The Martian

Page 55

For me, it was when the drill didn't start.

Only three minutes earlier, it was working fine. I had finished a hole and set the drill aside to cool. Same as always.

But when I tried to get back to work, it didn't work. The power light wouldn't even come on.

I wasn't worried. If all else failed, I had another drill. It would take a few hours to wire it up, but that's hardly a concern.

The power light being off meant there was probably something wrong with the line. A quick glance at the airlock window showed the lights were on in the Hab. So there were no systemic power problems. I checked my new breakers and sure enough, all three had tripped.

I guess the drill pulled a little too much amperage. No big deal. I reset the breakers and got back to work. The drill fired right up, and I was back to making holes.

Doesn't seem like a big deal, right? I certainly didn't think so at the time.

I finished my day at 17:00 after drilling 131 holes. Not as good as yesterday, but I lost some time to the drill malfunction.

I reported my progress.

[17:08] Watney: 131 holes today. 488 total. Minor drill issue; it tripped the breakers. There may be an intermittent short in the drill, probably in the attachment point of the power line. Might need to redo it.

Earth an Mars are just over 18 light-minutes apart now. Usually, NASA responded within 25 minutes. But this time, no reply came. Remember, I do all my communication from Rover 2, which relays everything through Pathfinder. I can't just lounge in the Hab awaiting a reply; I have to stay in the rover until they acknowledge the message.

[17:38] Watney: Have received no reply. Last message sent 30 minutes ago. Please acknowledge.

I waited another 30 minutes. Still no reply. Fear started to take root.

Back when JPL's Nerd Brigade hacked the rover and Pathfinder to be an poor-man's IM client, they sent me a cheat sheet for troubleshooting. I executed the first instruction:

[18:09] Watney: system_command: STATUS

[18:09] SYSTEM: Last message sent 00h31m ago. Last message received 26h17m ago. Last ping reply from probe received 04h24m ago. WARNING: 52 unanswered pings.

Pathfinder was no longer talking to the rover. It had stopped answering pings 4 hours and 24 minutes ago. Some quick math told me that was around 13:30 today.

The same time the drill died.

I tried not to panic. The troubleshooting sheet has a list of things to try if communication is lost. They are (in order):

1. Confirm power still flowing to Pathfinder.

2. Reboot rover.

3. Reboot Pathfinder by disconnecting/reconnecting power.

4. Install rover's comm software on the other rover's computer, try from there.

5. If both rovers fail, problem is likely with Pathfinder. Check connections very closely. Clean Pathfinder of Martian dust.

6. Spell message in Morse Code with rocks, include things attempted. Problem may be recoverable with remote update of Pathfinder.

I only got as far as step 1. I checked Pathfinder's connections and the negative lead was no longer attached.

I was elated! What a relief! With a smile on my face, I fetched my electronics kit and prepared to reattach the lead. I pulled it out of the probe to give it a good cleaning (as best I can with the gloves of my space suit) and noticed something strange. The insulation had melted.

I pondered this development. Melted insulation usually means a short. More current than the wire could handle had passed through. But the bare portion of the wire wasn't black or even singed, and the positive lead's insulation wasn't melted at all.

Then, one by one, the horrible realities of Mars came in to play. The wire wouldn't be burnt or singed. That's a result of oxidization. And there's no oxygen in the air. There likely was a short after all. But with the positive lead being unaffected, the power must have come from somewhere else...

And the drill's breaker tripped around the same time...

Oh... shit...

The internal electronics for Pathfinder included a ground lead to the hull. This way it could not build up a static charge in Martian weather conditions (no water and frequent sandblasting can make impressive static charge).

The hull sat on Panel A, one of four sides of the tetrahedron which brought Pathfinder the Mars. The other 3 sides are still in Ares Vallis where I left them.

Between Panel A and the workbench were the Mylar balloons Pathfinder had used to tumble-land. I had shredded many of them to transport it. Still, a lot of material remained; enough to reach around Panel A and be in contact with the hull. I should mention that Mylar is conductive.

At 13:30, I leaned the drill against the workbench. The drill's cowling was off to make room for the power line. The workbench is metal. If the drill leaned against the workbench just right, it could make a metal-to-metal connection.

And that's exactly what happened.

Power traveled from the drill line's positive, through the workbench, through the Mylar, through Pathfinder's hull, through a bunch of extremely sensitive and irreplaceable electronics, and out the negative lead of Pathfinder's power line.

Pathfinder operates on 50 milliamps. It got nine thousand milliamps, which plowed through the delicate electronics, frying everything along the way. The breakers tripped, but it was too late.

Pathfinder's dead. I've lost the ability to contact Earth.

I'm on my own.

Chapter 18



Just once I'd like something to go to plan, ya know?

Mars keeps trying to kill me.

Well... Mars didn't electrocute Pathfinder. So I'll amend that:

Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.

Ok, enough self-pity. I'm not doomed. Things will be just be harder than planned. I have all I need to survive. And Hermes is still on the way.

I spelled out a Morse Code message using rocks. “PATHFINDER FRIED WITH 9AMPS. DEAD FOREVER. PLAN UNCHANGED. WILL GET TO MAV.”

If I can get to the Ares-4 MAV, I'll be set. But having lost contact with NASA, I have to design my own Great Martian Winnebago.

For the time being, I've stopped all work on it. I don't want to continue without a plan. I'm sure NASA had all kinds of ideas, but now I have to come up with one on my own.

As I mentioned, the Big Three (Atmospheric Regulator, Oxygenator, and Water Reclaimer) are critical components. I worked around them for my trip to Pathfinder. I used CO2 filters to regulate the atmosphere, and brought enough oxygen and water for the whole trip. That won't work this time. I need the Big Three.

Problem is, they soak up a lot of power, and have to run all day long. The rover batteries have 18kwh of juice. The Oxygenator alone uses 44.1kwh per sol. See my problem?

You know what? “Kilowatt-hours per sol” is a pain in the ass to say. I'm gonna invent a new scientific unit name. One kilowatt-hour per sol is... it can be anything... um... I suck at this... oh fuck it. I'll call it a “pirate-ninja.”

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