“Once he runs out of food, how long until he starves to death?” Teddy asked.
“Presuming an ample water supply, he might last three weeks. Shorter than a typical hunger strike but remember he'll be malnourished and thin to begin with.”
“Remember,” Venkat interjected, “Iris is a tumbler; he might have to drive a few days to get it. And I'm guessing it's hard to control a rover when you're literally starving to death.”
“He's right,” Dr. Keller confirmed. “Within 4 days of running out of food, he'll barely be able to stand up, let alone control a rover. Plus, his mental faculties will rapidly decline. He'd have a hard time even staying awake.”
“So the landing date's firm,” Teddy said. “Maurice, can you get it on the booster in less than 13 days?”
Maurice pondered. “Well... It only takes 3 days to actually mount it. The following 10 are for testing and inspections.”
“How much can you reduce those?”
“With enough overtime, I could get the mounting down to 2 days. That includes transport from Pasadena to Cape Canaveral. But the inspections can't be shortened. They're time-based. We do checks and re-checks with set intervals between them to see if something deforms or warps. If you shorten the intervals, you invalidate the inspections.”
“How often do those inspections reveal a problem?” Teddy asked.
A silence fell over the room.
“Uh,” Maurice stammered. “Are you suggesting we don't do the inspections?”
“No,” said Teddy. “Right now I'm asking how often they reveal a problem.”
“About one in twenty launches.”
“And how often is the problem they reveal a would-be mission-failure?”
“I'm, uh, not sure. Maybe half the time?”
“So if we skip the inspections and testing, we have a 1 in 40 chance of mission failure?” Teddy asked.
“That's 2.5%,” Venkat said, steeping in. “Normally, that's grounds for a countdown halt. We can't take a chance like that.”
“ 'Normally' was a long time ago,” Teddy said calmly. “97.5% is better than zero. Can anyone think of a safer way to get more time?”
He looked around the table. Blank faces stared back.
“All right, then. Speeding up the mounting process and skipping inspections buys us 11 days. If Bruce can pull a rabbit out of a hat and get done sooner, Maurice can do some inspections.”
“What about the other 4 days?” Venkat asked, still frowning at skipping inspections.
“I'm sure Watney can stretch the food to last 4 extra days, malnutrition notwithstanding,” Teddy said, looking to Dr. Keller.
“I-” Keller started. “I can't recommend-”
“Folks,” Teddy interrupted. “I understand your positions. We have procedures. Skipping those procedures means risk. Risk means trouble for your department. But now isn't the time to cover our asses. We have to take risks or Mark Watney dies.”
Turning to Keller, he said “Make the food last another 4 days.”
Keller nodded silently.
“Rich,” said Mike.
Rich Purnell concentrated on his computer screen. His cubicle was a landfill of printouts, charts, and reference books. Empty coffee cups rested on every surface; take-out packaging littered the ground.
“Rich,” Mike said, more forcefully.
Rich looked up. “Yeah?”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Just a little side project. Something I wanted to check up on.”
“Well... that's fine, I guess,” Mike said, “but you need to do your assigned work first. I asked for those satellite adjustments two weeks ago and you still haven't done them.”
“I need some supercomputer time.” Rich said.
“You need supercomputer time to calculate routine satellite adjustments?”
“No, it's for this other thing I'm working on,” Rich said.
“Rich, seriously. You have to do your job.”
Rich thought for a moment. “Would now be a good time for a vacation?” He asked.
Mike sighed. “You know what, Rich? I think now would be an ideal time for you to take a vacation.”
“Great!” Rich smiled. “I'll start right now.”
“Sure,” Mike said. “Go on home. Get some rest.”
“Oh, I'm not going home,” said Rich, returning to his calculations.
Mike rubbed his eyes. “Ok, whatever. About those satellite orbits...?”
“I'm on vacation,” Rich said without looking up.
Mike shrugged and walked away.
[08:01]WATNEY: How's my care package coming along?
[08:16]JPL: A little behind schedule, but we'll get it done. In the mean time, we want you to get back to work. We're satisfied the Hab's is in good condition. Maintenance only takes you 12 hours per week. We're going to pack the rest of your time with research and experiments.
[08:31]WATNEY: Great! I'm sick of sitting on my ass. I'm going to be here for years. You may as well make use of me.
[08:47]JPL: That's what we're thinking. We'll get you a schedule as soon as the science team puts it together. It'll be mostly of EVAs, geological samples, soil tests, and weekly self-administered medical tests. Honestly, this is the best “bonus Mars time” we've had since the Opportunity lander.
[09:02]WATNEY: Opportunity never went back to Earth.
[09:17]JPL: Sorry. Bad analogy.
The Whiteroom was abuzz with activity as technicians sealed Iris in to the specially-designed shipping container.
The other two shifts watched from the observation deck. They had rarely seen their own homes in two months; a makeshift bunkroom had been set up in the cafeteria. Fully a third of them would normally be asleep at this hour, but they did not want to miss this moment.
The shift leader tightened the final bolt. As he retracted the wrench, the engineers broke in to applause. Many of them were in tears.
After 62 days of grueling work, Iris was complete.
“The launch preparations are complete,” Annie Montrose said to the press room. “Iris is ready to go. The scheduled launch is 9:14am.
“Once launched, it will stay in orbit for at least three hours. During that time, mission control will gather exact telemetry in preparation for the trans-Mars injection burn. Once that's complete the mission will be handed off to the Ares-3 presupply team, who will monitor its progress over the following months. It will take 414 days to reach Mars. ”
“About the payload,” a reporter asked, “I hear there's more than just food?”