10 December 2012

Adventures in KSP - Introduction

I've recently re-started playing Kerbal Space Program and, after some fiddling about and learning the new mechanics, I have decided that the game is good for some write-ups to be published here. Today I'll start off with just some introduction on what KSP is and what makes it so fascinating for me (and, apparently, the community).

Kerbal Space Program, still in development and not yet a final product, pulls a rather elegant conceit that taps into aspects of me that I haven't enjoyed as much since having been a child. The concept is simple: KSP doesn't put pressure on you. It does away with superfluous stuff like opposition or competition. In sandbox mode, it just tells you "here is a solar system, with a realistic physics engine. Here is a space-port with realistic bits and pieces for you to put together rockets, planes, probes and rovers. Now have fun with it!". Not more, not less. And then you start to learn and every step feels like you have actually re-treated steps of real-life space-exploration. I was proud when I managed to get a rocket into orbit for the first time. Long practise and trial-and-erring led to me actually landing on Mun (the moon of the home planet in the system), before there were even landing-gears and such luxuries in the game. By now, trips to the moon are somewhat routine for me. Next target? I don't know - Eve (Venus)? Duna (Mars)? One of the moons of Jool, the outer gas giant, which are supposed to hold ancient alien artifacts?

When you play Kerbal Space Program, you learn a lot about physics and how space-travel works in real life. I know a lot about orbital mechanics now, more than I have ever known before, using terms like apoapsis and periapsis in regular conversations (much to the annoyance of my less space-worthy friends). There are some tutorials that will help in the basics but most of the engineering is just the player building something and checking if it works, although there are a lot of tutorial videos on YouTube.

Now there are lots of mods out there adding things like robotic parts, detectors, better thrusters and all that. I am against that for my own play - seeing people build something from fifteen parts that goes to the moon and back with one single stage rocket seems like making the game ridiculously easy - something I'd rather not do. Every step on the way to space is plastered with dead Kerbals (the little creatures that are your astronauts in the game), only to have those who make it to the next big victory be all the more glorious.

So before setting in with the narrative tomorrow, let's take stock of what the MadSpaceProgram has done before:

-There is a satellite in orbit around Kerbin, the home planet. It's not of to much use but I wanted to try out the new automated unmanned control-systems that allow you to one-way fly things to places without sacrificing an astronaut.

-There is a satellite in orbit around Mun, Kerbins inner moon. It has an ion drive so it can theoretically shift its orbit a great deal, if I am willing to invest the time. It has separated from a little lander probe that is sitting someplace on the Munar surface, just waiting around.

-There was a manned flight to the Mun and back, with a space-ship named Munshot I. Previous versions of the game have given me enough experience that, with a little luck, this endeavor worked at the very first attempt. When the capsule landed on its parachute back on Kerbin, I guess everyone at the Kerbal Space Centre was partying it up.

-There is a Space Station in orbit around Kerbin, consisting of a habitat with a set of solar panels, half of which have broken off due to an EVA-accident, and a second section that has thrusters and lots of maneuvering fuel. It took me three attempts to dock one of the latter with the former, the first one ended with me abandoning the thruster-section and EVAing my Kerbal over to the habitat, the second one was completely lost and the third docked (docking in orbit is hard!) but then the Kerbal smashed into the solar panels upon transferring to the habitat. Three out of six panels are still there though and the KSS now has a crew of two.

Tomorrow we'll look into what happened when I started working on a permanent manned presence on the Mun...

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