UnusualAttitude

THE CAMWISE LOGS - "You are superior to them all."

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This is the story of the Kerbals of Earth, the third planet from the star Sol. Some time in the recent geological past, an unknown disaster brought devastation and extinction on a global scale. Once a paradise of forests and oceans teeming with life, Earth is now a blasted wasteland where small communities of these tenacious little green creatures struggle for survival, striving to rise from their subterranean origins and conquer the surface of their world, and its heavens.

A handful of powerful companies rule over the Kerbal communities and control access to the world's dwindling supply of resources. These companies have agreed to sponsor a small team of visionary engineers and scientists who believe that the future of their species – and an explanation as to their origins – may lie in space. Together, they found the Omelek Space Centre on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

This is the story of Camwise, a resourceful space engineer who proves to have an uncanny ability to survive and get his crew home, even when the odds are stacked against him. It is also the story of Bartdon, a truculent senior investigator trying to hold the space programme together despite facing pressure from without and treachery from within.

This is the story of the Kerbals of planet Earth and their attempts to reach out into the Solar System. Reach out they will indeed, and find more than they bargained for.

The Camwise Logs is also a KSP Real Solar System / Realism Overhaul play-through in career mode. Certain part mods are used, and occasionally part configuration files are adjusted, but these will always reflect plausible – if not yet feasible – near future technologies. Hyperedit is occasionally used for the purpose of setting certain scenes (or repairing bugs and glitches), but all space missions are launched and flown legitimately, under full manual control of the author (ie: no mechjeb). All vehicles perform according to the specifications described in the story.


PART ONE: THE MOON VS. ME

PART TWO: THE VIEW FROM PHOBOS

PART THREE: LUNACY

PART FOUR: TOO BIG TO FAIL

PART FIVE: L'ENFANT SAUVAGE

 

PART ONE: THE MOON VS. ME

 

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

Albert Einstein.

YEAR 6 DAY 45

Now, then. My name is Camwise and I am, until the circumstances change, stuck on the Moon.

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Yes, Luna, the Moon, the natural satellite of planet Earth; not the Mun, or whatever they call it in that computer game played by some of the kids back home who dream about becoming astronauts. What was it called again...?

Anyway, back to the problem at hand. I was sent to Luna as the engineer of the first two-kerbal crew to set up and occupy what shall be the first long-term Moon base. That is, if we manage to build the damned thing before we starve to death.

Yes, as you can see if you examined the telemetry, our lander toppled. Before embarking, I had naturally expressed my concerns to the designer of the aforementioned vehicle, Karanda. She happens to be brilliant at aerodynamics, and made some invaluable contributions to the spaceplane programme, but this lander is certainly not one of her better efforts. She fails to grasp some of the fundamentals of flying where there is no air. To say it is top-heavy would be putting things mildly, but even I had not foreseen that the landing legs would impede the thrust of the radial engines that were supposed to ensure our soft touchdown at Drygalski crater.

You would have thought she would have run the necessary simulations... It's not as if having engines that actually slow down a Lunar lander are mission critical, right?

As it was, my pilot Catbeth had been faced with two choices: extend the gear and make a new crater on the lunar surface for the next team of engineers to drill into, or attempt to touchdown by canceling our velocity just above the surface and extending the gear at the last moment. Fortunately she had chosen the latter, but despite her best attempt at sticking the landing, the lander had tipped anyway.

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OK, fine. The good news is that we are still alive, and I can live with sleeping on the walls of our capsule for the foreseeable future. At least we have a ton of supplies for our long-term stay on the Lunar surface while we wait for the Island Space Port to come up with an idea for getting us off this rock, don't we?

Well, not quite.

The majority of the ton of supplies in question (2.4 metric tonnes actually, as well as the capsule that is our ride home, two spacious habs, a service module with large solar panels and a rover), is still circling the Moon in a low polar orbit. Some of the modules are as little as thirty kilometers above our heads. I'm pretty sure that if I go outside and squint at the sky for long enough, I will catch a glimpse of the sunlight glinting off metal as our salvation skims silently over the grey and dusty landscape at one-point-six kilometers per second.

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Now, of course we weren't sent here to helplessly watch our gear fly past, so let me explain. We will have a lot of work to do once the first modules touch down. But they will only touch down if the water drilling rig continues to extract H2O at the planned rate. If the electrolysis units and cryocoolers that are supposed to turn the water into liquid hydrogen and oxygen work properly. If the cryogenic fuel doesn't boil off faster than we can produce it. If the shuttle we intend to refuel and fly to pluck the modules from orbit performs to spec, just like Karanda's brilliant single stage lander was supposed to. That's a lot of “if”s, I know.

But meanwhile, while the tank of this huge machine I'm operating slowly fills up with water extracted from the lunar regolith, I have nothing better to do than tell you about the series of events that brought us here.

 

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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So... it's an alternative universe where kerbals are from... Earth?

Interesting!

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Yes, although the point of this story will not be to explain how or why. Just accept that Kerbals are the dominant race on Earth now. Thanks for reading, more very soon. 

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Where to start? Perhaps with the first Moonshots that enabled my kind to walk on the lunar surface for the first time. Four years ago, after a detailed examination of the Earth's natural satellite by orbiting probes, the first ship touched down. We launched both the lander and the returning capsule separately, as our kerosene and hypergolic fueled rockets just didn't quite cut it back then. After rendez-vous and crew transfer just above the Moon's surface, Cirq One descended to a safe landing on the Mare Tranquilitatis.

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Our visionary - albeit crazy - head scientist Angun planted a flag, collected some rocks and vowed that other Kerbals would return some day in peace to plant more flags and, maybe, stay a little bit longer. So far, the first part of Angun's prophecy has been fulfilled, at least.

Cirq Two touched down inside a crater bordering the Mare Fecunditatis a couple of months later close to something big detected by the scrutiny of our orbiting satellites. This feat simultaneously demonstrated our ability to make a precision landing close to a given target on a distant body, and stunned the mission's commander Margaret by the majestic sight of an inexplicably huge rock arch that soared into the vacuum above the Moon's surface.

