The Martian

Page 50

“Much more doable,” Venkat confirmed. “With sub-second transmission delays, we can control the probe directly from Earth rather than rely on automated systems. When the time comes to dock, Major Martinez can pilot it remotely from Hermes with no transmission delay at all. And Hermes has a human crew, able to overcome any hiccups that may happen. And we don't have to do a reentry; the supplies don't have to survive a 300m/s impact.”

“So,” Bruce offered, “We can have a high chance of killing one person, or a low chance of killing 6 people. Jeez. How do we even make this decision?”

“We talk about it, then Teddy makes the decision,” Venkat said. “Not sure what else we can do.”

“We could let Lewis-” Mitch began.

“Yeah, other than that,” Venkat interrupted.

“Question,” Annie said. “What am I even here for? This seems like something for you nerds to discuss.”

“You need to be in the loop,” Venkat said. “We're not deciding right now. We'll need to quietly research the details internally. Something might leak, and you need to be ready to dance around questions.”

“How long have we got to make a decision?” Teddy asked.

“The window for starting the maneuver ends in 39 hours.”

“All right,” Teddy said. “Everyone, we discuss this only in person or on the phone; never email. And don't talk to anyone about this, other than the people here. The last thing we need is public opinion pressing for a risky cowboy rescue that may be impossible.”


Hey, man. How ya been?

Now that I'm in a “dire situation,” I don't have to follow social rules anymore. I can be honest with everyone.

Bearing that in mind, I have to say... dude... you need to tell Johanssen how you feel. If you don’t, you’ll regret it forever.

I won't lie: It could end badly. I have no idea what she thinks of you. Or of anything. She's weird.

But wait till the mission’s over. You're on a ship with her for another two months. Also, if you guys got up to anything while the mission was in progress, Lewis would kill you.

Venkat, Mitch, Annie, Bruce, and Teddy met secretly for the second time in as many days. “Project Elrond” had taken on a dark connotation, veiled in secrecy. Many people knew the name, none knew its purpose.

Speculation ran rampant. Some thought it was a completely new program in the works. Others worried it might be a move to cancel Ares 4 and 5. Most thought it was Ares 6 in the works.

“It wasn't an easy decision,” Teddy said to the assembled elite. “But I've decided to go with Iris 2. No Rich Purnell Maneuver.”

Mitch slammed his fist on the table.

“We'll do all we can to make it work,” Bruce said.

“If it's not too much to ask,” Venkat began. “What made up your mind?”

Teddy sighed. “It's a matter of risk,” he said. “Iris 2 only risks one life. Rich Purnell risks all six of them. I know Rich Purnell is more likely to work, but I don't think it's six times more likely.”

“You fucking coward,” Mitch said.

“Mitch...” Venkat said.

“You god damned fucking coward,” Mitch continued, ignoring Venkat. “You just want to cut your losses. You're on damage control. You don't give a shit about Watney's life.”

“Of course I do,” Teddy replied. “And I'm sick of your infantile attitude. You can throw all the tantrums you want, but the rest of us have to be adults. This isn't a TV show; the riskier solution isn't always the best.”

“Space is dangerous,” Mitch snapped. “It's what we do here. If you want to play it safe all the time, go join an insurance company. And by the way, it's not even your life you're risking. The crew can make up their own minds about it.”

“No they can't,” Teddy fired back. “They're too emotionally involved. Clearly, so are you. I'm not gambling five lives to save one. Especially when we might save him without risking them at all.”

“Bullshit!” Mitch shot back as he stood from his chair. “You're just convincing yourself the crash-lander will work so you don't have to take a risk. You're hanging him out to dry, you chicken-shit son of a bitch!”

He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

After a few seconds, Venkat followed behind, saying “I'll make sure he cools off.”

Bruce slumped in his chair. “Sheesh,” he said, nervously. “We're scientists, for Christ's sake. What the hell!?”

Annie quietly gathered her things and placed them in her briefcase.

Teddy looked to her. “Sorry about that, Annie,” he said. “What can I say? Sometimes men let testosterone take over-”

“I was hoping he'd kick your ass,” she interrupted.


“I know you care about the astronauts, but he's right. You are a fucking coward. If you had balls we might be able to save Watney.”


Hi, Commander.

Between training and our trip to Mars, I spent 2 years working with you. I think I know you pretty well. So I’m  guessing you blame yourself for my situation.


You were faced with an impossible scenario and made a tough decision. That’s what Commanders do. And your decision was right. If you’d waited any longer, the MAV would have tipped.

I’m sure you’ve run through all the possible outcomes in your head, so you know there’s nothing you could have done differently (other than “be psychic”).

You probably think losing a crewman is the worst thing  that can happen. Not true. Losing the whole crew is worse. You kept that from happening.

But there's something more important we need to discuss: What is it with you and Disco? I can understand the '70's TV because everyone loves hairy people with huge collars. But Disco?


Vogel checked the position and orientation of Hermes against the projected path. It matched, as usual. In addition to being the mission's chemist, he was also an accomplished astrophysicist. Though his duties as navigator were laughably easy.

The computer knew the course. It knew when to angle the ship so the ion engines would be aimed correctly. And it knew the location of the ship at all times (easily calculated from the position of the sun and Earth, and knowing the exact time from an on-board atomic clock.)

Barring a complete computer failure or other critical event, Vogel’s vast knowledge of astrodynamics would never come in to play.

Completing the check, he ran a diagnostic on the engines. They were functioning at peak. He did all this from his quarters. All on-board computers could control all ship's functions. Gone were the days of physically visiting the engines to check up on them.

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