The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 203: Sol 363

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[08:13] WATNEY: Good morning. I have a problem I want to bounce off the back rooms back at JSC.

Two sols ago Starlight Glimmer added the launch boost enchantment to the jumbo batteries. If all goes well, the jumbos will throw three pieces of specially enchanted quartz, and anything attached to them, completely off this planet. This should provide more than enough thrust, when added to the lighter load you’ll give the MAV and the existing engines, to reach Hermes with a substantial fuel reserve in the second ascent stage.

There’s just one hitch. The geniuses back in Ponyland who thought this system up (after Starlight gave them the idea) want it tested. And NASA being NASA, you want it tested too, because nothing makes a NASA engineer clench his buttocks tighter than the thought of sending a human being, never mind six people, up on a launch system that’s absolutely never flown before.

We spent all day yesterday talking about how we could do it. The enchantments are specific and can’t be re-tuned to a new target. If we use the enchantments Starlight made sol before yesterday, we lose those targets. Also, we aren’t completely sure how quickly the jumbo batteries recharge, but we think it’s slower than the regular batteries, so we don’t want to use them for anything again until escape day.

So we decided, in a few days, that Starlight would enchant some new crystals and three new targets. We’ll hook the new crystals up to the existing batteries and use them to launch something as a test. We considered rigging things to make the targets retrievable for future tests, but there’s too much danger of dropping the whole test vehicle on top of our heads. We absolutely want to reach escape velocity. Ideally we want to launch at a time where the expected launch trajectory has the maximum chance of going straight up, leaving Mars’s sphere of influence, and then dropping straight into the sun.

We’ve chosen to launch one of the pony ship’s three engines. We won’t be using them for anything, and we know the mass to within ten kilograms, so the data we get from the launch should be good. Future archaeologists will have to make do with the other two engines when we return to this site.

Our main problem with all of this is tracking. I’m sure we can pick a launch date and time when several Mars orbiters will be in view to watch the show, but cameras aren’t as good as radio tracking. Right now the only thing we have that can broadcast beyond atmosphere is Pathfinder, and we’re not launching that. Its ancient systems wouldn’t survive launch vibrations anyway.

But we have two good remote weather stations and one half-operational one. They all have short-range radio transmitters. I could fuck up one of them so it sends a constant signal, and I could attach a heavier battery to provide extra current. Could we send extra juice through the transmitter to allow the orbiters to track the test vehicle for, oh, five minutes? If it burns out after that we don’t care, but we really want accurate tracking for the first five minutes after launch.

We’ve still got plenty of time. The rover mods are essentially done, and we have about a month before we’d need to do serious testing and final prep for the drive to Schiaparelli. Get back to me when you’ve got some solid answers.

[08:39] HERMES: Ooooh, Mark, cosmic litterbug! Between this and how you’re completely trashing Mars, Greenpeace is going to picket your apartment when you get home.

[08:46] JPL: Those are some good ideas, Mark. We’ll get some systems engineers to work testing how much voltage the weather station transmitters can handle and if there are any other ways you can increase the gain using tools on site. In the meantime, I’ll put the problem of tracking your launch in the hands of our very finest SatCom technician.

Mindy Park didn’t notice she had a visitor until the mellifluous voice of her five-and-a-half-management-levels-up boss spoke from over her shoulder. “Good morning, Mindy. And how’s my favorite satellite herder today?”

Mindy sighed, sitting up from her terminal and swiveling her chair around to face Dr. Kapoor. “About to get a whole lot busier,” she said. “Am I right?”

Author's Notes:

The Sparkle Drive can't be tested on the ground. The booster pylon system, on the other hand, can...

Next Chapter: Sol 364 Estimated time remaining: 9 Hours, 15 Minutes
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