The chapter begins with an exchange between Watney and Venkat—Pathfinder is back online. Watney explains he’s patched the Hab and re-pressurized it, but the farm is dead. He’ll start starving on Sol 584. Venkat guesses that the Hab breached because of fatigue on Airlock 1 canvas and tells Watney to alternate evenly between Airlocks 2 and 3.
While Watney has solved the most immediate problem he faces (patching the Hab), the lack of a solution to his food problem creates suspense. Due to the earlier italicized flashbacks, the reader knows that Venkat is right about the cause of the breach.
Back at JPL, Bruce meets with his staff. The dead potato farm has changed their timeline: for a supply probe to reach Watney by Sol 584, JPL will have to make it in 48 days. The probe will use a booster from the EagleEye 3 Saturn mission, and they’ll borrow some parts from an Ares 4 pre-supply mission that’s still being built. The probe, Iris, will only carry food.
During the JPL meeting, we watch Bruce and his team crunching numbers and scrambling to create a plan that will get the supply probe to Watney in time. The scene heightens the reader’s sense of urgency and suspense as NASA scientists race against time.
The scene moves to astrodynamist Rich Purnell, who has just finished calculating potential courses for the Iris probe. Because of the current position of Earth and Mars, it will take 414 days to get the probe to Mars. This strikes Rich as inefficient.
Weir gives us our first glimpse of Rich, who will play a critical role in the rescue mission. Here, though, he appears as one of many people at NASA working to get Watney safely home.
The scene moves to a meeting of NASA managers, led by Teddy. Annie explains she’s giving daily press updates, and that CNN’s The Watney Report is the number one show in its time slot. Teddy sees the public’s focus on Watney as beneficial—it puts pressure on Congress to give NASA emergency funding.
Annie and Teddy’s comments on CNN once again remind readers of the crucial role that the media plays—not only in keeping NASA accountable to the public, but in pushing Congress to fund Watney’s rescue.
Maurice Stein, pad leader for the Iris launch, gives an update on the booster being used for Iris. Bruce explains that the team building Iris is behind schedule—they need about 15 more days. Teddy asks Maurice to skip standard inspections in order to cut 10 days of time; Watney will spend 4 days on starvation rations. Both Maurice and the nutritionist, Dr. Keller, protest. Teddy explains that, while procedures are designed to minimize risk to both astronauts and to NASA, they are now in a position where taking risks is the only way to save Watney’s life.
Maurice and Dr. Keller are afraid to agree to skip inspections or stretch the rations further because, if these decisions harm Watney, they will be to blame. The fact that Teddy, who usually prioritizes safety, now sees this kind of unprecedented risk-taking as necessary shows just how desperate Watney’s situation is. Teddy would rather the launch fail or Watney become malnourished than not attempt the launch at all.
In the astrodynamics department, Rich is being reprimanded by his boss, Mike, for working on a personal side-project rather than his assigned work. Rich announces he’s taking his vacation time—then remains at his desk, working on the side-project.
It’s not yet clear what side-project Rich might be working on. Weir uses this scene to characterize Rich as smart, but stubborn and lacking in interpersonal skills.
After 63 days, the Iris probe is completed. At a press conference, Annie announces the scheduled launch. Cathy Warner asks what NASA will do if the launch fails; Annie dodges the question. Another reporter asks if there’s a spending limit on the mission. Annie emphasizes the value of human life, but adds that Watney has now spent more time on Mars than any other person—there’s a lot to learn from his mission.
Weir uses Annie’s refusal to answer Cathy’s question to suggest to readers that NASA does not have a secondary plan: if the launch fails, they will be out of options, and Watney will likely die. The second question suggests that NASA could even be forced to stop rescue attempts if the cost of the mission increases too much.
Mitch, Venkat, Teddy, and Annie all watch the Iris launch. On Hermes, the Ares 3 crew is listening in. At his desk, Rich is absorbed in his calculations. The probe starts to shimmy, and as it does so, it liquefies the protein cubes it carries. The liquid shifts to one side of the compartment, throwing the probe off-balance. The force of the liquid hitting the back of its container knocks a bolt out of place and NASA loses signal. A naval ship spots debris falling from the sky—the Iris launch has failed.
By showing Rich working at his desk on his mysterious personal project while other NASA staffers watch the launch, Weir again indicates that Rich is anti-social. As soon as the bolt comes loose, readers realize the probe failed because Teddy chose to skip inspections. His risk taking, in this instance, did not pay off.
Teddy prepares to give a speech. In his office, Venkat feels a deep sense of failure. He ignores a call from his wife, and looks at his computer, where he sees a message from Watney: “How’d the launch go?”
Weir only shows Teddy and Venkat in the moments before they tell the public and Watney that the launch has failed, leaving us to imagine the public reaction.