LOG ENTRY: SOL 14
I got my undergrad degree at the University of Chicago. Half the people who studied botany were hippies who thought they could return to some natural world system. Somehow feeding 7 billion people through pure gathering. They spent most of their time working out better ways to grow pot. I didn’t like them. I’ve always been in it for the science, not for any New World Order bullshit.
When they made compost heaps and tried to conserve every little ounce of living matter, I laughed at them. “Look at the silly hippies!” I would scoff. “Look at their pathetic attempts to simulate a complex global ecosystem in their back yard.”
Of course now I’m doing exactly that. I’m saving every scrap of biomatter I can find. Every time I finish a meal, the leftovers go to the compost bucket. As for other biological material…
The Hab has sophisticated toilets. Shit is usually vaccum-dried, then accumulated in sealed bags to be discarded on the surface.
Not any more!
In fact, I even did an EVA to recover the previous bags of shit from before the crew left. Being completely desiccated, this particular shit didn’t have bacteria in it anymore, but it still had complex proteins and would serve as useful manure. Adding it to water and active bacteria would quickly get it inundated, replacing any population killed by the Toilet Of Doom.
I found a big container and filled it with a bit of water, then added the dried shit. Since then, I’ve added my own shit to it as well. The worse it smells, the more successful things are going. That’s the bacteria at work!
Once I get some Martian soil in here, I can mix in the shit and spread it out. Then I can sprinkle the Earth soil on top. You might not think that would be an important step, but it is. There are dozens of species of bacteria living in Earth soil, and they're critical to plant growth. They'll spread out and breed like... well, like a bacterial infection..
Within a week, the Martian soil will be ready for plants to germinate in. But I won’t plant yet. I’ll spread it out over a doubled area. It’ll “infect” the new Martian soil. After another week, I’ll double it again. And so on. Of course, all the while, I’ll be adding all new manure to the effort.
My asshole is doing as much to keep me alive as my brain.
This isn’t a new concept I just came up with. People have speculated on how to make crop soil out of Martian dirt for decades. I’ll just be putting it to the test for the first time.
I searched through the food supplies and found all sorts of things that I can plant. Peas, for instance. Plenty of beans, too. I also found several potatoes. If *any* of them can still germinate after their ordeal, that’ll be great. With a nearly infinite supply of vitamins, all I need are calories of any kind to survive.
The total floor-space of the Hab is about 92 square meters. I plan to dedicate all of it to this endeavor. I don’t mind walking on dirt. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m going to need to cover the entire floor to a depth of 10 cm. That means I’ll have to transport 9.2 cubic meters of Martian soil in to the Hab. I can get maybe 1/10th of a cubic meter in through the airlock at a time, and it’ll be backbreaking work to collect it. But in the end, if everything goes to plan, I’ll have 92 square meters of croppable soil.
Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!
LOG ENTRY: SOL 15
Ugh! This is backbreaking work!
I spent 12 hours today on EVAs to bring dirt in to the Hab. I only managed to cover a small corner of the base, maybe 5 square meters. At this rate it’ll take me weeks to get all the soil in. But hey, time is one thing I’ve got.
The first few EVAs were pretty inefficient; me filling small containers and bringing them in through the airlock. Then I got wise and just put one big container in the airlock itself and filled that with small containers till it was full. That sped things up a lot because the airlock takes about 10 minutes to get through.
I ache all over. And the shovels I have are made for taking samples, not heavy digging. My back is killing me. I foraged in the medical supplies and found some Vicodin. I took it about 10 minutes ago. Should be kicking in soon.
Anyway, it’s nice to see progress. Time to start getting the bacteria to work on these minerals. After lunch. No 3/4 ration today. I’ve earned a full meal.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 16
One complication I hadn’t though of: Water.
Turns out being on the surface of Mars for a few million years eliminates all the water in the soil. My master’s degree in botany makes me pretty sure plants need wet dirt to grow in. Not to mention the bacteria that has to live in it first.
Fortunately, I have water. But not as much as I want. To be viable, soil needs 40 liters of water per cubic meter. My overall plan calls for 9.2 cubic meters of soil. So I’ll eventually need 368 liters of water to feed it.