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I can only imagine her thoughts as their ascent stage blasted space-wards a few hours later, and the arch slid away into the distance behind the capsule. She'd seen what was up there but she knew the figures: putting two crewed capsules on the Moon's surface had cost something in the region of 1.5 million credits. Shooting disposable tin cans at Luna with single-use rockets to spend only hours on the surface was just too expensive. The truth was out there, but we just didn't have enough money to go and study it.

So we did the other things. Lighter, cheaper rockets sent orbiting probes to Mercury and to Mars. The first pioneering probe missions were launched to the outer planets of Jupiter and Saturn.

There was also a rather more expensive but embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt by my esteemed fellow engineer Froemone to extract water to convert into rocket fuel from Near Earth Asteroids. It's a long story, so I'll tell you more about that some other time. It is... entertaining. Suffice to say that the figures just didn't add up with the technology available to us at the time, and Froemone's grand design failed to deliver a single drop of H2O to LEO.

But we suspected that there was water on the Moon too. Spectrometry from orbit suggested so, at least. But we had to go back and get an idea of how much, and exactly where it was. So we sent in the rovers.

Indeed, although this is my first trip to the lunar surface in person, I have already spent far too long making many kilometers of tracks in the dust with our small Type G vehicles. They’re really cute; basically a few grams of Plutonium on wheels. We designed them to be small enough to fit in a lander that could be boosted to the Moon for less than the 15 tonne payload limit of our SSTO. The first attempts fell short and a couple of them pancaked into the surface, but we eventually met the required delta-V and two successive teams spent many days operating them remotely from a tiny station in a polar orbit high above the surface.

That’s right; we flew nearly half a million kilometers just to play Truck Simulator inside a capsule floating in space. But this allowed us to work around the one-second signal delay we would have to deal with if we’d controlled the rovers from Earth. Have you ever played Truck Simulator after drinking a six-pack of beer? That’s what it’s like to drive a rover that is one light-second from where you are sitting.

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A total of five Type G vehicles survived touchdown and roved the surface. Another arch was confirmed on the farside highlands, but the three most important missions were to the South Pole where the highest concentrations of hydrogen had been detected. Type G-Four overshot its primary target at Shackleton and touched down messily on a steep slope inside Shoemaker. After extracting itself from its toppled lander, G- Four attempted to reach the lunar pole but was quickly thwarted by the extreme terrain that seems to dominate in the higher latitudes. Its laser and chemcam confirmed the presence of hydrates in the regolith, but the landscape was so chaotic that regular landings and surface operations there would be dangerous to the point of insanity, even by our optimistic standards.

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G-Five landed and discovered similar jagged terrain at the foot of Malapert Mountain and it didn’t become much friendlier even after a fifty kilometer drive away from the pole. The hydrogen concentrations in the regolith also started to drop, which would mean it would be harder to extract a useful quantity of fuel. I began to think that a viable project for using lunar water was beyond our grasp.

Then G-Six trundled into Drygalski, a few hundred kilometers from the pole, its sensors sniffing for the tell-tale whiff of hydrogen that betrayed the presence of water in the lunar soil. The scent grew stronger as it approached the centre of the crater. I remember the first read-out after driving G-Six cautiously down a steep slope into a reasonably flat area sheltered by the u-shaped rise of the central peak. The sine qua non condition for Froemone's mining scheme to work was the magic figure of two percent of hydrate present in the regolith. I spoke with him over the comms link with a one second delay.

“One-point-nine-eight percent, is that good enough for you, Froe?”

...

“Nearly.”

...

“Well, it's all you're gonna get, deal with it.”

And so, before the Faure capsule that brought Catbeth and I back from our lunar orbital excursion had even splashed down, plans for our first long-term stay on the Moon were already being made. We had proven that the inappropriately named Drygalski crater was, in fact, the wettest place north of 80°S. If we could refill the tanks of a surface-based shuttle with hydrolox, we could deliver reasonably-sized payloads to the surface whilst cutting our launch costs dramatically. From Drygalski, we should then be able to rove, hop or crawl to any destination we might desire; to other craters, to epic rock arches built by space aliens, or even to a Burger King if anyone is enterprising enough to open one on the Moon's southern hemisphere.

Sounds simple, right? I'll take the rover, please. My guilty secret is that I don't really like flying, and “hopping” is merely a euphemism for doing just that. I guess its supposed to make hurtling through the vacuum above a harsh alien landscape at unreasonable speeds (with your existence hanging on the ability of your ship's engines to restart for the nth time) sound just a little bit less terrifying. Well, that doesn't work for me. As for crawling, well, only after a few. Unfortunately the nearest drink is a light-second away right now, unless you count the theoretically-not-but-just-maybe-a-little-bit radioactive lunar water I've been drinking for the past three days.

But I digress. The first mission-critical payload to be delivered to Drygalski was the Padirac Mobile Mining Vehicle. This lunar monster truck was the largest ground vehicle ever to emerge from the Horizontal Assembly Building. It was also the first vehicle we ever built to be fitted with a nuclear fission reactor. This would have been trivial, were it not for the fact that it was to be launched into space on the largest rocket we had ever built, and then soft-landed at a precise location on the Moon's surface.

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I remember staring at the blueprints at the mission preview briefing, then staring at Froemone who was the father of this monstrosity, then staring back at the blueprints and wondering how the hell it would even fit inside a fairing. Those wheels, man... And how would we actually put it down inside Drygalski without creating a bigger crater than the one we were supposed to be landing in? Froe was ever the optimist: “We build a sky-crane”.

Fortunately the cash had been flowing in as a result of our highly successful probe exploration of Mars, the highlight of which had been the first landing on a satellite of another planet, in this case Phobos. The fact that we had inexplicably lost contact with the probe a few hours after touch down had mainly been glossed over. Here Be Krakens, no doubt.

So, many thousands of credits were thrown at the problem of developing a sky-crane that could be attached to the top of a twenty tonne rover, provide more than two klicks of delta-v to get it down safely, and still fit inside of the payload fairing. Nothing worked. It was Jonnie, our chief test pilot, of all people, who provided the solution. Looking at the design he simply wondered why we didn't push it to space with a large rocket, then detach said rocket from the rover's tail and park it back on top to drop the whole package onto the Moon. A single stage would provide Trans Lunar Injection, capture to orbit and powered descent. Elegantly simple. With that settled all that remained was for someone to design a sky-crane with 6.5 km/s of delta-V. Volunteers, anyone?

