A small chuckle cascaded through the room.
“Yesterday, at our request, the entire SETI network focused on Mars. Just in case Watney was sending a weak radio signal. Turns out he wasn’t, but it shows the level of commitment everyone has toward helping us.
“The public is engaged, and we will do our best to keep everyone informed. I’ve recently learned CNN will be dedicating a half-hour segment every weekday to reporting on just this issue. We will assign several members of our Media Relations team to that program, so the public can get the latest information as fast as possible.
“We have adjusted the orbits of three satellites to get more view time on the Ares 3 site, and hope to catch an image of him outside soon. If we can see him outside, we will be able to draw conclusions on his physical health based on stance and activities.
“The questions are many: How long can he last? How much food does he have? Can Ares 4 rescue him? How will we talk to him? The answers to these questions are not what we want to hear.
“I can’t promise we’ll succeed in rescuing him, but I can promise this: The entire focus of NASA will be to bring Mark Watney home. This will be our overriding and singular obsession until he is either back on Earth, or confirmed dead on Mars.”
“Nice speech,” Venkat said as he entered Teddy’s office.
“Meant every word of it,” Teddy said.
“Oh, I know.”
“What can I do for you, Venk?”
“I’ve got an idea. Well, JPL has an idea. I’m the messenger.”
“I like ideas,” Teddy said, gesturing to a seat.
Venkat sat down.
“We can rescue him with Ares 4. It’s very risky. We ran the idea by the Ares 4 crew. Not only are they willing to do it, but now they’re really pushing hard for it.”
“Naturally,” Teddy said. “Astronauts are inherently insane. And really noble. What’s the idea?”
“Well,” Venkat began, “It’s in the rough stages, but JPL thinks the MDV can be misused to save him.”
“Ares 4 hasn’t even launched yet. Why misuse an MDV. Why not make something better?”
“We don’t have time to make a custom craft. Actually, he can’t even survive till Ares 4 gets there, but that’s a different problem.”
“So tell me about the MDV.”
“JPL strips it down, loses some weight, and adds some fuel tanks. Ares 4’s crew lands at the Ares 3 site, very efficiently. Then, with a full burn, and I mean a full burn, they can lift off again. It can’t get back to orbit, but it can go to the Ares 4 site on a lateral trajectory that’s, well, really scary. Then they have an MAV. This would require a massive design and construction effort, but JPL says they can make it happen.”
“How are they losing weight?” Teddy asked. “Don’t they already have it as light as it can be?”
“By removing safety and emergency equipment.”
“Wonderful,” Teddy said, “So we’d be risking the lives of six more people in a very dangerous landing, re-liftoff, re-landing process.”
“Yup,” Venkat said. “It would be safer to leave the Ares 4 crew in Hermes, and only send the pilot down with the MDV. But that would mean giving up the mission and they’d rather risk death.”
“They’re astronauts,” Teddy said.
“They’re astronauts,” Venkat confirmed.
“Well. That’s a ludicrous idea and I’ll never ok it.”
“We’ll work on it some more,” Venkat said. “Try to make it safer.”
“Do that. Any idea how to keep him alive for four years?”
“Work on that, too.”
“Will do,” Venkat said.
Teddy swiveled his chair and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Night was edging in. “What must it be like?” He pondered. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?”
He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 63
I finished making water some time ago. I’m no longer in danger of blowing myself up. The potatoes are growing nicely. Nothing has conspired to kill me in weeks. And ‘70’s TV keeps me disturbingly more entertained than it should. Things are stable here on Mars.
It’s time to start thinking long term.
Even if I find a way to tell NASA I’m alive, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to save me. I need to be proactive. I need to figure out how to get to Ares 4.
Won’t be easy.
Ares 4 will be landing at the Schiaparelli Crater, 3,200km away. In fact, their MAV is already there. I know because I watched Martinez land it.
It takes 18 months for the MAV to make its fuel, so it’s the first thing NASA sends along. Sending it 48 months early gives it plenty of extra time in case fuel reactions go slower than expected. But much more importantly, it means a precision soft-landing can be done remotely by a pilot in orbit. Direct remote operation from Houston isn’t an option; they’re anywhere from 4 to 20 light-minutes away.
Ares 4’s MAV spent 11 months getting to Mars. Using less fuel and taking a longer route, it got there around the same time as us. As expected, Martinez landed it beautifully. It was one of the last things we did before piling in to our MDV and heading to the surface. Ahh, the good old days, when I had a crew with me.
I’m lucky. 3,200km isn’t that bad. It could have been up to 10,000km away. And because I’m on the flattest part of Mars, the first 650km is nice, smooth terrain (Yay Acidalia Planitia!) but the rest of it is nasty, rugged, crater-pocked hell.
Obviously, I’ll have to use a rover. And guess what? They weren’t designed for massive overland journeys.
This is going to be a research effort, with a bunch of experimentation. I’ll have to become my own little NASA, figuring out how to explore far from the Hab. The good news is I have lots of time to figure it out. Almost 4 years.
Some stuff is obvious. I’ll need to use a rover. It’ll take a long time, so I’ll need to bring supplies. I’ll need to recharge en-route, and rovers don’t have solar cells. I’ll need to steal some from the Hab’s solar farm. During the trip I’ll need to breathe, eat, and drink.