michal.don

"We choose to go to Mars!" - Chapter five: "What the hell happened there?!"

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Posted (edited)

As I advance through my 1.1.3 Realism Overhaul/RP-0 carreer, the time to make the first manned interplanetary flights is slowly coming. Since I have never done this before, I thought that I might start this thread to document my progress, achievements, and surely, failures. I'll probably include a bit of a story, but most of the content will be screenshots of my spacecraft and description of the missions. If anybody who reads this is an experienced RSS interplanetary traveller, I'll be very grateful for any advice for my space program - nobody in my Space Agency really knows what they're doing :) 

Chapter one: "We choose to go to Mars!"

January 1st, 1971

It seemed that the glorious days of the space program are over. Yes, everybody remembers the nerve-wracking moments when Matdard Kerman made his historic first flight to space, and the relief when the chutes finally opened and he landed softly in the ocean. Everybody watched the first flight around the Moon, and the first landing of Grissom IX, as Lagerberta and Chadus became the first Kerbals to step on another celestial body. The world has seen several more Moon landings, and several more accomplishments of the program, but slowly lost interest. After all, the finals of the Kerbal Kup are on tonight, why would I watch another Moon landing, eh? The world has become apathetic about spaceflight. It seemed that the glorious days of the space program are over. Until today.

Today, in his new year speech, the president John F. Kerman surprised everybody, when he made a bold statement. "Kerbin should commit itself to send a Kerbal to Mars and bring him back before the decade ends. We choose to go to Mars. We choose to go to Mars and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." From this very moment, space exploration was again a headline material, and several of the Space Agency directors were considering booking a one-way flight to Bolivia and never coming back.

Sure, the space program was a very succesfull bussines so far. The daring series of missions that lead to the Moon landing had a few bumps on the way, but no Kerbal was lost in space and all the objectives were ultimately met.

It all begun with the fifth flight of the Lovell spacecraft, that was sent on a free return trajectory and completed a lunar flyby:

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Then a new, three-manned capsule was developed. The Grissom spacecraft was the largest thing launched to date. On the ninth Grissom mission, the first Kerbals landed on the Moon:

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Eight of the nine Lunar landing mission were succesful, and helped us learn a lot about the Moon. The exception was Grissom X, which was aborted during ascent because of an engine failure - the crew survived, and later flew to the Moon on Grissom XIV.

Several satelites were sent to interplanetary space and to another planets. So far, the Agency has visited Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter and his moons, while a probe to Saturn is on its way and should arrive early in the 1972.

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As the first part of the Grissom program was coming to an end, the Agency started to explore the possibilities of long term space and surface exploration. They realized that the next step will eventually be to send Kerbals to other planets. They just did not expect that it would have to be this early. Considering we haven't even landed a probe on Mars, the timeframe was really tight. And a lot of the things we learnt during construction of the lunar base in Struve crater will surely come in handy - be it precision landings, surface assembly or long distance roving.

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We also had a bit of experience with prolonged stays in orbit - several crews stayed more than a month aboard the first space station - Skylab I:

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But this, this will be a different thing altogether. We will have to invent a spaceship of dimensions never seen before, using engines and fuels that haven't been invented yet. We will have to learn to live in space for years, much further from our planet than anybody has gone before.

Because we choose to go to Mars.

 

 

Edited by michal.don
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Posted (edited)

11 hours ago, michal.don said:

If anybody who reads this is an experienced RSS interplanetary traveller, I'll be very grateful for any advice for my space program - nobody in my Space Agency really knows what they're doing :) 

If we knew what we were doing, this wouldn't be called research, would it? :)

From my experience, a crewed mission to Mars is perhaps the most interesting challenge you can undertake in KSP. There are so many different ways of going about it, and without knowing the technology, engines and parts available to you, I can't really give you any practical advice except: test, test, test. Your lander(s), in particular. Forget everything you know about Duna: that Mars atmosphere is slippery.

Look at what other players have done and decide what type of mission seems fun for you. This is important, as it will be a huge task, and there will inevitably be some tedium involved. Youtube has many videos of players (winged, Chris P. Bacon, Sparker spring to mind) who have done this using conventional or proposed methods. I know you've been following some of the Camwise Logs, but as a reminder, this is where my slightly more unusual attempt began.

I wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Edited by UnusualAttitude
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5 minutes ago, UnusualAttitude said:

There are so many different ways of going about it, and without knowing the technology, engines and parts available to you, I can't really give you any practical advice except: test, test, test.

That sounds very reasonable, thank you :) Most of the tech/part limitation is caused by the RP-0, the most important is no ISRU. I remember your epic mission well it was a joy to read your report. My mission will be quite humble compared to yours, at least in the beginnings. Since my tech is not very modern so far - think later Apollo iterations - I'll have to wait until my R&D department catches up a bit. I'll try to do the Mars exploration in several steps, each more ambitious than the last one, as the modern engine technology allows me to pack more stuff to take with me. To begin, I have to figure out the basics, especially how much fuel and how much food and oxygen to take for the first journey.

