Weir opens the chapter by describing how people around the world have gathered around computers and TVs to witness Watney’s rescue. In Chicago, Watney’s parents are watching, a NASA representative standing by to answer their questions. The Hermes crew and Watney give the “go” command for the MAV to launch.
At NASA Mission Control, Mitch listens to the launch. On Hermes, Beck and Vogel wait in the airlock. Beck tells Vogel that if he can’t reach Watney, he wants Vogel to release his tether so he can go a bit further. Vogel refuses—Lewis has told him not to.
Beck and Vogel’s conversation shows just how much Beck is willing to risk for Watney—the rescue is already dangerous, and without the tether, there is no guarantee Beck would make it back to the ship.
Weir’s third-person narrator describes Watney’s experience of the launch. As the MAV accelerates faster than any other manned ship in the history of space travel, Watney struggles to breathe. He sees the Hab canvas tied across the open nose of the ship flapping. It’s not supposed to do that. On Hermes, Martinez can’t figure out why the MAV is moving slower than it should. Lewis radios Watney, but he doesn’t reply. As Watney loses consciousness, the canvas tears further and stops fluttering, stretching back towards Watney.
Weir’s third-person narrator once again signals to readers that something is about to go wrong. Yet, in this scene the narrator serves another practical purpose, too: Watney passes out, so Weir’s narrator is the only witness as the canvas pulls free from the MAV and the MAV speeds through space. Martinez doesn’t know why the MAV is accelerating slowly, but we know the canvas is creating drag.
On Hermes, Martinez is relieved to find the MAV is now steadying. Johanssen tells Lewis the MAV will reach orbit, but the distance at intercept will be 68 km. They are 39 minutes away from intercept. They can use the ion engines and altitude thrusters to bring them close enough to the MAV to reach Watney at intercept, but they’ll be traveling much too fast. Lewis orders Martinez to use the ion engines and altitude thrusters; they’ll find a way to slow down once they’re within the intercept range.
With the canvas no longer slowing the MAV, readers momentarily think that Watney is out of the woods—but we soon learn that the slow launch will prevent the Hermes crew from reaching the MAV at intercept. With little time to act, Lewis decides to speed up Hermes, even though she doesn’t yet have a way to slow down in time to intercept Watney.
In the MAV, Watney comes to. He can see Mars through the hole in the front of the ship, and radios Hermes to tell them the canvas has ripped. Lewis tells him they have a problem with intercept velocity. Watney suggests that he could poke a hole in the glove of his EVA suit, then use the escaping air to fly towards the ship. Lewis vetoes this plan, but the idea of using atmosphere as thrust sparks a new plan. The Hermes crew will seal the bridge and reactor room, then blow the vehicular airlock on the nose of the ship. The escaping air will thrust the ship in the opposite direction. Martinez calculates that this would slow the ship enough to make the rescue risky, but possible. Lewis informs Mission control of the new plan. Venkat, Mitch, and Annie are shocked. Annie goes to inform the press that the Hermes crew is going to deliberately breach the ship.
After Watney comes to and radios Hermes, he begins to brainstorm with the Hermes crew, looking for a way to bring the ship and the MAV close enough to each other for a rescue. Lewis’s plan to slow Hermes down by breaching the ship’s airlock is risky and completely unprecedented—but so was Watney’s stripped-down MAV. It’s clear that, in the extreme circumstances the crew now faces, it will be impossible to rescue Watney without taking enormous risks. Back at mission control, the NASA team watches events unfold and relays information to the press, but is powerless to help.
On Hermes, Lewis asks Vogel, the resident chemist, to make a bomb that will blow the inner airlock door. They’ll open the outer door first so that it can later be closed to restore the ship’s aerodynamic shape. Johanssen will use a lighting panel next to the airlock to make a remote trigger for the bomb. Vogel uses sugar, liquid oxygen, and a thick glass container to make a pipe bomb. As Beck goes to set up the bomb, Johanssen pulls him aside, kisses him, and tells him to be careful. Then she gets to work setting up the lighting-panel trigger.
On Mars, Watney was able to survive by taking risks, thinking creatively, and frequently misusing or repurposing his supplies. Now, the Hermes crew is using the same technique to rescue Watney. Astronauts are not supposed to build bombs, but Vogel’s bomb is now essential to the rescue. As Beck and Johanssen kiss, we are reminded that love (like hope) persists even in moments of crisis.
With the bomb ready for detonation, the Hermes crew members go to their stations. They are 20 seconds from intercept. At NASA, Teddy gets off the phone with the president. He, Venkat, and Mitch feel totally helpless. Johanssen activates the bomb, breaching the airlock doors, and the thrust of the escaping air slows the ship. Beck jumps out of the airlock. He can see the MAV, and uses his thruster to move towards it. He grabs onto the canvas. Vogel radios that Beck will run out of tether in 8 seconds. Beck clips his suit to Watney’s. They float out of the MAV and Beck uses his thruster to accelerate towards Hermes. When he runs out of fuel, Vogel carefully uses the tether to pull Beck and Watney back onto the ship.
Throughout this passage, Weir tracks the time to intercept and the time till Beck’s tether runs out, giving readers a sense of urgency and immediacy as the rescue unfolds. Weir also builds suspense by cutting between the rescue scene and NASA mission control. Like the reader, the NASA team and people around the world are waiting to see if the rescue will succeed. The crew’s last-minute plan pays off and Watney safely makes it onto the ship, showing that, in extreme situations, taking risks is often necessary.
In a message broadcast all over Earth, Lewis radios Hermes to announce that all six of the Ares 3 crew are safely aboard Hermes. The NASA control center bursts into applause. While people celebrate around the world, Watney’s parents in Chicago embrace one another. Mitch and Venkat look at each other and sigh with relief. Teddy takes a blue folder out of his briefcase and prepares to brief the press.
By showing scenes of people celebrating all over the Earth, Weir reminds readers that Watney’s story is bigger than just himself (and even bigger than the scientific progress it represents for NASA). For millions of people, Watney’s survival is a symbol of hope and the tenacity of the human spirit.
Log Entry: Mission Day 687. It’s Sol 549 on Mars, but Watney is now making log entries in reference to mission days. Watney explains that he broke two ribs during the MAV ascent. When Beck, the crew medic, removed Watney’s suit, he was shocked by how Watney smelled—after all, Watney hadn’t bathed in weeks. Beck ran X-rays and bandaged Watney’s chest, and then the crew came into the temporary sick bay to greet Watney. Now, Watney writes, he’s thinking about just how many people worked together in order to rescue him: the crew, the staff at NASA and JPL, and the China National Space Administration. His rescue was extraordinarily expensive, too. Watney sees this as evidence of humanity’s dedication to scientific progress, but also their instinct to help and protect one another. Most people really care about one another. Watney may be tired, smelly, injured, and hungry, but, he says, this is the happiest day of his life.
Watney’s log entry shows us that the practicalities of the rescue weren’t all that glamorous—he’s tired, wounded, and smelly. Yet none of that really matters. Watney’s gratitude to all of the people who helped rescue him reminds readers how much is possible when people collaborate with one another. Weir explicitly conveys one of the novel’s central themes through Watney’s assertion that people are essentially good and they are united by their compassion and their thirst for new knowledge. Watney is happy because he is finally safe, but more importantly because he has been reunited with some of his closest friends. Weir uses this scene to show how much humans need one another.