So yeah, it'll be annoying, but all it costs me is time. And I'm actually doing well on that front. I have 43 more sols before Hermes flies by. And looking at the procedure NASA has in mind for the modifications, I can take advantage of the MAV itself as a workspace.
The lunatics at NASA have me doing all kinds of rape to the MAV, but I don't have to open the hull till the end. So the first thing I'll do is clear out a bunch of clutter, like chairs and control panels and the like. Once they're out, I'll have a lot of room in there to work.
But I didn't do anything to the soon-to-be-mutilated MAV today. Today was all about system checks. Now that I'm back in contact with NASA, I have to go back to being all “safety first.” Strangely, NASA doesn't have total faith in my kludged-together rover or my method of piling everything into the trailer. They had me do a full systems check on every single component.
Everything's still working fine, though it's wearing down. The Regulator and Oxygenator are less than peak efficiency (to say the least) and the trailer leaks some air every day. Not enough to cause problems, but it's not a perfect seal. NASA's pretty uncomfortable with it, but we don't have any other options.
Then, they had me run a full diagnostic on the MAV. That's in much better shape. Everything's sleek and pristine and perfectly functional. I'd almost forgotten what new hardware even looks like.
Pity I'm going to tear it apart.
“You killed Watney,” Lewis said.
“Yeah,” Martinez said, scowling at his monitor. The words “Collision with Terrain” blinked accusingly.
“I pulled a nasty trick on him,” Johanssen said. “I gave him a malfunctioning altitude readout and made engine 3 cut out too early. It's a deadly combination.”
“Shouldn't have been a mission failure,” Martinez said. “I should have noticed the readout was wrong. It was way off.”
“Don't sweat it,” Lewis said. “That's why we drill. You've still got three weeks to get it right.”
“Will do,” Martinez said.
“We only got a week of remote launch training,” Johanssen said. “It was only supposed to happen if we scrubbed before landing. We'd launch the MAV to have it act as a satellite. It was a cut-your-losses scenario.”
“It's mission-critical now,” Lewis said. “So get it right.”
“Aye, Commander.” Martinez said.
“Resetting the Sim,” Johanssen said. “Anything specific you want to try?”
“Surprise me,” Martinez said.
Leaving the control room, Lewis made her way to the reactor. Climbing “up” the ladder toward the center of the ship, the centripetal force on her diminished to nearly zero as she reached the core. Vogel looked up from a computer console. “Commander?”
“How are the engines?” She asked, grabbing a wall-mounted handle to stay attached to the slowly turning room.
“All working within tolerance,” Vogel said. “I am now doing a diagnostic on the reactor. I am thinking that Johanssen is busy with the launching training. So perhaps I do this diagnostic for her.”
“Good idea,” Lewis said. “And how's our course?”
“All is well,” Vogel said. “No adjustments necessary. We are still on track to planned trajectory within 4 meters.”
“Keep me posted if anything changes.”
Floating to the other side of the core, Lewis took the other ladder out, again gaining gravity as she went “down”. She made her way to the Airlock 2 ready room.
Beck held a coil of metal wire in one hand and a pair of work gloves in the other. “Heya, Commander. What's up?”
“I'd like to know your plan for recovering Mark.”
“Easy enough if the intercept is good,” Beck said. “I just finished attaching all the tethers we have into one long line. It's 214 meters long. I'll have the MMU pack on, so moving around will be easy. I can get going up to around 10 meters per second safely. Any more and I risk breaking the tether if I can't stop in time.”
“How fast a relative velocity can you handle, you think?”
“You mean once I get to Mark? I can grab the MAV easily at 5 meters per second. 10 meters per second is kind of like jumping on to a moving train. Anything more than that and I might miss.”
“So, including the MMU safe speed, we need to get within 20 meters per second of his velocity.”
“And the intercept has to be within 214 meters,” Beck said. “Pretty narrow margin of error.”
“We've got a lot of leeway,” Lewis said. “The launch will be 52 minutes before the intercept and it takes 12 minutes. As soon as Mark's S2 engine cuts out we'll know our intercept point and velocity. If we don't like it, we'll have 40 minutes to correct. Our engine's 2 millimeters per second may not seem like much, but in 40 minutes it can move us up to 5.7 kilometers.”
“Good,” Beck said. “And 214 meters isn't a hard limit, per se.”
“Yes it is,” Lewis corrected.
“Nah,” Beck said. “I know I'm not supposed to go untethered, but without my leash I could get way out there-”
“Not an option.” Lewis said.
“But we could double or even triple our safe intercept range-”
“We're done talking about this.” Lewis said sternly.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 526
There aren't many people who can say they've vandalized a three billion dollar spacecraft. But I'm one of them.
I've been pulling critical hardware out of the MAV left and right. It's nice to know that my launch to orbit won't have any pesky back-up systems weighing me down.
First thing I did was remove the small stuff. Then came the things I could disassemble. Like the crew seats, several of the back-up systems, and the control panels.
I'm not improvising anything. I'm following a script sent by NASA, which was set up to make things as easy as possible. Sometimes I miss the days when I made all the decisions myself. Then I shake it off and remember I'm infinitely better with a bunch of geniuses deciding what I do than making shit up as I go along.
Periodically, I suit up, crawl into the airlock with as much junk as I can fit, and dump it outside. The area around the MAV looks like the set of Sanford and Son.
I learned about Sanford and Son from Lewis's collection. Seriously, that woman needs to see someone about her 70's problem.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 529
I'm turning my pee in to rocket fuel. It's easier than you'd think.