“Sorry,” Annie interrupted. “What's an AREC?”
“It's the external component of the Atmospheric Regulator,” Mindy said. “It sits outside the Hab, so I know when it disappeared. He probably mounted it on the rover. There's no other reason to move it so I'm guessing he's got life support online.”
“Awesome,” Mitch said. “Things are coming together.”
“Don't celebrate yet, Mitch,” Venkat said. “This is Randall Carter, one of our Martian meteorologists. Randall, tell them what you told me.”
Randall nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Kapoor.” He turned his laptop around to show a map of Mars. “Over the past few weeks, a dust storm has been developing in Arabia Terra. Not a big deal in terms of magnitude. It won't hinder his driving at all.”
“So what's the problem?” Annie asked.
“It's a low-velocity dust storm,” Randall Explained. “Slow winds, but fast enough to pick up very small particles on the surface and whip them up in to thick clouds. There are five or six of them every year. The thing is, they last for months, they cover huge sections of the planet, and they make the atmosphere thick with dust.”
“I still don't see the problem,” Annie said.
“Light,” Randall said. “The total sunlight reaching the surface is very low in the area of the storm. Right now, it's 20% of normal. And Watney's rover is powered by solar panels.”
“Shit,” Mitch said, rubbing his eyes. “And we can't warn him.”
“So he gets less power.” Annie said. “Can't he just recharge longer?”
“The current plan already has him recharging all day long,” Venkat explained. “With 20% of normal daylight, it'll take five times as long to get the same energy. It'll turn his 45 sol trip in to 225 sols. He'll miss the Hermes flyby.”
“Can't Hermes wait for him?” Annie asked.
“It's a flyby,” Venkat said. “Hermes isn't going in to Martian orbit. If they did, they wouldn't be able to get back. They need their velocity for the return trajectory.”
After a few moments of silence, Teddy said “We'll just have to hope he finds a way through. We can track his progress and-”
“No we can't,” Mindy interrupted.
“We can't?” Teddy said.
She shook her head. “The satellites won't be able to see through the dust. Once he enters the affected area, we won't see anything until he comes out the other side.”
“Well...” Teddy said. “Shit.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 439
Before I risk my life with this contraption, I need to test it.
And not the little tests I've been doing so far. Sure, I've tested power generation, life support, the trailer bubble, and the bedroom. But I need to test all aspects of it working together.
I'm going to load it up for the long trip, and drive in circles. I won't ever be more than 500 meters from the Hab, so I'll be fine if shit breaks.
I dedicated today to loading up the rover and trailer for the test. I want the weight to match what it'll be on the real trip. Plus if cargo is going to shift around or break things I want to know about it now.
I made one concession to common sense: I left most of my water supply in the Hab. I loaded 20 liters; enough for the test but no more. There are a lot of ways I could lose pressure in this mechanical abomination I've created, and I don't want all my water to boil off if that happens.
On the real trip, I'm going to have 620L of water. I made up the weight difference by loading 600kg of rocks in with my other supplies.
Back on Earth, universities and governments are willing to pay millions to get their hands on Mars rocks. I'm using them as ballast.
I'm doing one more little test tonight. I made sure the batteries were good and full, then disconnected the rover and trailer from Hab power. I'll be sleeping in the Hab, but I left the rover's life support on. It'll maintain the air overnight, and tomorrow I'll see how much power it ate up. I've watched the power consumption while it's attached to the Hab and there weren't any surprises. But this'll be the true proof. I call it the “Plugs-out test.”
Maybe that's not the best name.
The crew of Hermes gathered in The Rec.
“Let's get through status quickly,” Lewis said. “We're all behind in our science assignments. Vogel, you first.”
“I repaired the bad cable on VASIMR 4,” Vogel reported. “It was our last thick gauge cable. If another such problem occurs, we will have to braid lower gauge lines to carry the current. Also, the power output from the reactor is declining.”
“Johanssen,” Lewis said. “What the deal with the reactor?”
“I had to dial it back,” Johanssen said. “It's the cooling vanes. They aren't radiating heat as well as they used to. They're tarnishing.”
“How can that happen?” Lewis asked. “They're outside the craft. There's nothing for them to react with.”
“I think they picked up dust or small air leaks from Hermes itself. One way or another, they're definitely tarnishing. The tarnish is connecting the micro-lattice, and that reduces the surface area. Less surface area means less heat dissipation. So I limited the reactor enough that we weren't getting positive heat.”
“Any chance of repairing the cooling vanes?”
“It's on the microscopic scale,” Johanssen said. “We'd need a lab. Usually they replace the veins after each mission.”
“Will we be able to maintain engine power for the rest of the mission?”
“Yes, if the rate of tarnishing doesn't increase.”
“All right, keep an eye on it. Beck, how's life support?”
“Limping,” Beck said. “We've been in space way longer than it was designed to handle. There are a bunch of filters that would normally be replaced each mission. I found a way to clean them with a chemical bath I made in the lab, but it eats away at the filters themselves. We're ok right now, but who knows what'll break next?”
“We knew this would happen,” Lewis said. “This ship is designed for a 396 day mission, and we need to make it last 898. We've got all of NASA to help when things break. We just need to stay on top of maintenance. Martinez, what's the deal with your bunkroom?”
Martinez furrowed his brow. “It's still trying to cook me. The climate control just isn't keeping up. I think it's the tubing in the walls that brings the coolant. I can't get at them because they're built in to the hull. We can use the room for storage of non-temperature-sensitive cargo, but that's about it.”