Sol 192. Watney is moved to learn that the Hermes crew has turned around to rescue him, and he turns his attention to preparing for the rescue. He needs to make the 50-day trip to the Ares 4 MAV at Schiaparelli, then spend 45 days modifying the MAV. He’ll need to start the trip on Sol 449. Before then, he needs to modify the rovers, turning one into a trailer so that he can carry the “Big Three”—the atmospheric regulator, oxygenator, and water reclaimer—with him. To do this, he’ll need to use the rock sample drill to cut a large hole in the hull of the ‘trailer,’ which he’ll later cover with Hab canvas. The rock sample drill is not made for this kind of work, so it will take 21 days to cut the hole in the hull.
Watney now has a reasonable hope of rescue, and a lot of work to do. We’ve seen in earlier passages that Watney’s morale is highest when he’s busy applying his botany and engineering skills. Modifying the rovers will be a time-consuming process, and, once again, he will need to repurpose tools and materials designed for other uses in order to complete the project. While Watney certainly needs to think creatively here, he also has the brainpower of other NASA scientists supporting him.
Sol 193. Watney wires the drill to Hab power and marks the line he’s going to cut onto the rover that will become a trailer. He starts drilling a series of small holes along the line—he’ll eventually chisel out the bits between them. The drill overheats, so he leans it against the ‘workbench’ holding Pathfinder to let it cool off.
Watney usually recounts each step of his work in the log, but here, Weir is careful to mention that Watney has to frequently lean the drill against the workbench to let it cool when it overheats. This detail becomes important later in the chapter.
Sol 194. Watney spends his entire day drilling. He wants to spend ten hours a day working, but NASA insists he stick to standard eight-hour EVAs. He decides his theme song for his time on Mars is “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Sol 195. Watney keeps working on the trailer. In the evening, he runs tests on the soil inside, and is encouraged to find that some of the bacteria are alive. He writes, “Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die any more than I do.”
By mentioning that NASA insists that Watney only work eight-hour days, Weir once again points out how bureaucracy can lead to inefficiency. Watney’s new theme song shows us that he’s still listening to music to stay connected to life on Earth. His observations about the tenacity of life connect to the novel’s larger examination of the human will to survive against all odds.
Sol 196. Watney opens the log entry by telling us he’s made a potentially deadly mistake. He spent the morning drilling holes, set the drill aside to cool, and took a lunch break. When he went back to work, the drill wouldn’t start. He reset the breakers and it started up again. Then, that evening, when he sent a message to NASA, he didn’t receive a reply. He checks Pathfinder’s status and sees that it has been offline since about 13:30, the same time the drill died. Watney follows troubleshooting instructions and realizes that when he leaned the drill against the workbench, it touched Pathfinder’s Mylar balloons, which conducted an electrical charge to Pathfinder’s hull and fried its electronics. There is no way to get Pathfinder back online. Watney is on his own.
Watney opened his first log entry by announcing that he was going to die, and he hasn’t yet, so readers initially have reason to doubt that whatever new problem Watney is facing is really so serious. But when Watney explains that Pathfinder is offline, it seems he has essentially returned to where he was on Sol 6: he is alone with no way to contact another person. The fact that something as minor as leaning a drill against a balloon could have such serious consequences reminds us that Watney is often most at risk when he assumes all is well and begins to settle into a routine.