The Hab has an excellent Water Reclaimer. Best technology available on Earth. So NASA figured “why send a lot of water up there? Just send enough for an emergency.” Humans need 3 liters of water per day to be comfortable. They gave us 50 liters each. There are 300 liters total in the Hab.
Looks like I won’t be able to cover the whole surface of the Hab with fertile soil. I’m willing to dedicate all but an emergency 50 liters to the cause. That means I can feed 62.5 square meters at a depth of 10cm. About 2/3 of the Hab’s floor. It’ll have to do. Anyway, I’ve only got a paltry 5 square meters covered at the moment.
I spread the sand out in a corner of the Hab, about 10cm thick. I wadded up a few blankets and uniforms from my departed crewmates to serve as one edge of a planter box (with the curved walls of the Hab being the rest of the perimeter). Then I sacrificed 20 liters of precious water to the dirt gods.
5 square meters was about right for the amount of manure I had handy. I dumped my big container o’ shit on to the soil and nearly puked from the smell.
That smell’s going to stick around for a while, too. It’s not like I can open a window. Still, you get used to it. I mixed this soil and shit together with a shovel, and spread it out evenly again. Then I sprinkled the Earth soil on top. Get to work, bacteria. I’m counting on you.
In other news, today is Thanksgiving. My family will be gathering in Chicago for the usual feast at my parent's house. My guess is it won't be much fun, what with me having died 11 days ago. Hell, they probably just got done gathering for my funeral.
I wonder if they'll ever find out what really happened.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 22
Wow. Things really came along.
I got all the sand in and ready to go. 2/3 of the base is now dirt. And today I executed my first dirt-doubling. It's been a week, and the former Martian soil was rich and lovely. Two more doublings and I will have covered the whole field.
All that work was great for my morale. It gave me something to do. But after things settled down a bit, and I had dinner while listening to Johanssen’s Beatles music collection, I got depressed again.
Doing the math, this won’t keep me from starving.
My best bet for making calories is potatoes. They grow prolifically and have a reasonable caloric content (770 calories per kg). I’m pretty sure the ones I have will germinate. Problem is I can’t grow enough of them. In 62 square meters, I could grow maybe 150kg of potatoes in 400 days (the time I have before running out of food). That’s a grand total of 115,500 calories, a sustainable average of 288 calories per day. With my height and weight, if I’m willing to starve a little, I need 1500 calories per day.
Not even close.
So I can’t just live off the land for ever. But I can extend my life. The potatoes will last me 76 days.
Potatoes grow continually, so in those 76 days, I can grow another 22,000 calories of potatoes, which will tide me over for another 15 days. After that, it’s kind of pointless to continue the trend. All told it buys me about 90 days.
So now I’ll start starving to death on Sol 490 instead of Sol 400. It’s progress, but any hope of survival rests on me surviving until Sol 1412, when Ares 4 will land.
There’s about a thousand days of food I don’t have. And I don’t have a plan for how to get it.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 25
Remember those old math questions you had in Algebra class? Where water is entering a container at a certain rate and leaving at a different rate and you need to figure out when it’ll be empty? Well, that concept is critical to the “Mark Watney doesn’t die” project I’m working on.
I need to create calories. And I need enough to last four years. I figure if I don’t get rescued by Ares 4, I’m dead anyway. So that’s my target: four years.
I have plenty of multivitamins; over double what I need. And there’s five times the minimum protein in each food pack, so careful rationing of portions takes care of my protein needs for at least four years. My general nutrition is taken care of. I just need calories.
I need 1500 calories every day. I have 400 days of food to start off with. So how many calories do I need to generate per day along the entire time period to stay alive for 1400 days total (the time till Ares 4 arrives)?
I’ll spare you the math. The answer is a cool 1000. I need to create 1000 calories per day with my farming efforts to survive until Ares 4 gets here. Actually, a little more than that, because it’s sol 25 right now and I haven’t actually planted anything yet.
With my 62 square meters of farmland, I’ll be able to create about 288 calories per day. I need to bring that up to 1000. I need four times my current plan’s production to survive.