In the end I strapped a couple of boosters to a large central tank and called it a day. Thinking about it now, any number of things could have gone wrong. If the docking node on top of the rover had been slightly off the vehicle's centre of mass, it would have been uncontrollable. The engine's exhaust could have melted the lightweight cargo bay housing the nuclear reactor. And don't get me started about what could have happened to the light, fragile radiators that are our only protection against the first nuclear meltdown in space.

Against all odds, the launch went well and we avoided turning the Pacific Ocean into a nuclear waste dump. TLI and re-docking were performed without a hitch. A tense moment was when we lost connection with Padirac as she looped round the farside. The insertion burn would be performed entirely by the on board flight computer, and I half expected us to discover that we had shot half a million credits worth of nukes and mining equipment into solar orbit. Wouldn't it be ironic if orbital mechanics shot it back at us at a later date?

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But we were pleased to learn that Padirac had successfully made it into a low polar orbit and was ready to be guided down to the surface by Mitzon and Macfrey who were eagerly awaiting their turn to play Nuclear Space Truck Simulator from the relative safety of our tiny station above the poles.

Padirac touched down gently on a late December afternoon a mere nine kilometers from the target and was driven the rest of the way towards Drygalski's peak where little G-Six awaited on the planned site of our future outpost. In what is surely the cutest moment in the history of robotic planetary exploration, the mighty uranium-powered miner and the tiny plutonium-powered scout took selfies together and exchanged high-fives before getting back to business. G-Six was to locate a second flat area nearby that would serve as our landing ground when the shuttle was delivered (I guess the 2.3 km buffer between the landing ground and the base Mitzon had deemed necessary was to avoid the inevitable crash landings taking out the rest of the outpost), and Padirac was to get to work extracting water.

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This time Froemone had nailed it. The regolith of Drygalski crater gave up its sweet water to the assaults of Padirac's four drills, and the two large water tanks totaling 25 cubic meters were filled in just under four days. The first key to conquering the Moon was in our possession. All that was left to do was to send up our reusable shuttle and then a crew to connect the fuel pipes to it. That's where Cat and I came in. Now, anyone for Burger King?

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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YEAR 6, DAY 47

I have spent the best part of the last four days in the cab of the Padirac mining vehicle, watching over the drills, over the level of water in her tanks and most of all, watching over her nuclear reactor. The fact that I'm sitting here, constantly and painfully aware of the several kilograms of enriched uranium just a few meters behind my back, is just the first of many irregular procedures and breaches of protocol that Cat and I will perform in the days to come.

You see, Padirac is not meant to be crewed during regular operations. The regular procedure is as follows:

  • Engineer (that's me) drives Padirac to suitable area for drilling operations.

  • Engineer parks Padirac and exits vehicle. Upon Engineer reaching a safe distance, the 4MW uranium fission reactor powers up and drilling procedure commences. Reactor parameters are monitored from a safe distance via a remote command station, initially from orbital station Gamma, then directly from Drygalski Base once the base has been established.

  • When water tanks are full, the fission reactor powers down, allowing Engineer to approach safely and move the vehicle to an appropriate position to connect the fuel line to the Lunar Shuttle.

  • Engineer connects the fuels line and again decamps to a safe distance, allowing the reactor to power up again and Padirac to perform the electrolysis and cryocooling processes that will convert the lunar water into liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Reactor parameters are monitored from a safe distance via a remote command station, initially from orbital station Gamma, then directly from Drygalski Base once the base has been established.

  • Reactor powers down, allowing the Engineer to approach safely, disconnect the fuel line, and move the vehicle back to its drilling station.

  • Repeat.

Now, this is all very well thought out by my esteemed colleague Froemone, but this rather weighty procedure doesn't take into account the fact that the clock is ticking, the Moon is slowly rotating, and the hardware that will ensure our prolonged and happy existence on the Moon's surface is still orbiting above us. If the shuttle's fuel tanks are not full by the time that Drygalski crater rotates into alignment with the orbits of the aforementioned hardware, then Cat does not get to fly the shuttle to rendez-vous with it and bring it back down, and we both starve to death.

So you will excuse me if I spend every moment I can manage to stay awake sitting in the rover's cab, watching over the drills and the nuclear reactor, making sure nothing goes wrong.

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Naturally I have taken every precaution possible. I made sure that Padirac's forward tank fills up first, putting more than ten cubic meters of water between the reactor and myself. Once this was done, I even slept in the cab, although my sleep was fitful and I awoke in a cold sweat, with recollections of dreams involving extra limbs and a second head.

This morning – not that morning has quite the same meaning at the Moon's South Pole – I was drawn from my atomic nightmares by a call from my boss, Angun.

“Camwise, did you collect those samples?”

“Angun, everything is fine thank you very much for asking, and you? They're not treating you too badly back at home...?”

My back was killing me and I was grouchy from lack of rest. The cupola module that had been used as the rover's cab was designed for good forward and downward vision, not for a good night's sleep.

“Once you're set up at Drygalski, take the exploration rover to investigate the Bailly crater anomaly,” he continued.

“Yeah, I'm so looking forward to that.”

“Cam, this is important. The season will soon be over. There will be no other missions to the Moon until the end of the year. We need new material to ensure that the funding of the project continues.”

I had to admit that he was right. The season Angun was referring to was the lunar south polar summer(1), which basically corresponds to winter in the northern hemisphere back on Earth. We had started launching modules for Drygalski Base at the start of the season, and it was now well past mid-summer. The days were already getting shorter, and operations here would depend on us getting a decent amount of sunlight, partly because the base relied on having at least some solar power to replenish our fuel cells as a back-up, and partly because we didn't want to drive our nuclear-powered rover into a lunar ravine because we couldn't see where we were going.

And he was also right about us needing “new material.” We had made little progress with regards to understanding or even just observing the lunar anomalies since the first landings four years ago. Eventually, our sponsors would grow impatient. A lot of cash had been invested in Drygalski. If the annual report read “we now have the infrastructure in place that may possibly allow further observations next year, if our engineers can design a lander that doesn't fall over”, they wouldn't be too pleased.

