Well, it seems I have either a huge problem, or a very slight problem. I’m hoping for the latter.
It started this morning after breakfast. After my routine of eating NASA’s excuse for food and finishing last night’s episode of Dukes of Hazard, I realized I hadn’t checked the HAB’s diagnostics in about a week. I have been keeping a keen eye on my potatoes, but I became suddenly paranoid the carbon dioxide levels weren’t quite perfect. If I’m gonna grow the planet’s first potatoes, I’m damn sure gonna set the standard high.
I went to check the carbon dioxide and that’s when I found something wrong. The diagnostics were all completely out of whack. The system showed air composition levels that were borderline uninhabitable. Usually the atmosphere on Earth and the settings in the HAB are about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and the rest trace gases. The diagnostic reader for the HAB said 5% oxygen and 94% nitrogen, which is habitable, but not for long.
The weird thing is that I would definitely notice this. I’m almost certain a 16% loss of oxygen would tire me out enormously, so something’s not adding up. Perhaps the loss of oxygen has already damaged my brain permanently, but I’d rather not be so grim.
My current hypothesis is that something is wrong with the diagnostics reader in the HAB. There’s no other way to test for the levels in the HAB, but the fact that the plants are still alive further helps this hypothesis.
I told NASA all this and they think I fucked something up. As a victim here, I figure they would be a little nicer to me, but no, they’re blaming me for everything. I could always play the “you left me on Mars” card, but that’s probably in poor taste.
To be safe, I’m gonna sleep in the rover tonight. NASA thinks they have a plan, but we’ll see tomorrow.
So no, the HAB has not been draining oxygen. NASA told me to check out the backup diagnostics reader, which I had no idea about, but whatever. Thanks NASA. The conversation this morning went something like this:
[10:03] JPL: You’re sure the reader in the HAB and the backup are malfunctioning?
[10:11] WATNEY: Back up reader?
[10:21] JPL: Come on Mark, the one outside the third airlock? Were you even paying attention in training?
[10:30] WATNEY: Eat my ass
I may or may not have sent that last message. The backup diagnostics reader is outside the HAB, behind a panel next to the third airlock. Apparently it’s here for emergencies where we can’t enter the HAB, but I don’t know why NASA was hiding it from me. And no, I’m not considering the possibility that “I wasn’t paying attention in training.” Screw you, NASA.
The readings on the backup were different, but they still weren’t right. In fact, they were hilariously impossible. Something like 1332% oxygen, .290% nitrogen and 48% helium. Real nice equipment you got here NASA.
I walked around inside the HAB for about 20 minutes and decided that everything felt normal. This and the reading from outside almost completely confirm this is all a silly software bug. It’s possible this HAB was never intended to be occupied for this long and was never bug-tested for scenarios that involve me living in here for more than 90 sols. I can’t know exactly what set it off, but it sounds like real shoddy programming on NASA’s end. I could just ignore the diagnostics since I know nothing’s wrong, but this issue is really annoying NASA. I’ve gotta agree with them here. If there actually is a problem inside of the HAB, all I would have is some nonsense readings. They have another master plan for me tomorrow, but I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one.
I’ll sleep in the HAB tonight as I’m pretty sure it’s safe, but also because sleeping in the rover really messed up my back last night, so I’m willing to risk the 48% helium.
Yeah, I fucked up pretty bad, and I’m running out of time.
The HAB was fine when I woke up. I even sang a little in the shower to check if any helium changed my voice. After some midday farming, I got the plans from NASA for a complete reboot of the HAB. I asked them why I couldn’t just reboot the diagnostics systems and their answer was something in the realm of security issues and the importance of having all the systems working and intertwined. It’s also probably a good idea to reboot the whole system since there could be other problems in the HAB.
So, for maybe 30 minutes, I added computer scientist to my other titles of botanist, engineer, Champion of Mars, etc. The code for rebooting the HAB was actually quite simple. The real fun was entering in NASA’s 800 lines of security override to allow access.
Initially I was worried about the potatoes, but the way the HAB reboots wouldn’t be a problem for them. The air in the HAB will drain for the duration it is off, but as soon as it reboots the oxygenator will resume as usual. The HAB takes about 13 minutes to turn on again, and 13 minutes without an oxygenator should be fine. Vegetables can live in a vacuum longer than we can.
Well, when I hit execute, the entire HAB shut off, as expected, and I patiently waited 13 minutes. I couldn’t talk to NASA either since the Pathfinder is hooked up to the same battery, so I just had to pray it would turn on in 13 minutes.
I guess God can’t hear prayers from Mars.
At the time I’m writing this it has been 40 minutes, which for whatever reason is my cutoff as to when it’s time to freak out. If I can’t figure out a solution soon, I can sleep in the rover, but right now, I’ve gotta hurry or else the all my plants will die.
Sol 92 (2)
I might have fixed a thing. It might be a temporary solution but it’s the best solution I could whip together in a short time.
The first place I went was the HAB battery. It was connected fine, but for some reason it didn’t turn on. I even tried the manual switch but no dice. It’s all solar powered, but there is a backup generator for situations like this. The problem is that it’s not connected to the HAB at all. The generator is in a separate tent that is maybe 50 meters from airlock two.
The generator is big and heavy. It’s about a six by six foot cube and maybe around 400 pounds, which is too much for me to carry in even Mars gravity. My elegant solution was to push it with the rover. I had to be careful not to crush any part of it, but it’s mostly just a box and the path wasn’t too bad if I went slow. Once I had it in position, I disconnected the old battery and connected the new one. This generator could maybe power the HAB for 12 hours, but I could extend it to maybe 36 if I only use essential utilities. The important thing was buying enough time for my plants while I work on a longer term solution.
The good new is that the reboot fixed the diagnostics! Everything is reading correctly on both terminals. I would rather, however, have NASA’s failed math over a doomsday clock on my plants.
Made some real progress today, but there may be a few long term issues.
I’m not an electrical engineer and I’m not a mad scientist, so I have no idea how to make a new battery for the HAB. They just don’t teach you that stuff in college anymore. What I am, however, is a mechanical engineer, so I definitely know how to take shit apart. The problem is that it might cost me the rovers indefinitely.
The rovers have huge batteries that are solar powered. They aren’t super powerful, but what I can do is dismantle them from the rovers and hook them up to HAB. The generator will just not last long enough, while the sun should be shining for at least the foreseeable future.
Attaching the batteries was actually not a huge pain, but dismantling them from the rover required pretty much every tool they gave us. It’s almost like NASA didn’t want me to tear apart the rovers they spent millions of dollars on.
The batteries aren’t enough to power the whole HAB, but it should be enough to sustain me and the plants with only essential functions. I checked on the plants and they’re fine. I watered them a little extra today since they’ve had a tough weekend. They deserve it.
I’m still not sure why the old battery wasn’t working, but it certainly fried from the reboot. Maybe I can repurpose it for something else.
I reestablished contact with NASA, which was surely a heartwarming reunion. They yelled at me for tearing up their rovers, but hey, their code almost completely left me in the dark. I’m not super happy with them, but I’ve gotta remember they’re working around the clock to get me home. Maybe I’ll send them a thank you note.