17 December 2012

Adventures in KSP - Salvaging the Munar operation

In this series of posts I'll tell my progression (and my throwbacks) at the brilliant Kerbal Space Program. The current object of my exploration is the moon, or Mun as it is called in KSP. Let's get into it

After having lost MunBase Alpha to a game glitch / massive malfunction in the reverse-thruster, Ed Kerman is alone on the Mun. He has the rover and even a MunShot I lander but the latter doesn't have the fuel to get back to Kerbin so using it to get home isn't an option. I imagine the Kerbals at the space center working feverishly to salvage the Mun situation. At this moment I really want to go further out, explore new places but I can't leave the situation on Mun in shambles like that. I need a permanent presence there. So I launch another MunBase Alpha, identical to the first one. During the approach to the crater where the rover is waiting, I notice another anomaly, sparkling on the ground. It's on the edge of another crater. That is interesting, I decide to slow the lateral movement of the base down to land closer to it. Have Ed drive there in the rover, then stage an expedition to it. It never gets that far. The station runs out of fuel during the descent, leaving about three kilometers of drop between it and the ground with nothing to slow it down but the puny RCS-maneuvering thrusters. It slams into the ground, destroying the lander can, killing its occupants. But the habitat is lying there, intact. A place where Ed Kerman could drive the rover in order to finally find shelter?

I decide that, even though it's more than 100 kilometers from Eds position to the crash-landed habitat, it's his best shot at getting anywhere and start driving through the upcoming night. The lights of the rover fade on and off and it's a ghostly ride through the dark wasteland that is the surface of Mun. It's going to take more than three hours if I drive somewhat carefully, which is a very important thing when you're driving in the dark.

It's ride or die for Ed Kerman...

Steering the rover through the dark gets me thinking. I am close to calling the entire mission off. Leave KSP for good. What is the point of doing these risky and long-lasting missions if a bug can kill off my station like that? I need a base on the Mun. I stop the rover. Time for another go at that MunBase-thing. I whip up the rocket-designer and modify the MunBase schematics to include more RCS-thrusters, so they might help slow it down in an emergency. Then I plan to use more of the fuel in the main rocket to slow down and aim for the landing site. I launch MunBase Beta.

The flight is precise, the constellation from Kerbin to Mun was good, the rocket goes up straight. I manage to slow it down at a good point of its munar orbit and create a flight path that will land me near the MunArch - but it is night on this side of the Mun now...

Landing in the dark is a risky process. A little trick is all I have up my sleeve for this one: Three kilometers above sea-level (a term that is rather useless on the airless Mun), I jettison the last stage of my transport-rocket and watch it drop below the descending station. I watch and take note of the rockets distance when it smashes into the ground exploding. Noting my own height at the time I can estimate the elevation of the ground below. 1100 meters, give or take 100. At 1300 meters I try to slow the station down to a crawl of about eight meters per second. If you slow down to early, you will run out of fuel before you're close to the ground. Slow down to late and you'll not be able to slow down enough and smash into the ground. I turn on the lights that are there to illuminate the doors. They're not that much of a help.

The ground is there suddenly, but luckily not with enough force to damage the station. It bounces once, twice, then I get it under control and land it on the soft incline below. MunBase Beta has landed. It's about as far from the MunArch as the original MunBase Alpha was about 22 kilometers, but to the other side. It's a bit over fifty kilometers to the current position of Ed and the rover. He'll have to turn around and drive here. I unfold the solar panels, afraid that I might run out of battery power over the night and then be unable to do so when the daylight comes back, and then move one of my two new munar astronauts from the lander can to the habitat. The accident with MunBase Alpha has made me weary so I decide that one Kerbal has to always be in the pilot-seat. For whatever good that will do me. Then I switch control back to the rover.

It takes almost two hours of careful driving through the night to get Ed Kerman and the munrover to MunBase Beta. While arriving there, I paranoidly switch back and forth between both, in order to make sure that the station is still where it's supposed to be. Then the rover finally reaches the station. It's time to turn off the lights, retract the wheels and have Ed join his two colleagues inside, presumably to relax and have a sponge-bath after five days in his space-suit.

This particular munar adventure has ended well enough. Lowering the satellite over the Mun I can see that the second anomaly I had seen with the crashed station was another arch. Nothing worth an expedition right now, as the first arch is only about forty minutes of driving away from my new base. The rover still has around 100 out of its original 135 units of RCS-fuel, so it's good for quite some more driving once the sun comes back up and recharges the power-cells. Three Kerbals are now stationed on Mun, have a vehicle at their disposal that makes anything with a medium range of the base a viable target for exploration and are generally quite well. Finally I can set my sights to other goals.

What comes next? Lowering the satellite even more I hope to spot anomalies other than the arches on the Mun. If they are within 100 kilometers of MunBase Beta, I might stage an expedition. Ed Kerman has definitely earned a ride home so I may have to devise a way to get a return-craft close enough to the base too. The KSS in orbit around Kerbin requires some more building, at least three more modules but I'm a little intimidated by the docking-process that is required for that. Will I attempt to build planes and explore Kerbin itself, although I am horrible at designing atmospheric flyers? The next rock to reach is of course Minmus, the outer moon of Kerbin, where a rover of the same type I'm already using would be an excellent hover-vehicle thanks to the low gravity. Exploration there is definetly necessary, especially as I have heard that there is a monolith there and on such a small body I might actually find it... Then there is the prospect of sending robotic probes to both Eve and Duna, the two neighboring planets. And then a manned Duna-mission, but that is quite a bit in the future...

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