Thanks,

Michal.don

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Posted (edited)

While the ultimate goal of the Space Agency, and of this mission report is the journey to Mars and hopefully back to Earth, some chapters will focus on the other activities and missions that take place while I'm waiting for the transfer windows, or for the spacecraft to arrive to their destinations. Some of the chapters might not be exactly chronological, I'll rather try to focus on one project in one chapter and then move to another one, even if they run simultaneously.

Chapter two: "We need to learn to live up there"

1971

As the initial shock of the big announcement faded a bit, the board of directors realized how much work will have to be done. And will have to be done fast. We know nothing about Mars, we know nothing about deep space journeys, we know nothing about the effects of these journeys on the crew, yet we are supposed to send kerbalnauts on one and explore our closest neighbour. So, we should start learning. After a series of meetings of the board and the senior scientists and engineers, the decision came to focus on three main projects for now:

First - long term stays in orbit and finding out what the main issues are and how to deal with them

Second - a transfer window to Mars is coming soon. So we must send probes there and find out as much as we can

Third - We need to develop procedures and mission rules for working on the martian surface. It was easy on the Moon, the mission control could communicate with the kerbalnauts almost without delay. Mars is another story - it will take several minutes before mission control gets your message, and several more before you get your answer. So the crew must be able to operate without direct guidance most of the time.

 

Walt Kerman was named the head of the Skylab program. As of now, Skylab I has been in operation for a few years, and three crews of three visited the station. They have proved that it is possible to survive a month in space, and performed a few scientific experiments, but that's about it.

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Despite the conviction of Walt that the logical thing would be to send the next crew to Skylab for about half a year, and just see what would happen, the previous crews disagreed almost unanimously. Skylab was not ready for this kind of permanent stays. It was too cramped, lacked proper equipment and suffered from occasional power problems. The crew could tough it out for a month, but there's no way that they would stay there for half a year. The board disagreed, claiming that with all the investments in R&D and the martian probes, there wasn't enough money left for expanding the station - while kongress approved the martian program, no money had arrived yet.

Since there was no hope of an agreement between the two parties, Gus Kerman, the head of operations, suggested an experiment - the members of the board will try to live and work for a few days in the Skylab training facility, a scale model of the station, to see what the crew's reservations were about.

Despite the experiment was supposed to last a few days, it was a very short one. Which may or may not have been caused by the indian food the board had prior to boarding the simulator. After just two hours, Walt Kerman emerged from the hatch, simply stating "I have to go, and I'm sure as hell not doing it in there" before disappearing in the corridors rather fast. In a matter of minutes, the funding for expansion of Skylab was secured.

After the modules have been built, a crew consisting of an engineer Adfry Kerman, scientist Gusory Kerman, and a Grissom program veteran, pilot Melbin Kerman was sent to the station to oversee the construction and deal with any issues that might occur. The modules are to be sent on unmanned spacecraft, and guided to docking by Melbin.

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Grissom A IV, prior to launching the crew to Skylab

 

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A slight problem occured during the deployment of the solar arrays - one pair of the pannels failed to deploy. Luckily, the mission control diagnosed the problem as an instrumentation failure, and planned an EVA to deploy them manually. Adfry Kerman managed to override the system and do the needed repairs during one spacewalk.

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The construction took nearly eight months of 1971. Skylab was now able to hold 8 crewmembers with enough supplies for almost a year. Proper habitation modules were installed, and it was not a tin can floating in space anymore. It was the beginning of a new era.

An era where you could truly live in space.

 

 

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Edited by michal.don
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It seems that I'm getting a little distracted in my carreer. As I was waiting for the first batch of probes to arrive to Mars, I thought of a few more things I could do in the meantime. And, to be honest, I started to enjoy thinking and writing about the small backstories of the board and the crews more than I thought I would, so I'll probably include a little more of those than I originally planned.

Chapter three: "It sure is pretty out there"

1971

The first transfer window to Mars was approaching fast. Linus Kerman, the recently appointed head of the preliminary martian exploration program was an ambitious man, so the plans he made for this opportunity were not easy to accomplish. Engineers and technicians in the VAB worked around the clock to finish the several spacecraft that were scheduled to launch in the coming weeks to embark on the journey to Mars. If, however, everything goes to plan (which isn't very common in this business), we should learn a lot about Mars, which should help the scientists and engineers plan the crewed journey.

Thanks to the hard work of the VAB personell, the rockets were all finished in time and ready for liftoff a few days before the date of the optimal transfer. It was a bit complicated for the mission control as well, as they had to manage four separate interplanetary tranfers just hours apart, and later three injection maneuvers in a few days. It seemed that everything went well. The first spacecraft carrying three ComSats entered an eliptical orbit, from which the satellites could be evenly placed to maintain an optimal signal coverage.

