The Martian

Page 48

After a few seconds, he replied “Yes.”


Your poster outsold the rest of ours combined. You're a hot chick who went to Mars. You're on dorm-room walls all over the world.

Looking like that, why are you such a nerd? And you are, you know. A serious nerd. I had to do some computer shit to get Pathfinder talking to the rover and oh my God. And I had NASA telling me what to do every step of the way.

You should try to be more cool. Wear dark glasses and a leather jacket. Carry a switchblade. Aspire to a level of coolness known only as... “Botanist Cool.”

Did you know Commander Lewis had a chat with us men? If anyone hit on you, we'd be off the mission. I guess after a lifetime of commanding sailors she's got an unfairly jaded view.

Anyway. Try not to think about all those guys wanking to your poster.

“Ok, here we are again,” said Bruce to the assembled heads of JPL. “You've all heard about the Taiyang Shen, so you know our friends in China have given us one more chance. But this time, it's going to be harder.

“Taiyang Shen will be ready to launch in 28 days. If it launches on time, our payload will get to Mars on Sol 624, six weeks after Watney's expected to run out of food. NASA's already working on ways to stretch his supply.

“We made history when we finished Iris in sixty three days. Now we have to do it in twenty eight.”

He looked across the table to the incredulous faces.

“Folks,” he said, “This is going to be the most 'ghetto' spacecraft ever built. There's only one way to finish that fast: No landing system.”

“Sorry, what?” Jack Trevor stammered.

Bruce nodded. “You heard me. No landing system. We'll need guidance for in-flight course adjustments. But once it gets to Mars, it's going to crash.”

“That's crazy!” Jack said. “It'll be going an insane velocity when it hits!”

“Yep,” Bruce said. “With ideal atmospheric drag, it'll impact at 300 meters per second.”

“What good will a pulverized probe do Watney?” Jack asked.

“As long as the food doesn't burn up on the way in, Watney can eat it.” Bruce commented.

Turning to the whiteboard, he began drawing a basic organizational chart. “I want two teams,” He began. 

“Team One will make the outer shell, guidance system, and thrusters. All we need is for it to get to Mars. I want the safest possible system. Aerosol propellant would be best. High-gain radio so we can talk to it, and standard satellite navigational software.

“Team Two will deal with the payload. They need to find a way to contain the food during impact. If protein bars hit sand at 300m/s, they'll make protein-scented sand. We need them edible after impact.

“We can weigh 941kg. At least 300 of that needs to be food. Get crackin'.”

“Uh, Dr. Kapoor?” Rich said, peeking his head in to Venkat's office. “Do you have a minute?”

Venkat gestured him in. “You are...?”

“Rich, Rich Purnell,” he said, shuffling in to the office, his arms wrapped around a sheaf disorganized papers. “From astrodynamics.”

“Nice to meet you,” Venkat said. “What can I do for you, Rich?”

“I came up with something a while ago. Spent a lot of time on it.” He dumped the papers on Venkat's desk. “Lemme find the summary...”

Venkat stared forlornly at his once clean desk, now strewn with scores of printouts.

“Here we go!” Rich said triumphantly, grabbing a paper. Then, his expression saddened. “No, this isn't it.”

“Rich,” Venkat said. “Maybe you should just tell me what this is about?”

Rich looked at the mess of papers and sighed. “But I had such a cool summary...”

“A summary for what?”

“How to save Watney.”

“That's already in progress,” Venkat said. “It's a last-ditch effort, but-”

“The Taiyang Shen?” Rich snorted. “That won't work. You can't make a Mars probe in a month.”

“We're sure as hell going to try,” Venkat said, a note of annoyance in his voice.

“Oh sorry, am I being difficult?” Rich asked. “I'm not good with people. Sometimes I'm difficult. I wish people would just tell me. Anyway, the Taiyang Shen is critical. In fact, my idea won't work without it. But a Mars probe? Pfft. C'mon.”

“All right,” Venkat said. “What's your idea?”

Rich snatched a paper from the desk. “Here it is!” He handed it to Venkat with a child-like smile.

Venkat took the summary and skimmed it. The more he read, the wider his eyes got. “Are you sure about this?”

“Absolutely!” Rich beamed.

“Have you told anyone else?”

“Who would I tell?”

“I don't know, Venkat said. “Friends?”

“I don't have any of those.”

“Ok, keep it under your hat.” Venkat said.

“I don't wear a hat.”

“It's just an expression.”

“Really?” Rich said. “It's a stupid expression.”

“Rich, you're being difficult.”

“Ah. Thanks.”


Being your backup has backfired.

I guess NASA figured botany and chemistry are similar because they both end in “Y”. One way or another, I ended up being your back-up chemist.

Remember when they made you spend a day explaining your experiments to me? It was in the middle of intense mission prep. You may have forgotten.

You started my training by buying me a beer. For breakfast. Germans are awesome.

Anyway, now that I have time to kill, NASA gave me a pile of work. And all your chemistry crap is on the list. So now I have to do boring-ass experiments with test tubes and soil and pH levels and Zzzzzzzzzz....

My life is now a desperate struggle for survival... with  occasional titration.

Frankly, I suspect you're a super villain. You're a chemist, you have a German accent, you had a base on Mars... what more can there be?

“What the fuck is 'Project Elrond'?” Annie asked.

“I had to make something up,” Venkat said.

“So you came up with 'Elrond'?” Annie pressed.

“Because it's a secret meeting?” Mitch guessed. “The email said I couldn't even tell my assistant.”

“I'll explain everything once Teddy arrives.” Venkat said.

“Why does 'Elrond' mean 'secret meeting'?” Annie asked.

“Are we going to make a momentous decision?” Bruge Ng asked.

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