I need more surface area for farming, and I need water to hydrate the soil. So let’s take the problems one at a time.
How much farmland can I really make?
There are 92 square meters in the Hab. Let’s say I could make use of all of it.
Also, there are five unused bunks. Let’s say I put soil in on them, too. They’re 2 square meters each, giving me 10 more square meters. So we’re up to 102.
The Hab has three lab tables, each about 2 square meters. I want to keep one for my own use, leaving two for the cause. That’s another four square meters, bringing the total to 106.
I have two Martian rovers. They have pressure seals, allowing the occupants to drive in ease, without spacesuits, as they spent long periods traversing the surface. They’re too cramped to plant crops in, and I want to be able to drive them around anyway. But both rovers have an emergency pop-tent.
There are a lot of problems with using pop-tents as farmland, but they have 10 square meters of floor space each. Presuming I can overcome the problems, they net me another 20 square meters, bringing my farmland up to 126.
126 square meters of farmable land. That’s something to work with. Not nearly enough water to moisten the soil, but like I said, one thing at a time.
The next thing to consider is how efficient I can be in growing potatoes. I based my crop yield estimates on the potato industry back on Earth. But potato farmers aren’t in a desperate race for survival like I am. Can I get a better yield?
For starters, I can give attention to each individual plant. I can trim them and keep them healthy and not interfering with each other. Also, as their flowering bodies breach the surface, I can replant them deeper, then plant younger plants above them. For normal potato farmers, it’s not worth doing because they’re working with literally millions of potato plants.
Also, this sort of farming annihilates the soil. Any farmer doing it would turn their land into a dust bowl within 12 years. It’s not sustainable. But who gives a shit? I just need to survive four years.
I estimate I can get 50% higher yield by using these tactics. And with the 126 square meter farmland (just over double the 62 square meters I have) it works out to be over 900 calories per day.
That’s real progress. I’d still be in danger of starvation, but it gets me in the range of survival. I might be able to make it by nearly starving but not quite dying. I could reduce my caloric use by minimizing manual labor. I could set the temperature of the Hab higher than normal, meaning my body expends less energy keeping its temperature. I could cut off an arm and eat it, gaining me valuable calories and reducing my overall caloric need.
No, not really.
So let’s say I could clear up that much farmland. Seems reasonable. Where do I get the water? To go from 62 to 126 square meters of farmland at 10cm deep, I’ll need 6.4 more cubic meters of soil (more shoveling, whee!) and that’ll need over 250 liters of water.
The 50L I have is for me to drink if the Water Reclaimer breaks. So I’m 250L short of my 250L goal.
Bleh. I’m going to bed.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 26
It was a back-breaking yet productive day.
I was sick of thinking, so instead of trying to figure out where I’ll get 250L of water, I did some manual labor. I need to get a whole assload more soil in to the Hab, even if it is dry and useless right now.
I got a cubic meter in before getting exhausted.
Then, a minor dust-storm dropped by for an hour and covered the solar collectors with crap. So I had to suit up *again* and do *another* EVA. I was in a pissy mood the whole time. Sweeping off a huge field of solar cells is boring and physically demanding. But once the job was done, I came back to my Little Hab on the Prairie.
It was about time for another dirt-doubling, so I figured I may as well get it over with. It took an hour. One more doubling and the usable soil will all be good to go.
Also, I figured it was time to start up a seed crop. I’d doubled the soil enough that I could afford to leave a little corner of it alone. I had 12 potatoes to work with.
I am one lucky son-of-a-bitch they aren’t freeze-dried or mulched. Why did NASA send 12 whole potatoes, refrigerated but not frozen? And why send them along with us as in-pressure cargo rather than in a crate with the rest of the Hab supplies? Because Thanksgiving was going to happen while we were doing surface operations, and NASA’s shrinks thought it would be good to make a meal together. Not just to eat it, but to actually prepare it. There’s probably some logic to that, but who cares?
I cut each potato in to 4 pieces, making sure each piece had at least 2 eyes. The eyes are where they sprout from. I let them sit for a few hours to harden a bit, then planted them, well spaced apart, in the corner. God speed, little taters. My life depends on you.
