The dust storm that Watney must circumnavigate on his way to Schiaparelli represents the danger of the unknown. Watney does not notice when he enters the storm, and the further he drives into the storm, the less power he gains from his solar cells. Once the solar cells’ efficiency drops to a certain level, Watney’s life support will fail. NASA scientists are powerless to alert him to the storm, and they know that once he is deep within it, their satellites will be unable to track him. Though Watney does notice the storm soon enough to change his course, his limited knowledge continues to threaten to his safety. He is able to determine the direction in which the storm is moving, but he can’t know the exact shape or size of the storm. Usually, Watney is able to identify what he doesn’t know and seek out answers. The dust storm is a different situation entirely; it emphasizes that when Watney is unaware that he is missing a key piece of information, the unknown is potentially deadly.
The Dust Storm Quotes in The Martian
“The edge of the storm isn’t a magic line. It’s just an area where the dust gets a little more dense. […] It’ll be really subtle; every day will be slightly darker than the last. Too subtle to notice.” Venkat sighed. “He’ll go hundreds of kilometers, wondering why his solar panel efficiency is going down, before he notices any visibility problems. And the storm is moving west as he moves east. He’ll be too deep in to get out.”
If I could get Opportunity’s radio working, I’d be in touch with humanity again. NASA would continually tell me my exact position and best course, warn me if another storm was on its way, and generally be there watching over me. But if I’m being honest, that’s not the real reason I’m interested. I’m sick of being on my own, damn it!