The Martian

Page 4

So I have two problems: not enough dirt, and nothing edible to plant in it.

But I’m a botanist, damn it. I should be able to find a way to make this happen. If I don’t, I’ll be a really hungry botanist in about a year.


I wonder how the Cubs are doing.


I got my undergrad degree at the University of Chicago. Half the people who studied botany were hippies who thought they could return to some natural world system. Somehow feeding 7 billion people through pure gathering. They spent most of their time working out better ways to grow pot. I didn’t like them. I’ve always been in it for the science, not for any New World Order bullshit.

When they made compost heaps and tried to conserve every little ounce of living matter, I laughed at them. “Look at the silly hippies!” I would scoff. “Look at their pathetic attempts to simulate a complex global ecosystem in their back yard.”

Of course now I’m doing exactly that. I’m saving every scrap of biomatter I can find. Every time I finish a meal, the leftovers go to the compost bucket. As for other biological material…

The Hab has sophisticated toilets. Shit is usually vaccum-dried, then accumulated in sealed bags to be discarded on the surface.

Not any more!

In fact, I even did an EVA to recover the previous bags of shit from before the crew left. Being completely desiccated, this particular shit didn’t have bacteria in it anymore, but it still had complex proteins and would serve as useful manure. Adding it to water and active bacteria would quickly get it inundated, replacing any population killed by the Toilet Of Doom.

I found a big container and filled it with a bit of water, then added the dried shit. Since then, I’ve added my own shit to it as well. The worse it smells, the more successful things are going. That’s the bacteria at work!

Once I get some Martian soil in here, I can mix in the shit and spread it out. Then I can sprinkle the Earth soil on top. You might not think that would be an important step, but it is. There are dozens of species of bacteria living in Earth soil, and they're critical to plant growth. They'll spread out and breed like... well, like a bacterial infection..

Within a week, the Martian soil will be ready for plants to germinate in. But I won’t plant yet. I’ll spread it out over a doubled area. It’ll “infect” the new Martian soil. After another week, I’ll double it again. And so on. Of course, all the while, I’ll be adding all new manure to the effort.

My asshole is doing as much to keep me alive as my brain.

This isn’t a new concept I just came up with. People have speculated on how to make crop soil out of Martian dirt for decades. I’ll just be putting it to the test for the first time.

I searched through the food supplies and found all sorts of things that I can plant. Peas, for instance. Plenty of beans, too. I also found several potatoes. If *any* of them can still germinate after their ordeal, that’ll be great. With a nearly infinite supply of vitamins, all I need are calories of any kind to survive.

The total floor-space of the Hab is about 92 square meters. I plan to dedicate all of it to this endeavor. I don’t mind walking on dirt. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m going to need to cover the entire floor to a depth of 10 cm. That means I’ll have to transport 9.2 cubic meters of Martian soil in to the Hab. I can get maybe 1/10th of a cubic meter in through the airlock at a time, and it’ll be backbreaking work to collect it. But in the end, if everything goes to plan, I’ll have 92 square meters of croppable soil.

Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!


Ugh! This is backbreaking work!

I spent 12 hours today on EVAs to bring dirt in to the Hab. I only managed to cover a small corner of the base, maybe 5 square meters. At this rate it’ll take me weeks to get all the soil in. But hey, time is one thing I’ve got.

The first few EVAs were pretty inefficient; me filling small containers and bringing them in through the airlock. Then I got wise and just put one big container in the airlock itself and filled that with small containers till it was full. That sped things up a lot because the airlock takes about 10 minutes to get through.

I ache all over. And the shovels I have are made for taking samples, not heavy digging. My back is killing me. I foraged in the medical supplies and found some Vicodin. I took it about 10 minutes ago. Should be kicking in soon. 

Anyway, it’s nice to see progress. Time to start getting the bacteria to work on these minerals. After lunch. No 3/4 ration today. I’ve earned a full meal.


One complication I hadn’t though of: Water.

Turns out being on the surface of Mars for a few million years eliminates all the water in the soil. My master’s degree in botany makes me pretty sure plants need wet dirt to grow in. Not to mention the bacteria that has to live in it first.

Fortunately, I have water. But not as much as I want. To be viable, soil needs 40 liters of water per cubic meter. My overall plan calls for 9.2 cubic meters of soil. So I’ll eventually need 368 liters of water to feed it.

The Hab has an excellent Water Reclaimer. Best technology available on Earth. So NASA figured “why send a lot of water up there? Just send enough for an emergency.” Humans need 3 liters of water per day to be comfortable. They gave us 50 liters each. There are 300 liters total in the Hab.

Looks like I won’t be able to cover the whole surface of the Hab with fertile soil. I’m willing to dedicate all but an emergency 50 liters to the cause. That means I can feed 62.5 square meters at a depth of 10cm. About 2/3 of the Hab’s floor. It’ll have to do. Anyway, I’ve only got a paltry 5 square meters covered at the moment.

After that, things got disgusting. I spent three hours spreading shit on Martian sand. I didn’t have to do it with my hands, at least.

I spread the sand out in a corner of the Hab, about 10cm thick. I wadded up a few blankets and uniforms from my departed crewmates to serve as one edge of a planter box (with the curved walls of the Hab being the rest of the perimeter). Then I sacrificed 20 liters of precious water to the dirt gods.

5 square meters was about right for the amount of manure I had handy. I dumped my big container o’ shit on to the soil and nearly puked from the smell.

That smell’s going to stick around for a while, too. It’s not like I can open a window. Still, you get used to it. I mixed this soil and shit together with a shovel, and spread it out evenly again. Then I sprinkled the Earth soil on top. Get to work, bacteria. I’m counting on you.

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