“Any chance of a launch with some supplies for us, or another lander?” I tried.

“Not unless you have thirty days to spare while we build a rocket, which I believe you don't. And of course, we would have to cancel the Mars launch window this year.” (which, coming from Angun, you can translate as “no.”)

“What about the SSTO? You could send up a small probe with supplies...”

“Stormy season at Kourou. Can't do.”

“OK, that's settled then. We're going to test the shuttle today,” I told him.

“Good. Wish Cat good luck.”

You bet she needs it. The shuttle is my design.

The Lentillac shuttle was my solution to the requirement for a reusable vehicle capable of delivering six tonne payloads to the lunar surface from a low parking orbit. Well, maybe six tonnes. I didn't really know exactly to be honest. When you have to include additional mass for the return trip, the delta-v calculations become more complicated and I ran out of napkins. I was pretty confident it could do the job, but we were literally in unchartered territory here.

Angun mercifully decided to stop pestering me for samples of the crater's soil and signed off. As far as I was concerned, the regolith of Drygalski crater was in no need of any further sampling. It contained enough water to fill up the tanks of my ship and, from my point of view as an engineer on starvation rations, it was therefore perfect in every way. I retracted the drills, and drove Padirac back to our toppled lander to pick up Catbeth.

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She's a cool one, that Cat. If she felt any apprehension about the fact that she was about to make history by being the first person to bounce around Luna in an almost entirely untested vehicle, she didn't show it. That's what I like about her. She gets the job done, and doesn't make a fuss.

This would also be our second deviation from the original plan. The initial flight of Lentillac was supposed to have been un-crewed, with take-off and landing remotely controlled by Macfrey from orbiting station Gamma. If the shuttle performed well, Cat would hop on board the next flight and take over from there. If the shuttle crashed or misbehaved in any way, we would have boarded our lander and returned to Earth until a better shuttle could be designed, but this of course was no longer an option. Lentillac would perform to spec, or we would die here. And so Cat had decided to make the maiden trip, just to make damned sure my masterpiece would do what I said it would do.

“Chill out Cam,” she said as she grabbed onto the ladder and climbed up on top of the rover's cab. “If your shuttle is as bad as they say it is, you get to watch me crash into that peak and you won't even have to live with the guilt. Well, not for very long anyway.”

'Told you she was cool.

We made the short drive over to Lentillac without a hitch and I EVAd to plug in the fuel line. Catbeth climbed the ladder into the shuttle's cockpit and started powering it up, but we still had a few hours to wait as the cryocoolers chilled the liquid oxygen and hydrogen and pumped it into the shuttle's tanks. I glanced at the time on the rover's console nervously: the launch window for the first module was imminent. The command module that was to be the first element of Drygalski base would orbit above us on its next pass. We were going to be late, and with each passing orbit, it would be harder for Cat to get an intercept.

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Fortunately, the Moon's rotation was slow, so a couple of hours would not make a big difference, and Cat and I had decided to go for the lightest module first. Weighing in at just over three tonnes, it didn't even contain any supplies, but I had suggested it would be cautious to start with the smallest one and work our way upwards from there. I'd looked at the orbital planes of the hardware spread out in various polar orbits and calculated that, if Padirac continued to draw water at its present rate, we could just about fill up the shuttles tanks in time to grab each module as the Moon rotated lazily through her lunar day, better known in more civilized places as a month.

Unfortunately, the one that was most critical in our present situation – the service module with several tonnes of food on board – would be the next-to-last element to line up with Drygalski. It was also the heaviest of all, and had defined the six-tonne payload requirement of the shuttle. Nearly thirty days would pass before we would know if we'd get our snacks or not. Care to guess how many days food we had left? Go on, you'll never guess...

At last Lentillac was ready, and I disconnected the rover. There was no time to waste, so I climbed straight back into the cab to drive Padirac clear and continue drilling, giving just a brief flash of my vehicle's lights to salute Catbeth as she made the final preparations for take-off. I did however park the rover so that I could see the shuttle's departure through the generous viewing ports that the cab provided. I would have a front-row view of the craziness of Lentillac's design in motion.

You see, the design criteria had been extremely specific. The shuttle had to be powered by hydrolox, so the fuel tanks were naturally bulky due to the low density of the liquid hydrogen fuel. It had to land vertically, of course, and had to use the LV-909 restartable engine, mainly because the puny little thing was by far the most reliable power-plant in our inventory. It also had to be able to move around the lunar surface on wheels, as we were not yet sure we could make pin-point precision landings (in fact, we were pretty sure we couldn't). Oh, and it would have to be able to lift large, bulky payloads and be able to deposit them gently onto the Moon's surface into a vertical position (for base modules) or horizontally (for the exploration rover). So away to the drawing board with you, good luck guys and girls.

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My colleagues had pored over various designs for weeks before coming to the conclusion that such a vehicle was impossible with our present technology. I had done what I usually do when I hear the word “impossible,” and relaxed some of the assumptions. My conclusion was that such a vehicle was quite possible, as long as you did away with the ability to take-off vertically. The LV-909 was fine as a descent engine, but no-one could fit it into a sky-crane shape that would allow a wide selection of payloads to be carried. Auxiliary RCS thrusters would have to be used to touch down vertically once the shuttle had expended most of its fuel, but they simply wouldn't be able to lift it at max take-off weight. So, Lentillac would have to leave the lunar surface like an aircraft: except for the small detail of there being no air.

Karanda had scoffed, Mitzon had face-palmed, and fortunately Froemone had been lost for words. Catbeth had listened, which sealed her fate as the test pilot for my brilliant idea.

I remember my Powerpoint presentation stating that since the regolith of Drygalski had proved to be compact enough to support the weight of a fifteen tonne rover carrying twenty-five tonnes of water, it should therefore provide a stable enough medium for the rolling take-off of our shuttle. I didn't convince the audience, so I was forced to deploy my trump card.

“So, do you guys have a better idea?”

This challenge was met by the most complete and embarrassed of silences. Lentillac was adopted by default.

