The Martian

The Martian Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter opens with a message from Watney to Martinez. Dr. Shields has asked Watney to send personal messages to each crewmember in order to stay connected to humanity. Watney scoffs, but asks Martinez to visit his parents in Chicago and talk to them about the Mars mission if he dies. Watney says he doesn’t want to sound “lame,” but adds that Martinez is his best friend.
Watney’s skepticism about the importance of staying connected to humanity and his insistence that expressing one’s feelings is “lame” belies how much he really cares about is parents, Martinez, and the rest of the crew. He seems afraid to expresses emotions lest he become overwhelmed by them.
Themes
Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Theme Icon
At the China National Space Administration, director Guo Ming sorts through paperwork. He is frustrated by all the bureaucracy created by international agreements and by the Chinese government itself. He’s planning for the launch of Taiyang Shen, an unmanned probe. His under-director, Zhu Tao, arrives and tells him the booster for Taiyang Shen has enough fuel for a Mars injection orbit—the probe could be modified to send supplies to Watney. Because of the Chinese government’s security protocol, NASA doesn’t know that the CNSA has booster that could save Watney.
The paperwork Guo is sorting through acts as a symbol for the bureaucratic infrastructure that slows the CNSA’s work, and reminds us of Watney’s frustration with NASA’s bureaucracy. Zhu’s news about Taiyang Shen gives readers hope that Watney may still be rescued, and because Watney and NASA do not yet know this, Weir uses the news to create suspense through dramatic irony.
Themes
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Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
Guo knows that if American and Chinese diplomats are responsible for negotiating an agreement, it won’t be resolved in time to save Watney. He decides to contact NASA and negotiate with them directly. In exchange for the booster, Guo will ask NASA to include a Chinese astronaut in the Ares 5 Mars mission. Guo calls Teddy.
Guo’s decision to bypass US and Chinese diplomats shows that bureaucratic procedures can create obstacles not just within a single institution or government, but on an international scale. His willingness to aid NASA affirms Weir’s message that it’s human nature to help others.
Themes
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Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
Watney says very little of substance in his note to Johanssen. He asks her how she can be both beautiful and a brilliant computer nerd, then gives her tips on how to be “more cool.” He adds that Lewis had forbidden male crewmembers from “hitting on” Johanssen.
By showing that Watney sees Johanssen’s beauty as contradictory to her intelligence, Weir once again captures the insidiousness of workplace sexism.
Themes
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Bruce updates the JPL staff on Taiyang Shen. They have to finish the probe in 28 days; it will arrive six weeks after Watney runs out of food. Meanwhile, Rich finds Venkat and tells him that he has found a better way to save Watney—one that uses the Taiyang Shen booster in a different way. Venkat reads the plan.
After Bruce’s announcement, keeping Watney alive until rescue seems hopeless. Yet, unbeknownst to the JPL team, Rich has developed a solution. This is presumably the side-project he took vacation time to complete.
Themes
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Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
In his message to Vogel, Watney reminisces about training, when Vogel bought him a beer for breakfast. He jokes that Vogel has all the hallmarks of a supervillain: he’s a German chemist with a base on Mars.
Watney’s note is mostly a series of jokes about Vogel’s being German, giving us the impression that, while he and Vogel get along, they likely are not very close.
Themes
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Venkat calls a secret meeting with Annie, Mitch, Teddy, and Bruce under the name “Project Elrond”—a Lord of the Rings reference. He explains that Rich has found a way to get Hermes back to Mars in time for a flyby on Sol 549. The “Rich Purnell Maneuver” uses Taiyang Shen to send Hermes a resupply probe. Watney would have to get to the Ares 4 MAV, modify it, and use it to reach Hermes. Teddy has to choose between the Purnell Maneuver and Iris 2 (the plan to send Watney food on the Taiyang Shen).
Weir uses this scene to introduce readers to the content of the plan Rich has been working on, resolving the mystery that has been built around it. Venkat presumably keeps the meeting about the “Rich Purnell Maneuver” secret because the plan is zany enough that it could make NASA appear lost or desperate if it were to be leaked to the press.
