The Martian

Page 86

“You have to have someone in the airlock to do that,” Beck said. “And you can't open the inner door if the outer door is locked open.”

“Right,” Lewis said. “I need you to go to the VAL, depressurize, and lock the outer door open. Then you'll need to crawl along the hull to get back to Airlock 2.”

“Copy, Commander,” Beck said. “There are latch points all over the hull. I'll move my tether along, mountain climber style.”

“Get to it,” Lewis said. “And Vogel, you're in a hurry. You have to make the bomb, set it up, get back to Airlock 2, suit up, depressurize it, and open the outer door so Beck can get in.”

“He's taking his suit off right now and can't reply,” Beck reported, “but he heard the order.”

“Watney, how you doing?” Lewis's voice said in his ear.

“Fine so far, Commander,” Watney replied. “You mentioned a plan?”

“Affirmative,” she said. “We're going to vent atmosphere to get thrust.”


“We're going to blow a hole in the VAL.”

“What!?” Watney said. “How!?”

“Vogel's making a bomb.”

“I knew that guy was a mad scientist!” Watney said. “I think we should just go with my Iron Man idea.”

“That's too risky and you know it,” she replied.

“Thing is,” Watney said, “I'm selfish. I want the memorials back home to be just for me. I don't want the rest of you losers in them. I can't let you guys blow the VAL.”

“Oh,” Lewis said. “Well if you won't let us then- wait... wait a minute... I'm looking at my shoulder patch and it turns out I'm the Commander. Sit tight. We're coming to get you.”


Being a chemist, Vogel knew how to make a bomb. In fact, much of his training was  to avoid making them by mistake.

The ship had few flammables aboard, due to the fatal danger of fire. But food, by its very nature, contained flammable hydrocarbons. Lacking time to sit down and do the math, he estimated.

Sugar has 4000 food-calories per kilogram. One food-calorie is 4184 Joules. Sugar in zero-g will float and the grains will separate, maximizing surface area. In a pure oxygen environment, 16.7 million Joules will be released for every kilogram of sugar used, releasing the explosive force of 8 sticks of dynamite. Such is the nature of combustion in pure oxygen.

Vogel measured the sugar carefully. He poured it into the strongest container he could find, a thick glass beaker. The strength of the container was as important as the explosive. A weak container would simply cause a fireball without much concussive force. A strong container, however, would contain the pressure until it reached trus destructive potential.

He quickly drilled a hole in the stopper, then stripped a section of wire. He ran the wire through the hole.

“Sehr gefährlich,” he mumbled as he poured liquid oxygen from the ship's supply in to the container, then quickly screwed the stopper on. In just a few minutes, he had made a rudimentary pipe bomb.

“Sehr, sehr, gefährlich,”

He floated out of the lab and made his way toward the nose of the ship.

Johanssen worked on the lighting panel as Beck floated toward the airlock.

She grabbed his arm. “Be careful crawling along the hull.”

He turned to face her. “Be careful setting up the bomb.”

She kissed his faceplate then looked away, embarrassed. “That was stupid. Don't tell anyone I did that.”

“Don't tell anyone I liked it,” Beck smiled.

He entered the airlock and sealed the inner door. After depressurizing, he opened the outer door and locked it in place. Grabbing a handrail on the hull, he pulled himself out.

Johanssen watched until he was no longer in view, then returned to the lighting panel. She had deactivated it earlier from her workstation. Pulling a length of the cable out and stripping the ends, she fiddled with a roll of electrical tape until Vogel arrived.

He showed up just a minute later, carefully floating down the hall with the bomb held in both hands.

“I have used a single wire for igniting,” he explained. “I did not want to risk two wires for a spark. It would be dangerous to us if we had static while setting up.”

“How do we set it off?” Johanssen said.

“The wire must reach a high temperature. If you short power through it, that will be sufficient.”

“I'll have to pin the breaker,” Johanssen said, “but it'll work.”

She twisted the lighting wires to the bomb's and taped them off.

“Excuse me,” Vogel said. “I have to return to Airlock 2 to let Dr. Beck back in.”

“Mm,” Johanssen said.

Martinez floated back in to the bridge. “I had a few minutes, so I ran through the aerobrake lockdown checklist for the reactor room. Everything's ready for acceleration and the compartment's sealed off.”

“Good thinking,” Lewis said. “Prep the attitude correction.”

“Roger, Commander.” Martinez said, drifting to his station. “It'll take me a sec... I need to do everything backward. The VAL's in front, so the source of thrust will be exactly opposite to our engines. Our software wasn't expecting us to have an engine there. I just need to tell it we plan to thrust toward Mark.”

“Take your time and get it right,” Lewis said. “And don't execute till I give you the word. We're not spinning the ship around while Beck's out on the hull.”

“Roger.” He said. After a moment, he added “Ok, the adjustment's ready to execute.”

“Standby.” Lewis said.

Vogel, back in his suit, depressurized Airlock 2 and opened the outer door.

“Bout time,” Beck said, climbing in.

“Sorry for the delay,” Vogel said. “I was required to make a bomb.”

“This has been kind of a weird day,” Beck said. “Commander, Vogel and I are in position.”

“Copy,” came Lewis's response. “Get up against the fore wall of the airlock. It's going to be about one g for four seconds. Make sure you're both tethered in.”

“Copy,” Beck said as he attached his tether. The two men pressed themselves against the wall.

“Ok, Martinez,” Lewis said, “Point us the right direction.”

“Copy,” said Martinez, executing the attitude adjustment.

Johanssen floated in to the bridge as the adjustment was performed. The room rotated around her as she reached for a handhold. “The bomb's ready, and the breaker's jammed closed,” she said. “I can set it off by remotely turning on Lighting Panel 41.”

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