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Back to the present, and Catbeth had started the engines, turning the shuttle to face southwards towards the lunar pole, and towards the crater's central peak. She had nearly two kilometers to run up to speed, rotate and to climb out before the sheer face of the lunar surface rose to meet her, and she had a thrust-to-weight ratio that could be defined as almost anything but generous. Her voice crackled over the cab's downlink as I watched the scene unfold.

“RCS engaged, main engines to full power. Release brakes...mark.” Lentillac began to move. Go.

“Ten meters per second.” I said Go.

“Twenty meters per second.” Go, dammit!

“Thirty, beginning rotation sequence.” Go Faster!!!

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One single word springs to mind to describe Lentillac's rotation sequence, and it is lumbering. I watched in terrified fascination as the shuttle lifted slowly off the ground, gaining altitude as if every single meter was sheer torture. Once the rear wheels of the craft were unstuck, Cat could pitch up further without ploughing the tail end into the surface. The auxiliary thrusters puffed and sputtered as the ship reached an almost vertical attitude and kicked up a huge dust-cloud, but she had already built up considerable horizontal speed, and this speed was carrying her straight towards the steep slope ahead.

I could only look on in horror as Lentillac clawed her way upwards to emerge from the dust, suspended on two points of light from the reliable but insufficient LV-909s. She was gaining height faster now, but the slope also became steeper towards the peak's summit and Lentillac was hurtling belly-first towards it.

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Edited by UnusualAttitude
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(1) Author's Note: in the real world, Luna has almost no axial tilt (just over one degree) and therefore no seasons, hence the permanently shadowed craters and the peaks of eternal light near the poles. In the KSP Real Solar System, in order to allow the Earth to have its true 23.4 degree axial tilt and work around the limitations of PQS, the entire solar system is tilted by this amount. As a consequence, the Moon's axis is tilted by over 20 degrees in relation to the ecliptic, and thus the duration of the day/night cycle in a given location will vary as the Earth-Moon system orbits the sun.

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argh the drama!

will our heroine make it? will Camwise be left to ponder about making plane-like take-offs on a body without atmosphere for a couple weeks before he starves to death?

heck of a cliffhanger, mate! looking forward for the continuation of this tale.

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Cheers mate, thanks for reading.

6 hours ago, chicobaptista said:

will our heroine make it?

Well, don't know if it will alleviate the tension or make it worse, but here is the next screenshot from the sequence. Velocity was more than 100m/s at this point. Care to bet if she makes it over the ridge...? :confused:

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You know you're cutting it fine when you're landing gear light pools into a single spot!

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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YEAR 6, DAY 47 continued.

Over the radio I heard Cat draw in her breath sharply, swear, then came a crackle, then silence. The shuttle's landing floodlights merged into a single point of brilliant light which then blinked out. Then nothing but inky blackness above the cold, pale lunar peak.

Lentillac had simply vanished from my line of sight. I couldn't tell whether she had made it over the ridge and - due to the lack of atmosphere on the Moon - the radio link had cut immediately, or whether she had hit the crest of the slope and the shattered remains of her vessel were now tumbling down the opposite face of the crater's central peak. Granted, I had seen no explosion, but in space things just don't really explode in the same way as they sometimes do on the launchpad back on Earth. The fact that there would be no fireball didn't make a one hundred metre per second impact with hard lunar rock any less deadly.

Then the longest twenty seconds of my life. I remember staring at the instrument panel in front of me, then looking down through the viewing port into the ash-grey dust of the lunar surface below. I remember feeling an intense, selfish wave of extreme loneliness and despair. And most of all feeling like such a fool for letting my pilot take off in such a pile of poorly designed trash.

Then the radio crackled once more as Lentillac rose from behind the ridge that had temporarily cut off communications. The tiny twin points of light that were her engines straining valiantly against gravity twinkled into view, and I realised that Cat had made it. Lentillac was steadily gaining speed and altitude, and was rising to meet the first of the modules she was to retrieve from orbit.

UX7pS06.png

“Cam...?”

“Ye... Yeah. Yes?”

“Next time we start the take-off roll with a little more run-up, okay?”

“R..Right. You bet.”

“You OK Cam?”

“No I'm not. For a moment back then, you had me convinced that I'd screwed up.”

“Well, I'm not home yet, Einstein. There's still a ton of things that could go wrong. Wait until I'm back on Luna Firma before you start congratulating yourself. Out.”

With that Catbeth concentrated on her flying, and I concentrated on my nuclear reactor. Or, rather, I brooded. Lentillac's first sortie had got off to a shaky start, to say the least. And this was just the first of five flights that would be required, simply to set up the base. Cat was in for a long lunar day. And as she had predicted, her problems had only just begun.

In her desperate attempt to gain altitude and to avoid becoming one with the Earth's natural satellite, Cat had launched into a slightly different orbital inclination than that of Drygalski Base Command Module. A hefty correction burn further round the Moon brought Lentillac back in line, but she was now playing catch-up and wouldn't reach her target for another orbit. All the while, the cryogenic fuel was steadily boiling off from the shuttle's tanks into space. It was a deadly trade-off: burn hard and waste fuel for a fast rendez-vous, or burn less but watch your fuel leak away slowly.

Drygalski crater was still covered in the pre-dawn darkness but fifty kilometers above, Catbeth and her target were bathed in full sunlight as they drifted past above me, clearly visible through the generous view ports of the rover's cab. Two specks of light chasing each other across the frozen heavens.

Lentillac finally caught up with the Command Module halfway through the next orbit. Since she was on the other side of the Moon, Cat's scathing evaluation of the situation was relayed to me via Earth with a couple of seconds of delay.

“Which idiot left the antennae out?"

00KDtFL.png

Without actually seeing what was happening, it took me a moment to realize what was wrong. When I did, I cursed mother nature for not providing me with enough limbs to express my exasperation at such an epically stupid oversight on our behalf. The command module had been launched into lunar orbit with a couple of powerful omni antennae to provide a downlink to our tracking stations on Earth. These antennae had remained deployed until the batteries of the module – lacking any power generation of its own – had died. And so they remained transfixed in this position, protruding from the upper end of the module and obstructing access to the docking port that was supposed to allow Lentillac to pluck it from space and stow it in her cargo bay for the journey down to the Moon's surface.

