(Micro)waving goodbye to my peace of mind

LOG ENTRY: SOL 94

It’s good to be back! I’ve just spent a good twenty minutes enjoying the spacious haven that is the Hab. Being cramped in that rover for 22 sols was perhaps the most claustrophobic experience of my life – and I was trapped with five other humans in the desolate wastes of space for 125 days. There were definitely some tense interactions, even though most of the time we got along fine. Now, I would give anything to be back aboard the Hermes with them.

But enough of the past! I’ve got to focus on the present. With Pathfinder retrieved, my chances of actually getting back to Earth just increased exponentially, provided that I can make contact with NASA. If not…well, I’ll deal with that problem if it comes. Right now, fixing the lander is my main priority. Scratch that – food first, science later. Meals when I was living in the rover just didn’t have the same flair as the ones made in the Hab microwave (it probably has something to do with the fact that I didn’t have any means of cooking them). If I end up making the journey to the Ares 4 launch site, I’ll take the Hab microwave. Since I can eat the NASA meal packets without heating them, I didn’t need the microwave on this trip. So, I’m eager to chow down on some good ole Hab-made, thoroughly heated sweet-and-sour chicken. After I’ve eaten, I’ll restore the Hab environment to normal and start restoring Pathfinder. Check back in later.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 94 (2)

Correction – it looks like it’s gonna be science first, food later, because I was overdue for a disaster and also the universe hates me. I mean, things were going too well; I should’ve known that finding Pathfinder wouldn’t come with some kind of cosmic backlash. After all, a single catastrophe-free expedition is simply too much to ask while on this red ball of evil!

Okay, okay. I should probably explain what’s gone wrong this time (for posterity). I’m incredibly frustrated and worried about my situation at the moment, but I can’t succumb to panic.

So you remember how I deactivated the atmospheric regulator on Sol 71, 23 sols ago? I said it would make everything “crazy humid, and water will condense on every surface” (yup, I looked up my old logs so I could quote them and wallow in my stupidity). Well, I was right. The thing is, I forgot that maybe some of those surfaces wouldn’t particularly enjoy being covered in water. Specifically, the Hab microwave. A microwave is a microwave, on Earth or on Mars, so NASA didn’t modify ours very much before launching it into outer space. It was basically just fortified so that when it crash-landed on Mars, it wouldn’t shatter into a million pieces. But, the scientists at NASA didn’t expect 100% humidity to ever occur on a planet with literally no water in the atmosphere, so they didn’t bother to waterproof the electronics. (Un)lucky me,  I’ve completely subverted the original mission parameters! Awesome! Hence, the 100% humidity. Of course, water + electrical circuits = complete ruin, as basically everyone knows. So, when I powered up the microwave without pulling all that moisture out of the air using the atmospheric regulator, it did this really great thing where it sparked ominously for a while and then shorted out completely.

I immediately made a panicked, rudimentary examination of the wreckage, but it doesn’t look like a quick fix. There are genuine scorch marks in some places. Not good. Without the microwave, it’s not going to be easy to rehydrate and reheat the meals that NASA sent down, but I can continue to eat them straight out of the package. So much for that tasty meal, though. However, there aren’t that many meals left, and once they’re gone, I’m left with just potatoes. This is bad for a couple reasons. First of all, the indigestible starches, enzyme inhibitors, and toxins that come along with eating raw potatoes are less than ideal. I do know that green potatoes are the ones that contain high levels of toxins like solanine and chaconine, and those are pretty easily identifiable. But, while peeling and “juicing” the potato removes those pesky resistant starches, potato juice is both incredibly unappetizing AND lower in calories than a cooked potato. Also, I don’t exactly have a food processor on hand, so I’d have to juice them by hand, burning valuable calories.

Since I planned to spend most of the next 1318 sols eating plain potatoes, it doesn’t look as though I can survive without a way to cook them. A fire would probably work, if I had anything flammable laying around besides the potatoes themselves, but creating the tiny flame necessary to produce water was difficult enough. Besides, I’m all out of hydrazine.

So…..it looks like my best option is to fix the fried circuit board. I’m a mechanical engineer, not an electrician, but I can give it a shot and hope for the best. It’s not like I can do even more damage at this point. Of course, if I got in contact with NASA via Pathfinder, the geniuses on Earth could probably figure it out for me. The problem is that I only have a rotating camera to communicate with. With enough time, we could probably establish a sophisticated communication system that allows for discussions about current and resistance and all that jazz, but time isn’t something I have a ton of right now. Without a microwave, it won’t be long before I’m munching on raw potatoes like they’re apples and praying that they don’t cause crippling stomach pains.

This is pretty overwhelming, and it’s been a long couple days, so I’m gonna eat another gross, dehydrated food packet and call it a night. Tomorrow, I’ll deal with the broken husk of all my hopes and dreams (maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I think I’m allowed to be a little dramatic since I’m stranded alone on Mars).

LOG ENTRY: SOL 95

Any future readers of this log will no doubt be ecstatic to know that I am currently eating my sweet-and-sour chicken, fully cooked, straight from … you guessed it, the Hab microwave!

Last night I fell asleep while wracking my brain for spare circuit components that could be integrated into the microwave circuit board. This morning, it hit me – I could use one of the abandoned laptops! The wiring is way more complicated, naturally, but they’ve got all the necessary components.

The first order of business was to take another look at the circuit board without a haze of panic hanging over me. The first thing I realized was that the scorch marks were caused by a fuse blowing when the current flowing through the water on the wiring overloaded the circuits. Fuses are easy to replace when they blow – that’s basically their purpose, after all – so that was a good thing. There was also damage to the board, which was less good, but soldering in some laptop components did the job. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I have a lot of solder burns and Beck’s laptop is now only good for serving as a makeshift lap desk (and even then it’s kinda uneven). But, the microwave turned on! I tried to cook this food in it and I succeeded! Not to brag, but I’m pretty impressed by my own ingenuity. Maybe when (if?) I get back to Earth, my alma mater will give me an honorary degree in electrical engineering for my incredible achievements.

Now that I cook my food, it’s back to the real mission – getting home. With some luck, I’ll be communicating with NASA soon, but Pathfinder isn’t going to fix itself! I’ll check back in when I have a progress report on the lander.

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