the worst of the storm, which is a definitely something I want to do. It also means that I won’t be on any of the routes NASA and I planned, so navigation will be considerably more difficult.
After I get a route plotted out, I’ll start moving all my essential equipment and the experiments NASA wanted me to bring to the rover and the trailer. I’ll be leaving as soon as I get everything put together.
When I get on the road, I’ll be leaving the Hab behind for good. For a temporary shelter meant to last 30 sols, it’s held up remarkably well. I’ll almost be sad to say goodbye.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1333
First day on the road and I made it nearly 87 kilometers before I had to stop for the day thanks to the Hab being able to charge the rover completely. Thanks Hab!
I want to say the sky looks lighter here than it did when I left the Hab, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1334
It was just wishful thinking.
I suppose the benefit of only being able to travel for an hour and a half is that I’ll have an extra two and a half hours to try to eke out all the energy I can from the solar cells.
If I keep up this pace of 40 kilometers per sol plus one air day every five sols, I should be able to reach Ares 4 by sol 1442 even with my new route. And while I’m not jumping for joy at the thought of mission the entire 30 sol mission, at least I’ll be able to hitch a ride back to earth with them, and that’s the most important part.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1376
I’m going to make it!
I bring you this delightfully good news from the northern rim of the Crommelin crater on the border between the Arabia Terra and the Terra Meridiani. I’m approximately 800 kilometers south of the route I had originally planned, and I’m still over 2000 kilometers away from the Ares 4 landing site.
The solar panels have been fading in their efficiency due to the storm and the general wear and tear of being on Mars for four years, but I managed to get more power from them today than I have since leaving the Hab. Which means I can now say with full confidence that I will get there!
Schiaparelli, here I come!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1411
Schiaparelli, here I am!
I’m taking a minute to glory in the view before I start descending into the crater. From the inside of the rover, of course, because I don’t have the carbon dioxide filters to spare admiring the view from my EVA suit.
The storm delayed me enough that I won’t be beating the Ares 4 crew to the landing site, but I’ll get there within the first few days of their mission. It’s closer than I thought I’d get once I figured out about the storm, and this way I won’t have to help with setting up the Hab.
Enough lollygagging, time to get moving.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1414
I might have shed a few tears today when I got a signal from the Ares 4 MAV. If Martinez put them down as close to the MAV as he did with Ares 3, I’d have been nearly 134 kilometers away from the Hab when I got the first signal.
Now I’m well within range at 62 kilometers. With a little luck and flat ground, I’ll make it to the Hab tomorrow.
Who am I kidding. If the rover doesn’t make it I’m going to pump my suit full of oxygen and walk. I will be arriving at Ares 4 tomorrow, one way or another.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1415
I made it!
Let me repeat that a little louder.
I fucking made it!
Words cannot express how incredibly happy I am to be here.
NASA also had a surprise for me when I got in range of the short distance comms; they’d modified the Ares 4 mission communications to run on the same frequency as Ares 3, so I was able to receive transmissions as soon as I was in range. I figured they’d modified the MAV to do it since I got a signal when I was driving up, but I had no idea they’d switched the personal communicators over too.
I found out when my mic crackled to life and I heard Martinez’s voice came through with a, “Commander Johnson, I think the Martians have developed cloning technology because there’s a strange life form approaching me in a suit with my name on it.”
Fucking Martinez and his bad jokes. I missed him so goddamn much.
I might have cried a little, but I turned off my mic so there’s no proof. There was definitely a lot of hugging though, the awkward kind in EVA suits that doesn’t really work because the helmets are bulky and get in the way.
I’d like to say there were more hugs and happiness when I got inside the Hab, but as soon as I took off my helmet everyone’s face sort of crinkled up and they looked away. At first I thought it must be my stunning good looks but apparently I smell really bad.
That’s what happens when you’re stuck living on Mars for 4 years.
I’ve been promised tomorrow off to recover, but then I have to get cracking on the surface ops NASA had planned for me. After telling me off for laughing at his name, Dr. Payne informed me that I was ‘as healthy as could be expected’ and gave me a pass to start working as soon as I wanted. I think I miss Beck and his mother henning.
But I’m getting a shower with soap and an actual bed, I’ll work on meeting the crew tomorrow.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1416
I decided to take advantage of my NASA sanctioned day off and have Martinez fill me in the things NASA didn’t tell me and on the general happenings since I fried Pathfinder.
Apparently the entire world has been following along with my story from the day NASA found out I was still alive. I have a prime time television slot and everything. (For the record the show is called The Mark Watney Report and not Watch Mark Watney Die, I guess earth just doesn’t appreciate the same sort of gallows humor we have here on Mars.)
I was also right that the entire Ares 3 crew tried their damndest to muscle their way into coming back for me on Ares 4, but NASA only let Martinez back based on rapport with me and his fucking kickass piloting skills. While I would have appreciated the entire crew coming back for me, if I could only have one person I’d probably have picked Martinez. I’m going to owe his wife big time when I get back though; I bet she wasn’t happy with his decision to deprive her of their private life for another year.
The other exciting news is that Beck proposed to Johanssen, which absolutely everyone saw coming. There Hermes isn’t a very large spaceship and Beck wasn’t exactly subtle. What’s more surprising is that Johanssen said yes. They’re waiting to get married until Ares 4 gets back though; they want the whole crew at the wedding.
Speaking of crew, the Ares 4 team is pretty chill. I guess they’d have to be in order to sign up for thirteen months of Martinez’s humor, but I like them better than I was expecting to. They’re never going to be my people like the Ares 3 crew is, but I’m happy enough to be here with them too.
Work starts for me tomorrow, which consists primarily of digging up soil samples. Again. I swear, if I never have to dig a hole, “thirty centimeters deep, Watney, that’s very important!” again I’ll die happy.
Okay, maybe I also want Martinez to stop trying to feed me the beef and potato stew meals NASA sent with the mission. Stop laughing it’s not that funny.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 1442
Today I woke up for the last time on the frozen ball of red rust that spent the last four years trying to kill me. I have to say it looks a lot better when we’re accelerating away from it in the Hermes.
Good fucking riddance.
Watch out Earth, I’m coming home.