I was about to suggest that Catbeth could perform an EVA to retract the antennae manually, but then I remembered that, in order to comply with the draconian weight restrictions of such a vessel, Lentillac was not equipped with an EVA fuel tank to supply Cat's KMU, and it would be impossible for her to spacewalk across to the payload to carry out the operation. We were screwed.

“Forget it Cat, get back down here. We'll refuel and go up for the next module.” I said. The Command Module was not critical to our survival, as it didn't actually contain the supplies we needed. It was just living space.

“But what about the command station?” she replied.

Damn, she was right. The module contained the remote command station that would eventually allow us to operate Padirac and our other vehicles from the safety of our base. It was therefore vital for the future of Drygalski Base. Before I could think of something useful to answer, Cat said “OK, main engine off. Auxiliary thrusters on line. Let's see how tough these cargo bay doors are...”

“Cat, are you sure about this?”

“No, I'm not.”

Fair enough. At this point, one more insanely reckless procedure wouldn't make much of a difference... Catbeth was accomplishing firsts with each passing minute. She would now become the first Kerbal to land an untested shuttle on the Moon with an unsecured payload rattling round in the cargo bay. What could possibly go wrong?

ZlDzzdA.png

I did a few mental calculations and concluded that Lentillac's mediocre thrust-to-weight ratio would actually play in our favour here. If Cat opened up carefully, the module might just settle to the back of the bay and stay there. If she performed the pitch-over maneuver carefully she might just get away with it, and I could look forward to gloating during debriefing about the superiority of my shuttle design over the sky-cranes my colleagues had promoted so adamantly. Ladies and Gentlekerbs, today I am proud to conclude that I was absolutely right from the start...

“Try not to scratch the paint. Out.”

Another half hour passed before Catbeth performed her de-orbit burn, and another ten minutes later a distant point of light on the northern rim of the crater alerted me to the fact that Lentillac was making her approach. Cat had started her descent early, to compensate for having to burn gently. Low TWR, less fuel efficient, I thought to my self, and the fuel budget was already tight. C'mon Cat.

ahU56Tr.png

As I sat there in the cab, I realised that I was the first Kerbal to witness a landing on another world from below. It was a strange, eerie feeling, listening to Catbeth's commentary through my headset as the shuttle descended tail-first from the heavens to meet me. By now, she had killed most of her forward velocity and was almost above Padirac's mining position. I could now see the individual lights on the shuttle and make out the huge landing struts that were deployed to absorb the impact with the lunar dust. All of this in the complete, deathly silence of the vacuum.

Two hundred metres above the surface, an alarm went off in Lentillac's cockpit. Catbeth's voice was impassive as ever.

“Fuel level critical. Starting pitch-over.”

The vessel began to flip forwards, a maneuver that would bring it into a horizontal attitude for the final touchdown using only the vertical thrusters.

“One hundred metres. Main engines off.”

z47tAHd.png

The stream of water vapour from the thrusters were almost invisible in the vacuum, and Lentillac seemed to be suspended by magic. She was coming in hot, though, as Cat fought to put her down quickly before her tanks ran dry. Dust began to surround the shuttle as she approached the surface, but Lentillac was still moving backwards towards the crater's peak.

“Five backwards, ten metres.”

There was an agonizing moment as Lentillac disappeared completely in the cloud of dust, still floating backwards, just meters above the surface. The RCS strained to kill the remaining horizontal velocity. Another alarm sounded.

“Five m... Uh, bingo fuel.”

And I swear I felt a tremor through the surface as Lentillac settled heavily onto her main gear, almost pitching onto her tail as it dragged into the dust and caught. She hung there, nose up for a moment, before settling on all four struts. Silence. The dust began to settle.

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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YEAR 6, DAY 62. CATBETH (Personal Message to Relative).

 

Dear Lisabeth,

I hope your fine, sorry I haven't written sooner, but we are very busy here at Drygalski. I assume you heard about the mishap we had with our lander, and I just wanted to tell you that everything is going to be OK. I know that Camwise does most of the reports we send back and he can be such a gloomy drama queen at times, so I wanted to set the record straight.

The stuff they put up here for us is working as planned and we will soon have all the parts we need for completing our little base here. I just have a couple more trips to run and we'll be all good. I took some pictures of Camwise trying to build stuff, some are funny. Here you go.

http://imgur.com/a/L8ieM

Take care Sis, love ya.

Cat.

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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4 hours ago, Choctofliatrio2.0 said:

This is a really cool series. Keep it up!

Thank you sir. Don't worry,  Camwise and Co. still have many things to tell.

As I'm sure you know, playing KSP takes a lot of time. Playing KSP RSS takes more. And writing about playing KSP RSS is right out. I will try and publish once or twice a week and your encouragement is most welcome. 

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58 minutes ago, Mad Rocket Scientist said:

This is great!  It reminds me of The Martian.

oiNgl85.png?2

You're getting ahead of me. Mars is exactly where I intend to send Cam, if he makes it off the Moon alive.

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I'm loving this! I'd really like to see the Padirac's launch vehicle. It must have been some monster...

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So I have a question, since this kinda confused me. So something went wrong (Lander tipped?) And they're stuck there. Do the folks at Kerbin know this? And are they trying to get them home? Sorry if this was explained, I'm not the best listener :P

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4 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

I'm loving this! I'd really like to see the Padirac's launch vehicle. It must have been some monster...

Big (about 2000 tonnes on the pad), but nothing specially ingenious. Space Y engines and procedural tanks make this sort of thing relatively easy... and part-count friendly. I'll post an album tonight if you like.

 

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3 hours ago, Choctofliatrio2.0 said:

So I have a question, since this kinda confused me. So something went wrong (Lander tipped?) And they're stuck there. Do the folks at Kerbin know this? And are they trying to get them home? Sorry if this was explained, I'm not the best listener :P

Yes, their lander tipped, and yes, Mission Control is quite aware of the situation. They send all their sympathy and moral support.:D However, it will take them some time to slap together another Moon-capable rocket with a rescue mission or supplies, and the programme's rather over-zealous head scientist, Angun, will be reluctant to divert launch capacity away from the upcoming interplanetary transfer window to Mars. So for the time being, they are YOYO.

