by T.S. Snaefell
Copyright©2016 T.S. Snaefell. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.
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The third Ares mission lands on Mars, but a sandstorm forces the mission’s crewmembers to leave their landing site located in Acidalia Planitia. During the evacuation, an antenna impales Mark Watney, one of the crewmembers, destroying his EVA suit’s bio-monitor computer and making his crewmates think that he is dead. The astronauts leave Mars without Watney.
However, Watney survives the accident. After regaining his conscious, Watney returns to the Habitat and tries to figure out how to survive 1,412 days on Mars, waiting for the next Ares mission to arrive and rescue him. He has 300 liters of water, food rations for 300 days, an oxygenator, two vehicles, extra-vehicular activity suits, solar cells, and some other equipment. There is no communication equipment available.
Watney plants 12 potatoes in order to grow more potatoes. He has to use regolith to cultivate the potatoes. Regolith is the formal name for loose unconsolidated rock and dust that cover the Martian surface. (Some people mistakenly refer to it as the Martian soil.) Watney has to enrich it with his own feces. In his log, he describes in detail how he solves problems with water generation and manuring.
Watney decides to make more water using the oxygenator and hydrazine (hydrazine is a rocket fuel that can be used to produce hydrogen). He recognizes how dangerous his plan is when he realizes that it leaves a buildup of dangerously explosive chemicals. Watney develops another plan to handle the chemical buildup, but this plan has its own serious risks. Watney continues working on his water-making project very carefully.
Back on the Earth, Mindy, a NASA satellite-monitoring officer, discovers evidence of Watney’s activities when she studies satellite images of the landing site. NASA specialists begin working on their plan to rescue Watney. They hold back the news of Watney’s survival from his crewmembers, who travel back to the Earth aboard the Hermes spacecraft.
On Mars, Watney thinks about travelling to the Ares 4 site located in Schiaparelli crater in order to collect more equipment and materials. He goes for a long drive and brings the Pathfinder lander, as well as the Sojourner rover, back to the Habitat. Watney receives messages from NASA using the communication equipment he brings from his trip.
NASA officials finally let the Ares 3 crew know that Watney is alive. Lewis, the Ares 3 commander, takes the news badly.
Unexpectedly, a tear in the canvas in one of the Habitat’s airlocks breaches, collapsing the Habitat and throwing the airlock, along with Watney, away from the Habitat. Watney survives the accident and repairs the Habitat. However, the plants are dead and the threat of starvation becomes very real.
NASA hurriedly launches an unmanned probe, which is supposed to deliver supplies to Watney. Unfortunately, the probe is wrecked during its liftoff. The China’s National Space Administration provides NASA with another booster.
Meanwhile, Ritch, a NASA astrodynamicist back on Earth, comes up with a rescue plan, which involves a return of the Ares mission back to Mars. He proposes using a “slingshot” trajectory that would use the Earth’s gravity to send the Hermes spacecraft back to Mars. The Chinese rocket can be used to send a probe with more supplies to Hermes when it passes the Earth. Ritch sends emails about the proposed maneuver to the Ares crewmembers who decide to follow his plan in spite of NASA’s objections. The Chinese rocket helps to deliver supplies to the Ares 3 crew. This rescue plan also requires Watney to travel to the Ares 4’s scheduled landing site and lift off from Mars in the Ascent Vehicle (MAV).
Watney begins his preparations when he loses contact with NASA. He begins his journey to the site, using for navigation a crude sextant and his observations of Phobos. As Watney drives across Mars to the unmanned rescue booster, he has no way of knowing that he is also getting closer to a dust storm, which can easily blank out his solar panels leading to a fatal loss of power in his vehicle. When Watney realizes that he is entering the dust storm, he uses his engineering skills to escape the storm. When he reaches the site, he contacts NASA.
Meanwhile the interplanetary spacecraft with his team members returns to Mars with the hope to rescue him. As the Ares team approaches Mars, the final stage of the rescue mission begins.