Smiling for the first time in weeks, he held the phone to his ear and awaited a response. “Bruce? It’s Venkat. Everything just changed. Watney’s headed for Pathfinder. Yeah! I know, right!? Dig up everyone who was on that project and get them to JPL now. I’ll catch the next flight.”
Hanging up, he grinned at the map. “Mark, you sneaky, clever, son of a bitch!”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 79
It’s the evening of my 8th day on the road. “Sirius 4” has been a success so far.
I’ve fallen in to a routine. Every morning I wake up at dawn. First thing I do is check oxygen and CO2 levels. Then I eat a breakfast pack and drink a cup of water. After that, I brush my teeth, using as little water as possible, and shave with an electric razor.
The rover has no toilet. We were expected to use our suits’ reclamation systems for that. But they aren’t designed to hold twenty days worth of output.
My morning piss goes in a resealable plastic box. When I open it, the rover reeks like a truck-stop men’s room. I could take it outside and let it boil off. But I worked hard to make that water, and the last thing I’m going to do is waste it. I’ll feed it to the Water Reclaimer when I get back.
Even more precious is my manure. It’s critical to the potato farm and I’m the only source on Mars. Fortunately, when you spend a lot of time in space, you learn how to shit in a bag. And if you think things are bad after opening the piss box, imagine the smell after I drop anchor.
Then I go outside and collect the solar cells. Why didn’t I do it the previous night? Because trying to dismantle and stack solar cells in total fucking darkness isn’t fun. I learned that the hard way.
After securing the cells, I come back in, turn on some shitty ‘70’s music, and start driving. I putter along at 25kph, the rover’s top speed. It’s comfortable inside. I wear hastily made cut-offs and a thin shirt while the RTG bakes the interior. When it gets too hot I detach the insulation duct-taped to the hull. When it gets too cold, I tape it back up.
I can go almost 2 hours before the battery runs out. I do a quick EVA to swap cables, then I’m back at the wheel for the second half of the day’s drive.
The terrain is very flat. The undercarriage of the rover is taller than any of the rocks around here, and the hills are gently-sloping affairs, smoothed by eons of sandstorms.
When the other battery runs out, it’s time for another EVA. I pull the solar cells off the roof and lay them on the ground. For the first few sols, I lined them up in a row. Now I plop them wherever, trying to keep them close to the rover out of sheer laziness.
Then comes the incredibly dull part of my day. I sit around for 12 hours with nothing to do. And I’m getting sick of this rover. The inside’s the size of a van. That may seem like plenty of room, but try being trapped in a van for 8 days. I look forward to tending my potato farm in the wide open space of the Hab.
I’m nostalgic for the Hab. How fucked up is that?
I have shitty ‘70’s TV to watch, and a bunch of Poirot novels. But mostly I spend my time thinking about getting to Ares 4. I’ll have to do it someday. How the hell am I going to survive a 3,200km trip in this thing? It’ll probably take 50 days. I’ll need the Water Reclaimer and the Oxygenator, maybe some of the Hab’s main batteries, then a bunch more solar cells to charge everything… where will I put it all? These thoughts pester me throughout the long boring days.
Eventually, it gets dark and I get tired. I lay among the food packs, water tanks, extra O2 tank, piles of CO2 filters, box of pee, bags of shit, and personal items. I have a bunch of crew jumpsuits to serve as bedding, along with my blanket and pillow. Basically, I sleep in a pile of junk every night.
Speaking of sleep… G’night.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 80
By my reckoning, I’m about 100km from Pathfinder. Technically it’s “Carl Sagan Memorial Station.” But with all due respect to Carl, I can call it whatever the hell I want. I’m the King of Mars.
As I mentioned, it’s been a long, boring drive. And I’m still on the outward leg. But hey, I’m an astronaut. Long-ass trips are my business.
Navigation is tricky.
The Hab’s nav beacon only reaches 40km, then it’s too faint. I knew that’d be an issue when I was planning this little road trip, so I came up with a brilliant plan that didn’t work.
The computer has detailed maps, so I figured I could navigate by landmarks. I was wrong. Turns out you can’t navigate by landmarks if you can’t find any god damned landmarks.
Our landing site is at the delta of a long-gone river. If there are any microscopic fossils to be had, it’s a good place to look. Also, the water would have dragged rock and soil samples from thousands of kilometers away. With some digging, we could get a broad geological history.
That’s great for science, but it means the Hab’s in a featureless wasteland.
I considered making a compass. The rover has plenty of electricity and the med kit has a needle. Only one problem: Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field.
So I navigate by Phobos. It whips around Mars so fast it actually rises and sets twice a day, running west to east. It’s isn’t the most accurate system, but it works.
Things got easier on Sol 75. I reached a valley with a rise to the west. It had flat ground for easy driving, and I just needed to follow the edge of the hills. I named it “Lewis Valley” after our fearless leader. She’d love it there, geology nerd that she is.
Three sols later, Lewis Valley opened into a wide plain. So, again, I was left without references and relied on Phobos to guide me. There’s probably symbolism there. Phobos is the god of fear, and I’m letting it be my guide. Not a good sign.
But today, my luck finally changed. After two sols wandering the desert, I found something to navigate by. It was a 5km crater, so small it didn’t even have a listed name. But to me, it was the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Once I had it in sight, I knew exactly where I was.
I’m camped near it now, as a matter of fact.
I’m finally through the blank areas of the map. Tomorrow, I’ll have the Lighthouse to navigate by, and Hamelin crater later on. I’m in good shape.
Now, on to my next task: Sitting around with nothing to do for 12 hours.
I better get started!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 81
Almost made it to Pathfinder today, but I ran out of juice. Just another 22km to go!
An unremarkable drive. Navigation wasn’t a problem. As Lighthouse receded into the distance, the rim of Hamelin Crater came in to view.