But the slow speed ensured that I wouldn't fall in to anymore powder pits along the way. And of course I didn't encounter any. I could have driven full speed and had no problems. But better safe than sorry.
The good news is I'm off the Ramp. I camped out as soon as the terrain flattened out. I've already overdone my driving time for the day. I could go further, I still have 15% battery power or so, but I want to get as much daylight on my solar cells as I can.
I'm in the Schiaparelli Basin at last! Far from the crater wall, too. I get a full day of sunlight every day from now on.
I decided it was time for a very special occasion. I ate the meal pack labeled “Survived Something That Should Have Killed Me.” Oh my god, I forgot how good real food tastes.
With luck, I'll get to eat “Arrival” in a few sols.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 503
I didn't get as much recharge I usually would yesterday. Because of my extended driving time, I only recharged to 70% before night fell. So today's driving was abbreviated.
I got 63km before I had to camp out again. But I don't even mind. Because I'm only 148km from the MAV. That means I'll get there the sol after tomorrow.
Holy hell, I'm really going to make it!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 504
Holy shit this is awesome! Holy shit! Holy shit!
Ok calm. Calm.
I made 90km today. By my estimate, I'm 50km from the MAV. I should get there some time tomorrow. I'm excited about that, but here's what I'm really stoked about: I caught a blip from the MAV!
NASA has the MAV broadcasting the Ares 3 Hab homing signal. Why wouldn't they? It makes perfect sense. Unlike my worn out shit, the MAV is a sleek, perfectly functional machine, ready to do what it's told. And they have it pretending to be the Ares 3 Hab so my rover will see the signal and tell me where it is.
That is an exceptionally good idea! I won't have to wander around looking for the thing. I'm going straight to it.
I only caught a blip. I'll get more as I get closer. It has three redundant methods of communicating with Earth, but they're extremely directed and are designed for line-of-sight communication. It's strange to think that a sand dune will stop me from hearing what the MAV has to say, but it can talk to Earth no problem. Well, there aren't any sand dunes between it and Earth when they talk.
Somehow they messed with things to make a radial signal, however weak it may be. And I heard it!
My message for the day was “GOT BEACON SIGNAL.” If I'd had enough rocks, I would have added “AWESOME FUCKING IDEA!!!” But it's a really sandy area.
The MAV waited in southwestern Schiaparelli. It stood an impressive 27 meters tall, its conical body gleaming in the midday sun.
The rover crested a nearby dune with the trailer in tow. It slowed for a few moments, then continued toward the ship at top speed. It came to a stop 20 meters away.
There it remained for ten minutes while the astronaut inside suited up.
He stumbled excitedly out of the airlock, falling to the ground then scrambling to his feet. Beholding the MAV, he gestured to it with both arms, as if in disbelief.
He leaped in to the air several times, arms held high with fists clenched. Then he knelt on one knee and fist-pumped repeatedly.
Running to the spacecraft, he hugged Landing Strut B. After a few moments, he broke off the embrace to perform another round of leaping celebrations.
Now fatigued, the astronaut stood with arms akimbo, looking up at the sleek lines of the engineering marvel before him.
Climbing the ladder on the landing stage, he reached the ascent stage and entered the airlock. He sealed the door behind him.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 505
I finally made it! I'm at the MAV!
Well, right this second, I'm back in the rover. I did go in to the MAV to do a systems check and boot-up. I had to keep my EVA suit on the whole time because there's no life support in there just yet.
It's going through a self check right now, and I'm feeding it oxygen and nitrogen with hoses from the rover. This is all part of the MAV's design. It doesn't bring air along. Why would it? That's a needless weight when you'll have a Hab full of air right next door.
I'm guessing folks at NASA are popping champagne right now and sending me lots of messages. I'll read them in a bit. First things first: Get the MAV some life support. Then I'll be able to work comfortably inside.
And then I'll have a boring conversation with NASA. The content may be interesting, but the 14-minute transmission time between here and Earth will be a bit dull.
[13:07]HOUSTON: Congratulations from all of us here at Mission Control! Well done! What's your status?
[13:21]MAV: Thanks! No health or physical problems. The rover and trailer are getting pretty worn out, but still functional. Oxygenator and Regulator both working fine. I didn't bring the Water Reclaimer. Just brought the water. Plenty of potatoes left. I'm good to last till 549.
[13:36]HOUSTON: Glad to hear it. Hermes is still on track for a Sol 549 flyby. As you know, the MAV will need to lose some weight to make the intercept. We're going to get you those procedures within the day. How much water do you have? What did you do with urine?
[13:50]MAV: I have 550L of remaining water. I've been dumping urine outside along the way.
[14:05]HOUSTON: Preserve all water. Don't do any more urine dumps. Store it somewhere. Turn the rover's radio on and leave it on. We can contact it through MAV.
“So is it ready?” Venkat asked.
“Yes, it's ready.” Bruce said. “But you're not going to like it.”
“Bear in mind,” Bruce said, producing a booklet from his briefcase, “This is the end result of thousands of hours of work, testing, and lateral thinking by all the best guys at JPL.”
“I'm sure it was hard to trim down a ship that's already designed to be as light as possible,” Venkat said.
Bruce slid the booklet across the desk to Venkat. “The problem is the intercept velocity. The MAV is designed to get to Low Mars Orbit, which is 4.1kps. But the Hermes flyby will be 5.8kps.”
Venkat flipped through the pages. “Care to summarize?”
“Firstly, we're going to add fuel. The MAV makes its own fuel from the Martian atmosphere, but it's limited by how much Hydrogen it has. It brought enough to make 19,397kg of fuel, as it was designed to do. If we can give it more hydrogen, it can make more.”
“How much more?”
“For every kilogram of hydrogen, it can make 13 kilograms of fuel. Watney has 550 liters of water. We'll have him electrolyze it to get 60kg of Hydrogen.” Bruce reached over the desk and flipped a few pages, pointing to a diagram. “The fuel plant can make 780kg of fuel from that.”