Weir shifts the novel’s focus back to earth, where CNN reporter Cathy Warner is interviewing Venkat on the Mark Watney Report. Venkat explains that NASA and the European Space Agency are using satellite images to track Watney’s EVA activities. They’ve noticed that Watney is preparing for a trip to the Ares 4 MAV site. Reaching the MAV would allow Watney to communicate with NASA, but it’s a dangerous trip. NASA hopes Watney will stay safely at the Hab until they can arrange a rescue. Venkat affirms that NASA is doing everything they can to bring Watney home alive.
Weir uses Cathy’s interview with Venkat to create suspense and dramatic irony. Though NASA believes that Watney is heading for the Ares 4 MAV site, readers know from chapter seven that Watney is headed somewhere else. Readers know a bit more than Venkat and Cathy do, but it is still unclear to everyone what Watney’s plan is or what will happen next.
The scene shifts again, and the narrator uses a third person limited point of view that follows Mindy’s thoughts. She’s in a meeting with NASA’s top management, including Teddy, Venkat, Annie, JPL director Bruce Ng, and Ares 3 flight director Mitch Henderson. She’s extremely nervous—she feels out of place. Mindy has been put in charge of tracking Watney using satellite imagery. Mitch wants Bob, the director of SatCon, to be charge of the project, but Venkat expresses support for Mindy, and then tells Mitch not to make Mindy feel bad.
This scene highlights the “boy’s club” workplace dynamic at NASA. Annie is brash and confident (traits often associated with masculinity), and Mindy is nervous and quiet (qualities often considered feminine). While Mitch respects Annie, he is dismissive of Mindy, and when Venkat stands up for Mindy, he does so in a condescending way, emphasizing that her feelings need to be protected.
The managers discuss the RTG—from satellite images, they’ve realized that Watney is using it for heat, but they decide not to make this analysis public. The RTG sounds more dangerous than it actually is, and the news that Watney is using radioactive materials could cause bad press.
We learn that RTGs aren’t used on manned ships, not because they’re too dangerous, but because the public sees nuclear energy as inherently unsafe. This shows how the media and public opinion influence NASA’s decisions.
Bruce explains that JPL is still working on a way to use the Ares 4 MDV to rescue Watney and then fly to the Ares 4 MAV site. Teddy asks Mindy to adjust satellite trajectories to improve imagery of the Ares 3 site.
Teddy’s request to Mindy signals that, in spite of Mitch’s objections, she is being promoted to play a more active role in monitoring Watney’s activities on Mars.
Though Teddy and Venkat have already decided not to tell the Ares 3 crew that Watney is alive, Mitch challenges this decision. He argues that the information would improve morale, and claims the decision is within his jurisdiction as flight director. Teddy, whose rank as administrator gives him the final word, tells Mitch they’ll wait to tell the crew until NASA has a clear plan for how to rescue Watney. Mitch fumes.
This conflict between Teddy and Mitch highlights the roles that bureaucracy and media play in decision-making at NASA. Teddy knows that the public sees him as responsible for the Ares 3 crew’s safety, and he considers it his duty to prioritize the crew’s safety, even if it means concealing information from them.
Next, the team discusses how to keep Watney alive long enough for rescue. The best option is to send the Ares 4 pre-supply probe to the Ares 3 site—this means building the probe in three months instead of six. They’ll also need to steal the fuel booster from the Eagle Eye 3 Saturn probe, delaying that mission.
With this conversation, the reader realizes that, like Watney, NASA is racing against the clock, trying to problem-solve fast enough to keep Watney alive and get him home.
The perspective of the novel shifts into third-person limited from Venkat’s point of view. He is in his office, writing a letter to ask a congressman to support emergency funding to help rescue Watney. Mindy knocks at the door. Venkat notes to himself that her outfit isn’t very put-together—she must be stressed. Mindy apologizes for bothering Venkat, then tells him Watney has driven due south, 76 km from the Hab. Based on his direction, he’s not going to the Ares 4 site.
The detail of Venkat’s letter to a congressman reminds us that NASA is publicly funded. Venkat’s assessment of Mindy’s outfit once again reveals subtle workplace sexism—an ideal female employee is not only capable, but also stylish. Mindy’s news reveals to Venkat what the readers already knew. Now Mindy, Venkat, and the reader are wondering where Watney is going.
In CNN’s studios, Cathy is interviewing Marcus Washington from USPS. He explains that the post office issued commemorative stamps when Watney was first believed dead, then discontinued them when he was found alive. Watney is the first person to have a commemorative stamp printed during his lifetime. Thousands were sold.
Cathy’s interview with Marcus Washington serves the same purpose in the novel as it does on Cathy’s show—the anecdote about the stamps is bland but amusing filler that occupies us and increases our suspense while we wait for critical news on Watney.
The Watney Report’s next guest is Dr. Irene Shields, flight psychologist for the Ares missions. She tells Cathy that Watney is intelligent, resourceful, a good problem solver, and a positive thinker. He copes with stress through jokes and humor. The Ares crew, Dr. Shields notes, still doesn’t know he’s alive. Cathy asks how a man like Watney responds psychologically to being completely alone with no apparent signs of help. Dr. Shields explains that if he gives up hope, he likely won’t survive. She believes that, if Watney has indeed lost hope, he may be headed to Ares 4 not to wait for rescue, but rather in hopes of speaking to another person before he dies. No one wants to die alone, she says, adding that if Watney believes he will not be rescued, he would likely choose to overdose on Morphine rather than starve to death. Cathy cuts to a commercial break.
Dr. Shields’ comments reveal to the reader that Watney’s quips about seventies TV and the rover/Sirius pun may be a coping mechanism. Though we know from earlier chapters that Watney tries not to dwell on how alone he truly is on Mars, Dr. Shields gives readers—as well as Cathy—some insight into the kind of thoughts Watney might not be willing to record in the mission log. Her words emphasize the importance of hope and human connection, themes that Weir addresses throughout the novel. When Dr. Shields mentions suicide, Cathy cuts her off—the public wants to see this as a story of hope and perseverance, too.
Venkat is in his office, on the phone with Bruce. Bruce explains that when the pre-supply probe lands, its comm system will broadcast its location to the rover and EVA suit. As it lands, the probe will drop a bunch of bright green ribbons that say, “MARK: TURN ON YOUR COMM.” When Watney finds one, he’ll turn on his radio and be able to find his way to the pre-supply probe full of food. Bruce notes that if Watney is really headed for Ares 4, he won’t have a Hab, which will make it difficult for him to survive long enough to be rescued.
Venkat and Bruce’s low-tech solution to communicating with Watney when the pre-supply probe lands shows that, even at NASA, creative thinking can be just as critical as high-tech gadgets. At the same time, Bruce’s comment about the Hab reminds us that Watney is relying on technology for basic life-support. Readers know that Watney is not headed for Ares 4, so Bruce’s comment creates a sense of dramatic irony.
Soon after the call, Mindy notifies Venkat that Watney is continuing his trip. As they examine his coordinates, Venkat realizes that Watney is headed to Pathfinder, an unmanned probe that NASA lost contact with in 1997. If Watney can get its communication system online, he can talk to NASA. Venkat calls Bruce with the good news.
Mindy and Venkat’s discovery resolves the question that has hung over all of chapter eight—where is Watney going? The discovery that Watney may soon be able to communicate with NASA gives Mindy, Venkat, Bruce, and the reader a new sense of hope.