Normally, it takes 90 days to yield full sized potatoes. But I can’t wait that long. I’ll need to cut up all the potatoes from this crop to seed the rest of the field.
By setting the Hab temperature to a balmy 25.5C, the plants will grow quicker. Also, the internal lights will provide plenty of “sunlight” and I’ll make sure they get lots of water (once I figure out where to get water). There will be no foul weather, or any parasites to hassle them, or any weeds to compete with for soil or nutrients. With all this going for them, they should yield healthy, sproutable tubers within 40 days.
I figured that was enough being Farmer Mark for one day.
A full meal for dinner. I’d earned it. Plus, I’d burned a ton of calories and I wanted them back.
I rifled through Commander Lewis’s stuff until I found her personal data-stick. Everyone got to bring whatever digital entertainment they wanted, and I was tired of listening to Johanssen’s Beatles Albums for now. Time to see what Lewis had.
Crappy TV shows. That’s what she had. Countless entire runs of TV shows from forever ago.
Well. Beggars can’t be choosers. “Three’s Company” it is.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 29
Over the last few days, I got all the dirt in that I’d need. I prepped the tables and bunks for holding the weight of soil, and even put the dirt in place. There’s still no water to make it viable, but I have some ideas. Really bad ideas, but they’re ideas.
Today’s big accomplishment was setting up the pop-te
The problem with the rovers’ pop-tents is they weren’t designed for frequent use.
The idea was you’d throw out a pop-tent, get in, and wait for rescue. The airlock is nothing more than valves and two doors. Equalize the airlock with your side of it, get in. equalize with the other side, get out. This means you lose a lot of air each use. And I’ll need to get in there at least once a day. The total volume of each pop tent is pretty low, so I can’t afford to lose air from it.
I spent *hours* trying to figure out how to attach a pop-tent airlock to a Hab airlock. I have three airlocks in the Hab. I’d be willing to dedicate two to pop-tents. That would have been awesome.
The frustrating part is pop-tent airlocks *can* attach to other airlocks! You might have injured people in there, or not enough space suits. You need to be able to get people out without exposing them to the Martian atmosphere.
But the pop-tents were designed for your crewmates to come rescue you in a *rover*. The airlocks on the Hab are much larger and completely different than the airlocks on the rovers. When you think about it, there’s really no reason to attach a pop-tent to the Hab.
Unless you’re stranded on Mars and everyone thinks you’re dead and you’re in a desperate fight against time and the elements to stay alive. But, you know, other than that edge case there’s no reason.
So I finally decided I’d just take the hit. I’ll be losing some air every time I enter or exit a pop-tent. The good news is each pop-tent has an air feed valve on the outside. Remember, these are emergency shelters. The occupants might need air, and you can provide it from a rover by hooking up an air line. It’s nothing more than a tube that equalizes the rover’s air with the pop-tent’s.
The Hab and the rovers use the same valve and tubing standards, so I was able to attach the pop tents directly to the Hab. That'll automatically replenish the air I lose with my entries and exits (what we NASA folk call ingress and egress).
NASA was not fucking around with these emergency tents. The moment I pushed the panic button in the rover, there was an ear-popping whoosh as the pop-tent fired out, attached to the rover airlock. It took about two seconds.
I closed the airlock from the rover side and ended up with a nice, isolated pop-tent. Setting up the equalizer hose was trivial (for once I’m using equipment the way it was designed to be used). Then, after a few trips through the airlock (with the air-loss automatically equalized by the Hab) I got the dirt in.
I repeated the process for the other tent. Everything went really easily.
In high school, I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. (You may not have guessed this Botanist / Mechanical Engineer was a bit of a nerd in high school, but indeed I was). In the game I played a Cleric. One of the magic spells I could cast was “Create Water”. I always thought it was a really stupid spell, and it never came up. Boy what I wouldn’t give to be able to do that in real life right now.
Anyway. That’s a problem for tomorrow.
For tonight, I have to get back to “Three’s Company.” I stopped last night in the middle of the episode where Mr. Roper saw something and took it out of context.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 30
I have an idiotically dangerous plan for getting the water I need. And boy do