The structure of the novel switches to an audio log transcript of Sol 119. Watney curses the airlock, the Hab, and Mars. Then he pulls himself together gets to work finding a way to stay alive. Watney doesn’t know what went wrong with the Hab, but the rover is likely fine. Watney needs to find and patch the leak in the airlock. To find the leak, Watney uses static electricity to set a piece of his hair on fire, then watches the path of the smoke. He duct-tapes it closed.
Watney’s decision to use the EVA suit’s audio recorder to explain his situation highlights how important it is to him for people in the future to have a record of his time on Mars. Should the worst occur, he wants someone to know how he died.
Watney’s next task is to find a way to patch his EVA suit. He has a patch kit, but it’s not big enough to fix his broken faceplate. Instead, He’ll cut off the left arm of the suit, use the material to seal the faceplate, and then glue the smaller arm hole together—he’ll have to tuck his left arm along his side, but he’ll be able to breathe and the suit will withstand Martian air pressure. With the suit mended, Watney calculates how much oxygen the suit has left—he realizes he’ll only have four minutes of air after he leaves the airlock. Watney assesses the situation. He needs to fix the Hab, but in order to do so, he’ll need a functional EVA suit, so he’ll have to get a new suit before retreating to the rover. Watney decides to roll the airlock closer to the Hab by repeatedly slamming his body against one wall. Overnight, he rolls it within 10 meters of the Hab.
Once again, Watney shows his ability to problem-solve creatively. His method of patching the EVA suit’s broken faceplate requires him, once again, to misuse NASA equipment (or, rather, to use it in ways it was not intended to be used). Watney often solves the most immediate problem first (in this case, the leaking airlock), only to discover a secondary problem (his suit’s limited air supply). Weir uses this pattern of resolving an urgent problem then discovering a secondary problem to drive the novel’s plot forward.
Sol 120. Watney is back in the rover and once again writing in the standard log. As he made his way into the Hab in his patched EVA suit, he relied on his arm camera to see. He finds Martinez’s suit, but it’s pinned under a table that he can’t lift with just one arm. Watney settles for Martinez’s helmet and patch kit, and just makes it to the Rover within his four minutes of air. Pathfinder is offline because it relies on the Hab’s power, but Watney will deal with that tomorrow. He goes to sleep.
This log entry opens with Watney in the rover, so even before he describes how he went from the airlock to the Hab to the rover, the reader knows that he managed to make it back to the rover safely. Even so, as he describes himself rushing to find Martinez’s EVA suit, the reader knows that he is literally racing the clock, which creates a sense of urgency.
Sol 121. Watney refills the EVA suit’s oxygen tanks, replaces the patched helmet with Martinez’s helmet, returns to the Hab, and brings the rest of Martinez’s suit back to the rover. Sol 122. Watney uses rocks to spell out ‘OK’ for NASA—they’ll read it in the satellite images. Assessing the damage, Watney sees he’ll be able to patch the Hab using seal-strips and spare canvas. Once he does, he can get Pathfinder back online. His real problem is that the soil and young potato plants are now dead. The supply probe will arrive Sol 856, but he now only has food to last until Sol 600.
Once again, Weir uses the pattern of introducing a serious secondary problem just after Watney has solved a more immediate problem. In this case, the secondary problem is that the potato “farm” is dead. While this doesn’t pose an immediate threat to Watney’s well-being, it is a life-threatening problem—Watney now has an even more limited food supply.