Lewis and her husband, Robert, get to have a five-minute video chat. Robert tells Lewis he knows she’s doing the right thing, but he misses her. He adds that he’s found an original 1976 eight-track of Abba’s Greatest Hits.
This scene explains the 1970s music and TV shows that Watney loves to mock: Lewis collects 1970s memorabilia with her husband. We can guess that the music is her way to stay connected to her husband while in space.
The scene shifts briefly to Teddy and Venkat, who have just arrived in Beijing and are waved through security by their CNSA guide and translator, Su Bin Bao. The three share a joke about how difficult Mitch—who is already at Jiuquan—can be.
This scene helps orient readers in time: if Teddy and Venkat are in China for the launch, this scene (and the video chats between the Ares 3 crew and their loved ones) is set just before Watney’s most recent log entry.
Weir cuts back to another video chat, this one between Vogel and his wife, Helena. They talk about their children, Eliza and Victor, and Vogel’s mother, who is ill.
This scene gives us new insight into Vogel’s personal life. He and his wife are tender with one another, and it’s clear that he misses his family.
At Jiuquan’s mission control center, Guo Ming welcomes Teddy and Venkat. Teddy comments that science transcends international and cultural borders.
Teddy’s comment clearly states one of the novel’s key ideas: that science and the desire to help others bring people together.
Beck video chats with his sister, Amy. He explains that if the probe doesn’t dock correctly, it’s his job as EVA specialist to go out and physically bring it onboard the ship.
Beck’s conversation with his sister gives readers a better understanding of how the resupply probe works and how it could go wrong.
Weir gives readers a brief glimpse of Mitch, Venkat, and Teddy at work in a Jiuquan office, then cuts back to a video chat between Martinez, his wife Marissa, and their young son, David. Marissa is angry that Martinez volunteered to extend the mission, but they have been together since they were 15 and know that they can get through anything.
Martinez’s conversation with his wife shows how astronauts’ missions can weigh on their relationships with loved ones. Missions to Mars take a long time, and astronauts and their families are making an enormous sacrifice for science.
On The Mark Watney Report, Venkat is speaking live from China. Venkat explains that Martinez will remotely guide the supply probe to Hermes, and that Beck will do an EVA if necessary.
Venkat gives the public—and the reader—a clearer idea of how the supply probe will work, adding on to Beck’s earlier explanation to Amy.
Weir cuts to Johanssen’s video call with her father. He’s clearly anxious and tells her that her mother is too worried to eat or sleep. He tells her that he’s proud of her scientific prowess and hard work, but that he wishes she weren’t so selfless. Johanssen tells her father that even if everything goes wrong, she will make it back to Earth alive. The crew has chosen her to survive because she is youngest and smallest—she needs less food. If the probe fails, the rest of the crew will commit suicide. She’ll ration all remaining food supplies and resort to cannibalism if necessary. Johanssen asks her father to just tell her mother she’ll make it back alive.
Like Martinez’s call with his wife, Johanssen’s call with her father shows how space travel can put an emotional burden on astronauts’ loved ones. Johanssen’s revelation that she has been chosen to survive should the mission go wrong is more disturbing than it is comforting, both to the readers and to her father. Watney may think of Johanssen as the sexy blonde but this scene reveals just how brave and how tough she really is.
At Jiuqan Mission control, Taiyang Shen launches successfully, and the American and Chinese engineers celebrate together. Zhu Tao tells Venkat that, though he’s glad that Watney will survive, he’s saddened that the exploratory probe he spent years building will likely never launch, since the State Council won’t fund a booster to replace Taiyang Shen. The supply probe docks at Hermes without any complications.
The image of American and Chinese engineers celebrating together underlines the idea that science unites people across cultural barriers. Zhu’s comment to Venkat reveals just how difficult it can be for scientists to convince their governments to fund new research projects.