Diary of an AssCan: A Mark Watney Short Story
Please note: This story includes language that some might find offensive.
Holy crap. I mean seriously. Holy crap.
I can’t… I can’t believe it. There it is. My name on the board. They picked me over thousands of other astronaut candidates. After countless hours of physical and mental testing, ten bajillion psych evaluations, and endless pretraining courses, they picked me.
It’s locked in. It’s a done deal. I’m on the Ares 3 primary crew.
I’m going to Mars.
Holy crap, I’m going to Mars!
I don’t recognize the other names on the list, even though I know a lot of other AssCans. We hang out and commiserate about the selection process. But only six people have been chosen out of thousands. I’ve just never met any of these others.
According to the list, their names are Lewis, Martinez, Johanssen, Vogel, and Beck. And naturally, there’s one more name on that list: Watney! My name’s on the list! I’m going to Mars!
My mission role is “mechanical engineer” which means I’ll fix stuff that breaks during the trip. And my science role is “botanist”. I’ll be doing plant experiments on the surface.
Mars is going to get botany’d like never before! And I mean that literally. It’s like 4.5 billion years old and (so far as we know) nothing’s ever grown on it. Ares 1 and 2 didn’t have any plant-related experiments. Hopefully, I’ll be able to really learn how plant growth works on the Red Planet.
They haven’t posted the egress order yet, but if they follow their usual pattern, the mechanical engineer leaves the lander fifth. So overall that’ll make me the seventeenth human to set foot on Mars.
It’ll take months to get there, and we’ll only be spending 31 sols (Martian days) on the surface. Then it’s several months to get back home. It’ll be a tight schedule of experiments and EVAs while we’re there.
I wish there were a way to spend more time on the surface. But oh well. 31 sols will have to do.
I’m going to Mars!
Missed Orbit Scenario.
I will never in my life hate anything more than I hate Missed Orbit Scenario.
My crewmates and I were chosen partially because the psych team figured we’d work well together. And they were right. We’ve been through rigorous training, travel, sleep deprivation, and constant fatigue together. It’s made us stronger and brought us closer together. We’re like war buddies. We would literally die for each other.
But I swear to God if I see any of them in the next few days, I’ll strangle them.
Missed Orbit Scenario is a situation that could come up when we return to Hermes (our main ship in orbit) from the surface of Mars. We’ll get to orbit in the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). There’s all sorts of stuff that can go wrong with an MAV launch, and one of them is that it could end up in a much lower orbit than intended.
If that happens, we’ll have to sit tight in the MAV and wait for NASA to remotely control Hermes to come to us. Problem is, Hermes is powered by ion engines. They give a slow, constant acceleration rather than a powerful point-thrust like chemical rockets. So that means it’ll take a long time to get it to us.
To prepare for this possibility, we have to practice what we’d do in the MAV during the THREE FREAKIN’ DAYS it would take to get Hermes to us.
Doesn’t seem like much, does it? Three days in a ship. Hell, we’re going to be in various spaceships and tiny accommodations for over a year during this mission. What’s the problem with three days?
Well, I’ll tell ya.
The MAV is designed to get us from Mars’s surface to Mars orbit, a trip that takes twenty-three minutes. So the crew compartment is small. It’s basically like being in a minivan. Just six seats and some control panels.
Pick your five favorite people and then sit in a van with them for three days. And not like a road trip, either. For this trip you don’t get to leave the van. Need to go to the bathroom? Get a bag and ask people to look away. Need to sleep? Better hope there isn’t a big German guy snoring next to you. Want to make light conversation? No you don’t. I can’t explain why, but you don’t.
Pretty soon, things get on your nerves. Everything someone says or does pisses you off.
We kept things professional, but we were all seething by the time it ended. Frankly I’m surprised we didn’t get into fistfights. But we kept it together.
We’re all separated now. Each of us enjoying some solitude. And they gave us the weekend off. I called Karen Rhodes (mechanical engineer for Ares 1) and asked how she handled Missed Orbit Scenario testing. She groaned and told me it was just as bad as I’d had it. So I feel better about that. However, one good thing came out of it: I have even more respect for Lewis than I did before.
As commander, Lewis has a lot of responsibilities. Arguably the most important is making sure the crew gets along. And she didn’t try a “camp councilor” approach by being artificially cheerful or positive. She showed her annoyance as much as the rest of us, but kept professional and levelheaded the whole time. Plus, she didn’t take sides when the crew started to bicker. Instead she admonished us all, and subtly made herself a more imposing problem than our petty squabbles with each other.
And it worked. I guess it’s to be expected; she’s an officer in the US Navy. She knows how to make people get along in small spaces.
I think we’re stronger now than we were before. We’ve seen each other at our worst and been at each others’ throats.
And we pulled through. Overall, Missed Orbit Scenario was a worthy cause.
Just the same, I’m steering clear of news websites for the weekend. We’re in the news a lot as the launch date approaches. And if I were to see any of my crewmates in a picture or video… I’d probably put my fist through the monitor.
This could be my last night on Earth. It’ll certainly be my last night on Earth for a long time. We launch tomorrow. They told me to get a good night’s sleep.
I can’t take a sleeping pill. They don’t want any of us to have residual drugs in our system when we launch. Especially things that deliberately induce drowsiness. Makes sense, really.
I tried to take my mind off things with some internet surfing. But you know what? Tomorrow’s launch is pretty much the only thing people are talking about right now. So no help there.
I’m in an isolation bunkroom at the launch pad. NASA doesn’t like surprises. They don’t want us getting drunk or injured or mobbed by the press at the last minute. So we’ve been here for the past three days doing final mission prep.
I’m single, so I guess it’s not as rough for me. I feel bad for Lewis and Vogel, who both had to say goodbye to their spouses a week ago. And I especially feel bad for Martinez, who has a wife and one-year-old baby.
It’s going to be a long mission. 124 days to get to Mars, a little over 31 days on the surface, and then 241 days to get back home. 396 days total. Over a year. I’m going to miss every holiday at least once. In fact, we’ll be on the surface for Thanksgiving. NASA even gave us some special rations for it and we’ll have three hours off from our rigorous science schedules to celebrate.
Presuming we’re alive, that is.
I thought I’d be scared at this point. But I’m past terror and into that weird valley beyond it. I’m pretty anxious, but mostly I’m just impatient.
I don’t know if the mission will be successful or not, and I don’t even know if I’ll get back alive. But one thing’s for sure: this is happening. It’s not theoretical anymore. The booster is fueled. Hermes is fueled and waiting for us in orbit. The mission equipment and supplies are already on Mars, ready for use.
Everything is ready. So I better be ready, too.
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