The Martian (Chapter 8.5)-3D Printing on Mars


I started the morning with Sirius 3.5 – just a shortish drive to calm my nerves and verify that everything is functioning before the big Sirius 4. The ride started noisier and bumpier than usual, which was concerning. A few kilometers later, a deafening crack snapped me out of my driving haze, and the Rover lurched to a jarring stop. Now I’m here in the Rover, rattled but OK.

Oh shit. I just remembered the RTG is right behind me. Remember that giant box of super radioactive plutonium that’s keeping me warm? NASA was pretty clear that I should never damage it, or it would kill me dead. First things, first, I need to make sure it’s still intact.



After 45 minutes of diagnostics driven by fear of radiation poisoning, I think I can safely say that the RTG is still in good condition. If it weren’t, I’d be facing irreversible radiation damage. I spent an additional hour verifying all of the life support systems that are keeping me alive, and everything seems to be working. Now that I’m confident that the Rover isn’t going to kill me, I need to go to suit up and take a look at what happened to it.



Shit. I found the problem. Each of the Rover’s wheels are attached to the Rover via an axle and three structural beams. At some point during one of my recent tests, the outermost support on the front right wheel started to crack, probably when I drove over a Martian pot-hole. Seriously, the road maintenance out here is terrible – what am I paying all these taxes for? The Rovers were only ever designed for a 31 Sol mission with minimal driving, so wear and tear is getting the best of me. Had I noticed immediately, I would’ve stopped driving and tried to fix it. Instead, I drove another 15 kilometers on a damaged rover. The other two supports were never designed to hold up the Rover by themselves, and now they’re both warping. The cracking sound was the first beam as it finally snapped. If I continue to drive the Rover, I run the risk of permanently grounding it (and me). Actually, at this point, I’m not even sure I can drive the Rover. If I can’t fix Rover 2, I won’t get to Pathfinder and I won’t get in touch with NASA. As disheartening as that thought is, it gets worse – I’ll need the Rover to get to the Schiaparelli Crater to meet up with Ares IV. Without it, I’m as good as dead.


I’m four kilometers away from the HAB in a stationary Rover and night is beginning to fall. Just great. I’m definitely not making it back tonight, so I have to sleep in the Rover.



I hate sleeping in the rover. Every time I do I get an awful backache. Now I have a 4km walk back to the HAB in a bulky EVA suit. Might as well use the time to continue brainstorming…

I’ve cannibalized Rover 1 so much at this point that I can’t switch back. I can’t salvage the supports from Rover 1 either, because they’re welded in place and I’d probably break them in the process of detaching them. I don’t think NASA sent us with spare parts for the rover either. Damn. This is going to be a major setback.



I’m back in the HAB and I might not be doomed after all! I have an idea, but it’s kinda complicated. On the bright side, it is probably one of the least dangerous ideas I’ve come up with on this godforsaken planet.


NASA’s known for years that it would be impossible to try and send spare parts for everything that could go wrong in a mission. Being ready for every possible outcome would more than double the cost of each mission, for little gain. They simplified the list of essentials by standardizing everything they could, like the tubing and valves I’ve already taken advantage of. Around Ares I, NASA realized that it would be much easier and more versatile to send a powerful 3D printer along with the crew, who would then be able to digitally and physically recreate any part needed. It took NASA’s brightest 10 years and several million dollars, but they invented a 3D printer that could print in low gravity and with a variety of readily available materials. Luckily for me, the ‘Archimedes III’ was sent along with our Ares presupplies. I’m going to spend the rest of today trying to figure out what I need to make this work.



Archimedes III was sent in pieces to make it easier to get to Mars. “Some Assembly Required” doesn’t even begin to cover it! It took me 8 EVA’s to bring in all the parts, some of which are quite large. For better or for worse, every single part has an official NASA designation. Every damn screw and plate have 6 digit alphanumeric codes like SR6832 (that ¼” screw with a Robertson head) and HJ0173 (the right angle metal plates that hold the sides together). The instructions are pages and pages of messy diagrams crowded with meaningless codes. You ever try to build an IKEA cabinet? It’s like that but hundreds of times more complicated. I’ve been working on it all day and it’s just now beginning to look like what most people would recognize as a 3D printer. I wish Martinez had been here to help. A second set of hands would’ve made this a lot easier and helped the time pass much faster than Lewis’s awful disco. I miss those guys. If I get this working, in a few days I’ll have Pathfinder and hopefully be able to talk to NASA!



I finally finished building Archie, but I’ve run into another issue. While I have detailed schematics of most of the stuff here, I don’t have any of the print ready part files! NASA never imagined with the MAV’s 3 backup communication systems that astronauts would ever be printing parts without talking to NASA. Normally, they would have a team of engineers on Earth work out a specialized solution to whatever particular problem, and then upload the file to the HAB. It’s going to take me hours to recreate the part I need on my computer.



I’ve finished designing a new support for Rover 2 using Rover 1 as a guide. To prevent this issue from cropping up again, I triple checked my work and reinforced my design. It’s not pretty, but it’ll get the job done. I’m also going to print braces to strengthen the other two members.



I’ve spent a stressful day watching Archie print my new supports at a truly agonizing pace. My fate lies in this machine. If it fails, I’ll die here. I have no backup plan. I need to fix the Rover if I have any hope of getting to Ares IV. Archie’s rhythmic whirring should be soothing to me, but it I can’t stop thinking that it sounds like a tense movie just before the climatic catastrophe. Back and forth. Left and right. Back and forth. I can’t stop watching. The Percentage Complete display slowly ticks higher.  


I swear every second of this print takes an eternity.


Did I design the supports well enough?


Did I build Archie right?


What if the print fails?



YES!!! The print finished! It looks awesome! Tomorrow morning I’ll install it on Rover 2, and hopefully be on my way to Pathfinder!



It took me two hours to walk to Rover 2, and over an hour to install all the new supports and reinforcements, but they all fit perfectly! I’m now writing to you from Rover 2, on my way to Pathfinder!


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