Themes
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Mitch believes it’s Lewis’s right to make the decision, and he is almost certain she will say yes to the Hermes fly-by. Venkat and Teddy insist that it’s NASA’s responsibility to choose. If the Hermes flyby goes wrong and the Ares 3 crew dies, it would be the end of the Ares Program. Teddy is unwilling to risk six lives when he could make a choice that only risks one life. Mitch argues that it’s wrong to assess the options in terms of safety and risk—space travel is always high risk. The meeting ends without a decision. To avoid leaks to the press, the Purnell Maneuver is not to be discussed elsewhere.
Mitch’s case for telling the Ares 3 crew about the Purnell Maneuver is similar to his case for telling them Watney is alive: they should be given all information that is relevant to them. Teddy’s argument relies on the “greater good” principle—keeping five people safe and risking one life is better than risking six lives. Teddy’s caution may also be the result of the Iris probe’s failed launch: the last risk he took did not pay off.
Themes
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Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
In his note to Beck, Watney advises him to “tell Johanssen how you feel” once the Ares 3 mission his over. Watney doesn’t know if Johanssen reciprocates Beck’s feelings, but it’s clear that Beck is in love.
Watney’s note to Beck alerts readers that a romance could be taking place on Hermes, raising the question of whether or not Beck and Johanssen will get together.
Themes
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The next day, Venkat, Mitch, Teddy, Bruce, and Annie meet again. Teddy announces that they’ll send the Iris 2 food supply to Mars, vetoing the Purnell Maneuver. Six lives are more valuable than one. Mitch is furious. He calls Teddy a coward and accuses him of trying to cut NASA’s losses rather than attempting to save Watney’s life. In any case, Mitch argues, the crew should have the right to decide whether or not to risk their lives for Watney. Mitch storms out. Teddy apologizes for the scene, telling Annie that men are sometimes fueled by testosterone. Annie stops Teddy and tells him she thinks Mitch is right: he is a coward.
Teddy and Mitch’s fight over the Purnell Maneuver recalls their disagreement over whether or not to tell the Ares 3 crew that Watney is alive—but this time, the stakes are much higher. Through Teddy’s apology to Annie, Weir once against captures (somewhat benign) workplace sexism: Teddy doesn’t apologize to the men in the room, but he is worried that a woman will be shocked by conflict. Her reply turns the tables: by calling him a coward, she implies that she’s tougher than he is.
Themes
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Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
In Watney’s message to Lewis, he tells her once again not to blame herself for leaving him behind. She made a difficult decision, but she made the right one—she protected the rest of the crew. Then, he teases her about her love of disco music.
Watney’s insistence that Lewis not blame herself for leaving him behind shows that he knows her well enough to know that she would feel responsible for what happened.
Themes
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In the daily data dump, Vogel receives a corrupted data file that appears to be from his wife. When Johanssen manages to open the file, they find instructions for the Rich Purnell Maneuver. Vogel explains the maneuver to Lewis and the crew, and they discuss whether they should mutiny and carry out the maneuver against NASA’s orders. To do the maneuver, Johanssen will have to hack the ship’s control panels. Martinez and Lewis would likely be court-martialed upon their return. Lewis asks the crew to take 24 hours to think about it—but she knows everyone will say yes.
The odd formatting of the file containing the Rich Purnell Maneuver makes it clear to the Ares 3 crew—and to readers—that the crew is not supposed to have this information. Yet the crew’s lack of hesitation to execute the maneuver—even knowing that a mutiny will have serious consequences when they return to Earth—reveals that their fierce loyalty to Watney is stronger than their loyalty to NASA.
Themes
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Brendan Hutch, working the night shift at NASA Mission Control receives an unscheduled status update from Hermes announcing they’re performing the Purnell Maneuver. Brendan has no idea who Purnell is or why Hermes is changing course.
Once again, Weir employs dramatic irony: when Hutch receives the message, he has no idea what it means, but the reader knows that Hermes is circling back to rescue Watney.
Themes
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Teddy calls Mitch into his office and tells him that though he has no proof, he knows Mitch sent Hermes the maneuver and will fire him the minute he has evidence. Mitch points out that Annie is going to tell the press that NASA gave the order for the maneuver—they don't want the public to know that the crew mutinied—which will make it difficult to fire him or court-martial Lewis and Martinez.
Though Mitch does not admit that he leaked the maneuver to Hermes, his lack of a denial suggests that he is indeed responsible. NASA’s official line (that they ordered the Purnell Maneuver) shows how important it is that they appear in control of the situation.
Themes
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Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
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