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4 hours ago, UnusualAttitude said:

Yes, their lander tipped, and yes, Mission Control is quite aware of the situation. They send all their sympathy and moral support.:D However, it will take them some time to slap together another Moon-capable rocket with a rescue mission or supplies, and the programme's rather over-zealous head scientist, Angun, will be reluctant to divert launch capacity away from the upcoming interplanetary transfer window to Mars. So for the time being, they are YOYO.

Okay, that makes sense :) Thanks

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18 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

I'm loving this! I'd really like to see the Padirac's launch vehicle. It must have been some monster...

As per requested...

eW2C1je.png

http://imgur.com/a/uUgDL

Meanwhile, back at Drygalski, the Snacks have landed.

zPuDdm3.png?1

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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I like the straightforward, minimal radial-staging design.

As for the OPT-based crafts, they look like some landed eagles with their wings folded up, or something out of the concept art for Star Wars.

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9 minutes ago, MatterBeam said:

I like the straightforward, minimal radial-staging design.

As for the OPT-based crafts, they look like some landed eagles with their wings folded up, or something out of the concept art for Star Wars.

Yes, if it can be done with a single stack, I prefer it. An old habit from using stock parts. Sometimes when you stage radial boosters, the centre of lift/drag shifts and bad things can happen. It's less of a problem using a single procedural tank because your centre of mass doesn't move as much as the stage drains.

Not OPT, but Nertea's Mark IV Spaceplane mod. And I only wish my shuttle was as maneuverable as an X-Wing....

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YEAR 6, DAY 75. CAMWISE.


At last! This morning I reported back to mission control with the news the last of the modules was successfully retrieved from orbit and that Drygalski Lunar Base is complete, at least until they can launch additional junk for us to bring down to the surface. Lentillac performed admirably, despite our initial concerns, and Catbeth manged to fly more efficient ascent profiles and intercepts for all subsequent modules. Even with the heavier gear, such as the six-tonne Exploration Rover Arcambal, she managed to land with fuel to spare. The service module was, in fact, overweight (someone had been over zealous in estimating the amount of snacks we would consume), and my best guess puts it at nearly seven tonnes. Lentillac landed it all the same.

So we now have several hundred days of food, an estimated four hundred million tonnes of water in the lunar regolith beneath our feet and therefore, thanks to the power of electrolysis, enough oxygen to sustain a city full of Kerbals for many millenia. My only real concern now is boredom: we don't really have anything much left to do here at Drygalski.

KLbeEsh.png

You see, we were supposed to return to Earth after setting up shop here and return to Drygalski next summer with additional equipment, a science lab and vehicles allowing us to roam freely across the entire surface and truly explore the secrets of Luna. But this equipment has not yet been built and we are in no position to leave, unless I can figure something out. I must confess that I have a couple of ideas, but one of them probably won't work, and the other one is completely crazy, so it will be only called upon as a last resort.

Principal Investigator Angun (I love calling him that, makes him sound like the Spanish Inquisition...) reiterated his request yesterday for us to drive the exploration rover to the anomaly on the southern border of Bailly crater, nearly 300 kilometers away. This will, at least, give us something to do while we consider possible ways out of our predicament. We are still on our own, unless you count Mitzon and Macfrey still circling patiently above the Moon in Gamma Station's high polar orbit. Not that they can do much to help us, a part from remotely controlling some of our vehicles when they rotate into line of sight. So we can only count on our own ingenuity.

Now that it was understood that we were no longer starving to death, all the launches from Omelek Island Space Centre for the next hundred days or so would be dedicated to the upcoming Mars mission. Angun was determined to go out there with a crew, check out what had happened to our probe on Phobos, and at least land some rovers on the Martian surface that could be controlled in real-time from orbit. We had managed to talk him out of actually landing crew on Mars, due to the fact that we simply weren't ready for such a feat.

I still don't get why he is so insistent about going crewed to Mars this year, as there is still much we could learn about Mars with probes, without having to fly a two-year mission out there to do our Rover Simulator thing again. But what I do know is that his fellow scientist Margaret – who witnessed the lunar arch near the Mare Fecundidatis - will follow his lead, and that they can count on Jonnie to be crazy enough to fly them there. And of course they will need an engineer to make sure our deep space ship Cernin doesn't fall apart before it even gets past the Moon's orbit. That engineer is supposed to be me, but for the moment, it looks like I'll be missing the bus. Who knows, maybe this is actually a good thing, although I reckon the view of Mars from Phobos would be awesome.

I'm not too sure about Cernin's ability to get us there and back safely, though. We did test the ship about eight months ago, and it held out perfectly well during our first shakedown cruise that took us about a million kilometers from Earth. The hardest part of that mission was explaining to our benefactors where we were going with our new, very expensive, nuclear thermal rocket-powered toy.

Our destination was... nowhere.

OpA739o.png

That's the thing: getting to low Earth orbit took us a while, but it is now more or less routine and we can even afford to do it with a vehicle that has wings strapped to it for some reason. Getting to the Moon was a little tougher, but my presence here is proof of the fact that it can be done, if enough cash and good ideas are flung at the problem. But out beyond Luna lies... well, tens of millions of kilometers of nothing, punctuated only by the odd near Earth asteroid. And we didn't even manage to line up one of those with our trajectory: the damn things always seem to swing past the Earth at the most awkward of inclinations.

But we simply had to test our deep space ship in deep space before sending it on a two year, you're-on-your-own-and-if-something-goes-wrong-you're-also-dead trip to the outer reaches of the inner solar system. So we had to content ourselves with boosting out far enough so that the Earth was a very distant pale blue marble, then congratulate ourselves and turn for home with our nuclear thermal rocket between our legs.

I will always remember the EVA I performed to inspect the ship before the nuke was powered back up to send us back earthwards. I had floated for just a few minutes in that endless void, looking back past the ship Cernin to the far away splash of colour that was our home planet, against the backdrop of nothingness. And beyond that, our star Sol, that gave us life and that could also snuff out my very existence in an instant if she was so capricious as to blast a solar flare my way. It was humbling.

lIo1GZo.png?1

So, apart from granting me this profound experience, the first voyage of Cernin did actually prove it could sustain a crew of four for extended periods of time in deep space. The problem as always – as Froemone would agree – was fuel.

