A Tale of Mark Watney's Survival on Mars
Mark Watney was part of the Ares 3 mission on Mars which was planned to last 31 sols. A sol is a day on Mars and is roughly 39 ½ minutes longer than an Earth day. On the 6th sol of the mission, a violent dust storm hit, forcing them to abort. They had to brave the storm to get to the Mars ascent vehicle (MAV) before it blew over.
On the way to the MAV, an antenna from the communications set-up broke off and struck Watney, puncturing his suit and knocking him out of sight from the others. The biosensors of Watney's suit indicated to the other crew a loss of all vitals. They were forced to leave him behind rather than risk the entire crew to recover his body.
Sols 6 - 67
Mark Watney was not ready to die on Mars, at least, not on Sol 6. At the Hab, he quickly got to work on a potato farm that would extend his food supply and set out to find a way to contact Earth.
He devised a set of rover experimental missions he named Sirius. He would have to test out the rovers, solar panels, and batteries to plan and prepare for a long drive. For Sirius 1, he tried to use less energy by driving without the heat on in the rover. He was so cold he decided he must have heat. Without using solar energy for heat, where would his heat come from?
"As with most of life's problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation."
The radioactive thermoelectric generator radiated heat naturally and it would prove to be ample for Mark's needs. He found the RTG to the south buried in a hill marked by a green flag. After Watney unearthed (unmarsed?) the RTG, he declared Sirius 2 a success and went back to the Hab for a quick Sirius 3 and to plan Sirius 4.
The Interplanetary Voyeur
Mindy Park kept daily (soly?) tabs on Watney's location ever since satellite images of deployed pop-tents and clean solar arrays tipped her off to his survival. She saw his current location and noticed he was farther than a day’s drive from the Hab. She knew something was up. She alerted Mars operations director, Venkat Kapoor. Together, they charted his direction on a Mars map and figured out where he was headed: Pathfinder.
The Hab’s location was in an ancient, dried-up river delta named Acidalia Planitia. It provided Watney with no landmarks to navigate by. He would've considered making a compass but Mars has no magnetic field. His only option was to use one of Mars' two moons, Phobos, as a guide.
The Geology Nerd That She Is
The wandering Watney reached the end of the delta and some hills came into view. With the hills to his right, he dubbed the valley ahead of him Lewis Valley, after the Ares 3 commander. If the King of Mars named it, not even NASA could argue.
God of Fear
Lewis Valley spit Mark back out into another featureless desert and once again he relied on Phobos to navigate. He was not amused with having Phobos, the god of fear, as a guide.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
A small crater appeared before him, the first landmark he recognized from the maps. It had no name but to him it was a beacon of hope. From there he made his way towards Hamelin crater and beyond.
Sols 82 - 83
The Mars Pathfinder Lander was not easy for Mark to load onto the rover, even with Mars’ gravitational pull a mere 38% of Earth’s. Ancient Egyptian techniques were used. On the other hand, the Sojourner Rover loaded easily into the cab.
Sols 84 - 93
"So far, Pathfinder hasn’t tried to kill me."
Watney was able to follow his tracks back to Lewis Valley, but found that his tracks were erased at Acidalia Planitia. He pressed on and had 70’s TV to strengthen his endurance in the downtime. He got close enough to get a signal from the Hab and followed it all the way home. Pathfinder abided its time.
Sols 94 - 448
Hab Sweet Hab
Pathfinder allowed Watney to make contact with Earth but not everything was hunky dory from then on. Over the next few hundred sols, Watney encountered his share of Mars hardships, one of which led to a loss of contact with Earth. His survival came down to whether or not he could make the journey to the MAV in Schiaperelli Crater and use it to catch the Ares 3 crew fly-by.
Schiaparelli or bust!
The Ares 4 MAV sat 3,200 kilometers away from the Hab as the crow flies, the equivalent of Los Angeles to Detroit. Watney planned for the trip to take forty-five sols. He added some buffer days in case he ran into trouble, but since they meant more time away from the safety of the Hab he tried to keep them to a minimum.
The Mars Canyon
Mark Watney navigated his way out of Acidalia Planitia uneventfully and into the canyon valley known as Mawrth Vallis. The canyon met Mark's expectations of being an easy drive. Along the way, he left messages in rocks to update NASA on his status and plans.
Between Two Craters
The traveler needed to pass through two craters Rutherford and Trouvelot. The system of using Phobos to roughly guess directions wasn't good enough this time around. He needed to be more accurate. To get a good idea of his location he needed to figure out his longitude and latitude coordinates. He used the star Deneb, like Earth's Polaris, and a homemade sextant to calculate the latitude coordinates. A strict record-keeping of Phobos' setting time and a formula got him his longitude coordinates.
Watney entered into a triangle of craters. He thought something on Mars should be named after him and he liked the sound of Watney Triangle. From the middle of the triangle he aimed for its southeast corner, Marth Crater.
No Way Around It
The astronaut hit Marth Crater dead on and took some time to gauge which way around it would be better. He also was aware his solar panel efficiency had been decreasing and he had only thought they must be wearing out. He stepped out of the rover near Marth Crater and looked around the Martian landscape. He noticed he could see farther in one direction than another. The only explanation for his recently decreased solar cell output and the asymmetrical visibility was a dust storm. He was heading into a dust storm!
If Watney went deeper into the storm it would mean his death. He decided to measure the intensity of the storm at a few different locations. This would help him know which way to go to escape it. He left a solar panel and efficiency logger at Marth crater, drove 40 km south left another one and drove another 40 and left another. He would compare them the next day.
That's a lot of Potatoes!
At this point, Mark Watney was sick of potatoes and vowed to buy a home in Western Australia because it was on the opposite side of Earth from Idaho.
Mars Highway 1
The solar panel efficiency loggers worked. Mark had measured the storm and found it to be weaker farther south. Now he just had to drive the same path for the 3rd time.
After going way south to get past the storm, Watney realized he wasn't far from the Opportunity rover which he could possibly use to contact Earth. The thought of it tempted him, but he pressed on. From where he currently was, Schiaperelli Crater was due East.
Tell Him No Barrel Rolls
The lone traveler descended into the Schiaperelli Crater. The terrain looked pleasant but it was actually a thick layer of dust on top of jagged rocks. The rover’s wheel got caught in the rocks and rolled. The makeshift mobile life support system was not designed to roll. Not to worry though, this was not Watney's first Martian rodeo. He fixed what damage he could and resolved to drive slower the rest of the way.
"Then he knelt on one knee and fist-pumped repeatedly"
Mark made it to the MAV. A 3,200 kilometer trek across Mars with gear that was only meant to be used for a 31-day mission. Despite the impossible odds of that accomplishment, his toughest task lay before him. The Ares 3 crew could not slow down to pick him up as would normally happen from the MAV. The MAV had to launch at such a speed as to catch up with Ares 3 aboard the Hermes.
Bring Him Home
Mark Watney launched into space from the Martian surface after 549 sols on the planet. He had stripped the MAV of guidance systems, precautionary systems, and even a hatch. Hab canvas covered the hole where the hatch had been. During the ascent, drag created by the Hab canvas slowed the rocket to a speed hopeless of interception with the Hermes. The ares 3 crew wasn't going to lose Watney again. They blasted a hole in one of the Hermes’ airlocks to get enough thrust to intercept Watney's MAV. One of the crew, attached to a tether, brought Watney aboard.
Everyone within a 14.5 million mile radius rejoiced.