And just as I’d suspected, there was a clogged tube. The Water Reclaimer was designed to purify urine and strain humidity out of the air (you exhale almost as much water as you piss). I’ve mixed my water with soil, making it mineral water. The minerals built up in the Water Reclaimer.
I cleaned out the tubing and put it all back together. It completely solved the problem. I’ll have to do it again some day, but not for 100 sols or so. No big deal.
I told NASA what I did. Our (paraphrased) conversation was:
Me: “I took it apart, found the problem, and fixed it.”
AL102 shuddered in the brutal storm. Withstanding forces and pressure far greater than its design, it rippled violently against the airlock seal-strip. Other sections of canvas undulated along their seal-strips together, acting as a single sheet, but AL102 had no such luxury. The airlock barely moved, leaving AL102 to take the full force of the tempest.
The layers of plastic, constantly bending, heated the resin from pure friction. The new, more yielding environment allowed the carbon fibers to separate.
Not much. Only 4 millimeters. But the carbon fibers, usually 500 microns apart, now had a gap eight times that width in their midst.
After the storm abated, the lone remaining astronaut performed a full inspection of the Hab. But he didn’t notice anything amiss. The weak part of canvas was concealed by a seal-strip.
Designed for a mission of 31 sols, AL102 continued well past its planned expiration. Sol after sol went by, with the lone astronaut traveling in and out of the Hab almost daily. Airlock 1 was closest to the rover charging station, so the astronaut preferred it to the other two.
When pressurized, the airlock expanded slightly; when depressurized, it shrunk. Every time the astronaut used the airlock, the strain on AL102 relaxed, then tightened anew.
Pulling, stressing, weakening, stretching...
LOG ENTRY: SOL 119
I woke up last night to the Hab shaking.
The medium-grade sandstorm ended as suddenly as it began. It was only a category 3 storm with 50kph winds. Nothing to worry about. Still, it’s bit disconcerting to hear howling winds when you’re used to utter silence.
I’m worried about Pathfinder. If the sandstorm damaged it, I’ll have lost my connection to NASA. Logically, I shouldn’t worry. The thing’s been on the surface for decades. A little gale won’t do any harm.
When I head outside, I’ll confirm Pathfinder’s still functional before moving on to the sweaty, annoying work of the day.
Yes, with each sandstorm comes the inevitable Cleaning of the Solar Cells. A time honored tradition by hearty Martians such as myself. It reminds me of growing up in Chicago and having to shovel snow. I’ll give my dad credit; he never claimed it was to build character or teach me the value of hard work.
“Snow-blowers are expensive,” he used to say. “You’re free.”
Once, I tried to appeal to my mom. “Don’t be such a wuss,” She suggested.
In other news, It’s seven sols till the harvest, and I still haven’t prepared. For starters, I need to make a hoe. Also, I need to make an outdoor shed for the potatoes. I can’t just pile them up outside. The next major storm would cause The Great Martian Potato Migration.
Anyway, all that will have to wait. I’ve got a full day today. After cleaning the solar cells, I have to check the whole solar array make sure the storm didn’t hurt it. Then I’ll need to do the same for the rover.
I better get started.
Airlock 1 slowly depressurized to 1/90th of an atmosphere. Watney, donning an EVA suit, waited for it to complete. He had done it literally hundreds of times. Any apprehension he may have had on Sol 1 was long gone. Now it was merely a boring chore before exiting to the surface.
As the depressurization continued, the Hab’s atmosphere compressed the airlock and AL102 stretched for the last time.
On Sol 119, the Hab breached.
The initial tear was less than 1 millimeter. The perpendicular carbon fibers should have prevented the rip from growing. But countless abuses had stretched the vertical fibers apart and weakened the horizontal ones beyond use.
The full force of the Hab’s atmosphere rushed through the breach. Within a tenth of a second, the rip was a meter long, running parallel to the seal-strip. It propagated all the way around until it met its starting point. The airlock was no longer attached to the Hab.
The unopposed pressure violently launched the airlock like a cannonball as the Hab exploded. Inside, the surprised Watney slammed against the airlock’s back door with the force of the expulsion.
The airlock flew 40 meters before hitting the ground. Watney, barely recovered from the earlier shock, now endured another as he hit the front door, face first.
His faceplate took the brunt of the blow, the safety glass shattering into hundreds of small cubes. His head slammed against the inside of the helmet, knocking him senseless.
The airlock tumbled across the surface for a further 15 meters. The heavy padding of Watney’s suit saved him from many broken bones. He tried to make sense of the situation, but was barely conscious.
Finally done tumbling, the airlock rested on its side amid a cloud of dust.
Watney, on his back, stared blankly upward through the hole in his shattered faceplate. A gash in his forehead trickled blood down his face.
Regaining some of his wits, he got his bearings. Turning his head to the side, he looked through the back door’s window. The collapsed Hab rippled in the distance, a junkyard of debris strewn across the landscape in front of it.
Then, a hissing sound reached his ears. Listening carefully, he realized it was not coming from his suit. Somewhere in the phone-booth sized airlock, a small breach was letting air escape.
He listened intently to the hiss. Then he touched his broken faceplate. Then he looked out the window again.
“You fucking kidding me?” He said.
AUDIO LOG: SOL 119
I’ve been laying here for a little while, trying to figure out what happened. I should be more upset, but I took a pretty good whack to the head. It had a calming effect.
I’m in the airlock. I can see the Hab out the window; it’s a good 50 meters away. Normally, the airlock is attached to the Hab. So that’s a problem.
The airlock’s on its side, and I can hear a steady hiss. So either it’s leaking or there are snakes in here. Either way, I’m in trouble.
Also, during the… whatever the fuck happened… I got bounced around like a pinball and smashed my faceplate. Air is notoriously uncooperative when it comes to giant, gaping holes in your EVA suit.