After Froemone had failed to deliver the huge quantities of water promised (and therefore liquid hydrogen and/or oxygen) to Earth parking orbit, we had reconsidered the fuel and the engines we should use for a hypothetical Mars mission. The liquid hydrogen fueled NTR would have been the best option, if only the fuel tanks we would need weren't the size of Coventry Cathedral, and if only this fuel didn't seep from our tanks and into the vacuum like sand through the neck of an hourglass.

So we had tried liquid methane. It was heavier, but provided extra thrust with much more compact tanks. Initial tests performed on the ground were encouraging. When the fuel tank and engine were launched and docked to the ship's crew section, everything seemed fine: the fuel had stayed put. Jonnie, Bartdon, Steledith and myself were then sent up on our spaceplane, transfered to Cernin and performed the escape burn. Fine. We had passed the orbit of the Moon with as much fuel as when we had ended our initial boost.

But then, very slowly and very subtly, the pressure in our tank had begun to rise as we we swung out into deep space. We were naturally forced to vent this natural gas boil off to avoid our tank exploding. Slowly but surely our fuel was leaking away into space, at the rate of a few litres per hour. This was not enough to leave us stranded over the one month duration of our mission, but it was enough to make a two year mission to the red planet unfeasible. We would have to find some other way to power out return from Mars, and I assume that this is what my colleagues back at the Space Centre have been working on in my absence.

LxYoHk1.png

Anyway, back to the task at hand. We will set out from Drygalski base in a few days, when the late summer sun comes up above the horizon and allows us to see where we are driving. After scooting around the crater in the Arcambal Exploration Rover a few times, I can say it is pretty fun to drive, and after spending too many days mining water here, I'm looking forward to seeing some new landscape.

In the mean time, tomorrow we are going to attempt to right our lander with the first idea I came up with.

 

YEAR 6, DAY 76. CAMWISE.

The Lentillac shuttle has some pretty tall landing struts. It also has a winch. If we can maneuver it into position above our lander, then maybe we can attach a socket to the top of the lander and use the winch to hoist the lander back onto its butt, right?

Well, not quite.

After I'd pumped a small amount of fuel back into the shuttle's tanks, Cat used its main engines to trundle along across the crater on its wheels to where our lander laid flopped pathetically on its side in the dust. She then activated the auxiliary engines to lift Lentillac into the air and moved slowly forwards until she was directly above the lander, before putting it down gently on the shuttle's landing legs.

OQxRvxw.png

I'd followed the shuttle in the rover, parking it at a safe distance, and suited up to inspect the lander. Unfortunately, I couldn't drill through the top of the fuel tank bulkhead or I would have been greeted by a spray of highly toxic and corrosive hypergolic fuel, and that would have instantly ruined our plans to return to Earth any time in the immediate future. However, there was a spot just to the side of the top end of the tank where I knew I could attach the socket without compromising the hull's integrity. I grabbed my toolkit from Padirac and got to work.

It took me just a few minutes to get the plug in place, and I managed not to pierce the tank in the process. Cat released the winch, and I snapped the cable's attachment point into the awaiting socket. I asked her to set the winch retraction rate to its lowest possible value in order to lift the lander very gently, then I stepped well back to what I assumed was a safe distance, and told her to start reeling the cable in.

One the slack had been taken in, the upper end of the lander began to rise out of the lunar dust inch by inch. It tipped up very slowly towards an upright position, and was at one point, almost resting on the bottom docking port beneath the pilot's capsule. My hopes were raised. Then, because I hadn't been able to attach my socket to the very top of the lander, the whole vehicle, now unweighted, shifted round it's centre of balance and was once more leaning at a precarious angle in the opposite direction. If Cat released the winch now, it would once more settle into the dust... on its other side.

“OK Cat,” I sighed “Put her back down, gently. I'll try and move the socket.”

An extremely frustrating couple of hours followed during which, amongst much swearing and muttering, I drilled enough plug holes in the top of the lander for it to start looking like a sieve. But each time we lifted it, it would pitch round and settle on its other side. I even tried deploying one, then several of the lander's legs to try and stabilize it, but nothing worked. Karanda had somehow managed to design a vehicle that resists staying upright with fanatical resolve. Remind me to nominate her for the Worst Lander of the Year Award if we get back, with an additional mention for Dedication to Mission Failure. She deserves it.

Zk0xaJ5.png

We gave up. Looks like I'll be denied the pleasure of discovering the view from Phobos with Angun and Jonnie. Un bien pour un mal, perhaps. Ah well, let's get some rest. When the sun comes up, we rove.

 

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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I'm really liking the first-person point of view explanations of the design considerations and handling of the craft.

I'd like to suggest two things:

-Post the mission logs one at a time on r/KSP subreddit. It might increase your viewership.

-Try using my SimpleConstruction mod (link in sig). It'll give your kerbals with a base 'something to do', without consuming your RAM.

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32 minutes ago, MatterBeam said:

I'm really liking the first-person point of view explanations of the design considerations and handling of the craft.

I'd like to suggest two things:

-Post the mission logs one at a time on r/KSP subreddit. It might increase your viewership.

-Try using my SimpleConstruction mod (link in sig). It'll give your kerbals with a base 'something to do', without consuming your RAM.

Thanks for your suggestions.

-I must admit that I'm really posting this stuff as I write it, and wasn't really considering viewership (although I do enjoy reading folk's feedback). I have never even used reddit, but if people keep saying that they are interested, I will certainly consider it.

-I'll look into your mod. As you might have grasped from my character's description of Kerbal design, I'm going for as much realism as possible (using, for example, Regex's unfinished mod for RSS ISRU to extract real stuff like water, and not "ore") despite the slightly wacky execution of certain concepts. If I can fit it in with the theme of this save and use it for fun things, I will.

-Glad you like the first-person narration. Ideally, I'd like Camwise to get fellow players thinking about some of the difficulties of the real sized solar system, and some of the corners cut by stock gameplay. But also the awesome sense of achievement in RSS when things go as planned (or even when they go not quite as planned).

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