Page 2 of The Martian

Then, the copious blood from my wound trickled down toward the hole. As the blood reached the site of the breach, the water in it quickly evaporated from the airflow and low pressure, leaving only a gunky residue behind. More blood came in behind it and was also reduced to gunk. Eventually, the blood sealed the gaps around the hole and reduced the leak to something the suit could counteract.

The suit did its job admirably. Seeing the drop in pressure, it constantly flooded itself with air from my nitrogen tank to equalize. Once the leak became manageable, it only had to trickle new air in slowly the relieve the air lost.

After a while, the CO2 (carbon dioxide) absorbers in the suit were expended.  That’s really the limiting factor to life support. Not the amount of oxygen you bring with you, but the amount of CO2 you can remove. In the Hab, we had the Oxygenator, a large piece of equipment that could break CO2 apart and give the oxygen back. But the spacesuits had to be portable, so they used a simple chemical absorption process with expendable filters. I’d been asleep long enough that my filters were useless.

The suit saw this problem and moved in to an emergency mode the engineers call “bloodletting”. Having no way to separate out the CO2, the suit deliberately vented air to the Martian atmosphere, then back-filled with nitrogen. Between the breach and the bloodletting, it quickly ran out of nitrogen. All it had left was my oxygen tank.

So it did the only thing it could to keep me alive. It started back-filling with pure oxygen. I now risked dying from oxygen toxicity, as the excessively high amount of oxygen threatened to burn up my nervous system, lungs, and eyes. An ironic death for someone with a leaky space suit: too much oxygen.

Every step of the way would have had beeping alarms, alerts, and warnings. But it was the high-oxygen warning that woke me.

The sheer volume of training for a space mission is astounding. I spent a week back on Earth practicing emergency space suit drills. I knew what to do.

Carefully reaching to the side of my helmet, I got the breach kit. It’s nothing more than a funnel with a valve at the small end, and an unbelievably sticky resin on the wide end. The idea is you have the valve open and stick the wide end over a hole. The air can escape through the valve, so it doesn’t interfere with the resin making a good seal. Then you close the valve and you’ve sealed the breach.

The tricky part was getting the antenna out of the way. I pulled it out as fast as I could, wincing as the sudden pressure drop dizzied me and made the wound in my side scream in agony.

I got the breach kit over the hole and sealed it. It held. The suit back-filled the missing air with yet more oxygen. Checking my arm readouts, I saw the suit was now at 85% oxygen. For reference, Earth’s atmosphere is about 21%. I’d be ok, so long as I didn’t spend too much time like that. 

I stumbled up the hill back toward the Hab. As I crested the rise, I saw something that made me very happy and something that made me very sad: The Hab was in-tact (yay!) and the MAV was gone (boo!).

Right that moment I knew I was screwed. But I didn’t want to just die out on the surface. I limped back to the Hab and fumbled my way in to an airlock. As soon as it equalized, I threw off my helmet.

Entering the Hab, I doffed the suit and got my first good look at the injury. It would need stitches. Fortunately, all of us had been trained in basic medical procedures, and the Hab had excellent medical supplies. A quick shot of local anesthetic, irrigate the wound, 9 stitches and I was done. I’d be taking antibiotics for a couple of weeks, but other than that I’d be fine.

I knew it was hopeless, but I tried firing up the communication array. No signal, of course. The primary satellite dish had broken off, remember? And it took the reception antennae with it. The Hab had secondary and tertiary communication systems, but they were both just for talking to the MAV, which would use its much more powerful systems to relay to Hermes. Thing is, that only works if the MAV is still around.

I had no way to talk to Hermes. In time, I could locate the dish out on the surface, but it would take weeks for me to rig up any repairs, and that would be too late. In an abort, Hermes would leave orbit within 24 hours. The orbital dynamics made the trip safer and shorter the earlier you left, so why wait for no reason just to make the trip take longer?

Checking out my suit, I saw the antenna had plowed through my bio-monitor computer. When on an EVA, all the crew’s suits are networked so we can see each others status. The rest of the crew would have seen the pressure in my suit drop to nearly 0, followed immediately by my bio-signs going flat. Add to that I was sent tumbling down a hill with a spear through me in the middle of a sandstorm… yeah. They thought I was dead. How could they not?

They may have even had a brief discussion about recovering my body, but regulations were clear. In the event a crewman died on Mars, he stayed on Mars. Leaving his body behind reduced weight for the MAV on the trip back. That meant more disposable fuel and a larger margin of error for the return thrust. No point in giving that up for sentimentality.

So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last 31 days.

If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

So yeah. I’m fucked. 

Chapter 2

LOG ENTRY: SOL 7

Ok, I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and things don’t seem as hopeless as they did yesterday.

Today I took stock of supplies, and did a quick EVA to check up on the external equipment. Here’s my situation:

The surface mission was supposed to be 31 days. For redundancy, the supply probes had enough food to last the whole crew 56 days. That way if one or two probes had problems, we'd still have enough food to complete the mission.

We were six days in when all hell broke loose, so that leaves enough food to feed six people for 50 days. I’m just one guy, so it’ll last me 300 days. And that’s if I don’t ration it. So I’ve got a fair bit of time.

The Hab stood up to the storm without any problems. Outside, things aren’t so rosy. I can’t find the satellite dish; it probably got blown kilometers away.

The MAV is gone, of course. My crewmates took it up to Hermes. Though the bottom half (the landing stage) is still there. No reason to take that back up when weight is the enemy. It includes the landing gear, the fuel plant, and anything else NASA figured it wouldn’t need for the trip back up to orbit.

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