This chapter opens with an email written from Mark to Martinez, one of his crewmates—apparently, a NASA psychologist requested that he "write a personal message to each of the crew" (16.2). Mark has one simple request: that Martinez visit his parents if he dies on Mars. Brutal.
We're taken back to Earth, to the headquarters of the China National Space Administration. Guo Ming, the director of the program, is prepping for the launch of the Taiyang Shen, an unmanned probe set to orbit Venus and Mercury.
Suddenly, his right-hand man Zhu Tao enters the room. He suggests that they donate the probe to NASA so they can use it to send Mark his supplies.
Of course, they won't walk away empty-handed. As repayment, they'll ask NASA to "put a Chinese astronaut on Mars" as part of the Ares 5 mission (15.53). Plus, it'll look really good for them to come in and save the Americans in their time of need.
Although he's skeptical, Guo Ming agrees. He doesn't want to use official political channels though—they'll make the agreement as one space agency to another.
Mark has just sent a message to Johanssen. Johanssen, as it turns out, isn't just a computer genius—she's also a total babe. (Any relation to Scarlett?)
Back on Earth, Bruce Ng and his crew are figuring out how to make this new Chinese-aided probe work. Their only choice is to send to off without landing systems, forcing it to crash-land "once it gets to Mars" (16.71).
Meanwhile, the mysterious Rich Purnell has just entered Venkat's office. Rich tells Venkat that this plan won't work, but he has an idea that will. After looking at the plan with shock and amazement, Venkat tells Rich to "keep it under [his] hat" (16.103).
Mark's next message is to Vogel. He doesn't really have much to say in this one, except to tease his friend for having the presence of a German "super-villain" (16.116).
We're now at a secret meeting (nerdily/awesomely dubbed "Project Elrond") at NASA to discuss the so-called "Rich Purnell Maneuver" (16.117, 136).
It's a pretty crazy/brilliant plan. Instead of launching the probe directly to Mars, they'll send it to Hermes as it passes by Earth, giving them enough food and supplies to make it to Mars and back. Hermes will then use the Earth's gravity to slingshot back to Mars and pick Marky Mark up. Hey... that might actually work.
Unfortunately, they won't be able to land on Mars. Instead, Mark must travel to the Ares 4 site and use a heavily-modified MAV to break orbit and reach Hermes. Although Mitch and Venkat are supportive, Teddy needs to think about it more before making a decision.
Mark's next pen-pal is Beck (no, not that Beck). This time, Mark tells his buddy to tell Johanssen how he feels about her. Nothing like some interstellar romance!
Meanwhile, Teddy has made his decision—it's a no-go. This ticks Mitch off to no end and he tells his boss (with copious curse words) that he's a spineless coward. Shots fired, basically.
Mark's final message is to Commander Lewis. He tells her how much he respects her as a leader and that she made the right decision by leaving him behind.
On Hermes, Vogel is driving the ship as their daily batch of messages comes in. He receives a weird, misspelled message from his wife, which is quite unusual coming from a grammar teacher like Mrs. Vogel. There's also a picture, but his computer won't open it for some reason...
Vogel asks Johanssen to help him with his "computer problem" (16.228). After some fiddling, she realizes that it isn't a picture at all—it's an encrypted text file. And that's not all folks—it's a text file detailing the Rich Purnell Maneuver!
Later, the Hermes crew meets up to discuss the plan. Everyone agrees without hesitation. They all know that this constitutes mutiny, however, so they decide to change their course now before NASA notices and starts freaking out.
And boy do they freak out. Teddy drags Mitch to his office, trying to force him to admit that he sent the plan to Hermes. Mitch refuses to come clean, although it's as clear as day that he had a hand in it. Looks like Hermes is heading back to Mars...