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One of the satellites was also equipped with a high definition camera, so everybody was eagerly waiting for the first decent pictures. The results exceeded everybodys expectations, and even Linus Kerman, a strict man of science, was visibly moved. "It sure is pretty out there", he agreed.

The second probe to arrive was the scanning satellite that had a task of studying the altimetry of martian surface from a low polar orbit and picking suitable landing sites for later missions.

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The third probe wasn't meant to stay at Mars - it had a task of preforming a low flyby, and speeding off to interplanetary space again, while previously running simulations of different gravity assist scenarios.

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With communications secured, the last probe rushed towards the red planet. Its task was certainly the riskiest, and probably the most important one. To land. And, if it survived, send all the vital information about properties of the amosphere and surface it gathered back to Earth.

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Despite losing a solar pannel and a landing leg after a rather rough touchdown, the probe was in a good condition, and started streaming invaluable data shortly after landing. The first part of the martian mission was a great success.

 

While most of the flight directors were occupied by monitoring the progress of the martian mission, Dr. von Kerman came with an idea that he himself desribed as "pretty unconventional, possibly crazy, but quite interesting". It took some effort to convince the board, but in the end they agreed to provide the funding needed to investigate his concept, and, for the first since the beginning of the Grissom program, to hire four new kerbalnauts. As von Kerman demanded, the recruits were selected from the most experienced army test pilots, who predominantly flew experimental jet planes.

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Felix, Henzer, Maxdrien and Ronvis

 

After choosing his team, von Kerman started to work on his new project in a building that hasn't been used yet by the space program, the SPH.

 

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cool

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3 minutes ago, Kosmonaut said:

cool

Thank you :)

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Chapter four: Holiday on the Moon

Late 1971

When all the chaos in the mission control ended after succesfully sending the group of probes to Mars, it was a good time for another project. The crew of Skylab has proved that spending long periods of time in space is not really an issue, as long as the facilities and equipment are adecvate. The next crew, pilot Donbree Kerman, and scientists Jesissa and Erissa Kerman were the first to live for a while on the surface of the Moon. The base in Struve crater had a spacious habitation module, an exploration rover and a science module was to be sent there a few days after the crew, so it was to be an interesting mission. Mission control was also developing procedures for longer stays and EVAs that were to be tested.

Erissa Kerman was the first Kerbal to land on the Moon twice. Being Grissom XIII veteran, she claimed she had done all her work the first time she went, so now she is just tagging along for a nice holiday on the Moon.

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Grissom XVIII launched in the early hours. It was also jokingly called "Grissom light", because of the new modifications. Since it did not carry its own LEM, but just the fuel for the reusable LSTV that was waiting in low lunar orbit, the weight was significantly lower and just four engines were needed on both first and second stage. A few hours after TLI burn, at was time to launch the science module from Launch pad two.

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The science module was significantly heavier, so the standart Grissom launch vehicle had to be reinforced a bit. Four SRBs did the heavy lifting job for the first minute of the flight. After the TLI burn, it was time to switch attention back to Grissom XVIII, that was approaching lunar orbit.

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Donbree managed to rendezvous with the LSTV in three orbits, and succesfully docked. The small lander was refueled, batteries recharged and systems checked. The crew was go for landing in four orbits, when the position of the base relative to the orbit was the most favourable.

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The LSTV was a pretty cool ride. And one of the engineering marvels of the space program. Weighing just over four tons, it was capable of landing on the Moon with reasonable margins, be refueled, and take the crew to low orbit again. The unmanned tests went pretty well, so it was decided to start using the LSTV for crew transport to Struve base.

The landing maneuver commenced about 600 kilometres from the landing site. The tiny engines did not deliver much thrust, so the burn was scheduled to take about nine minutes.

Everything was good for the first half of the burn. But then....

 

"Pssst...."

 

"Mission control, LSTV pilot. we have lost an engine. I'm switching off the opposite one. Are we still go for landing?"

"Yes Donbree, we are still go. engage the landing engines at 40% thrust so you don't end up landing long."

"Roger, engaging the landing engines"

 

For a minute everything seemed to go well again.

 

"Pssst...."

 

"Mission control, LSTV pilot. We have lost anoter one. should we abort?"

"Flight, FIDO. They can't abort. They have slowed down too much, they don't have enough fuel to reach orbit again. But they should be able to land with two engines gone"

"LSTV, do NOT abort. I repeat, do NOT abort. you have spent too much fuel. Donbree, you have to bring her down."

"Roger. Let's hope nothing else goes wrong."

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"Flight, Guidance. They are going to land long. With two engines out, they can't land at Struve"

"OK. we can send the rover to pick them up. Let's see the landing through and worry about that later."

 

When the LSTV passed Struve, it was still going about 200m/s second horozintaly, but Donbree seemed to have the lander under control. At least until....

 

"Pssst...."

 

"Mission control, LSTV pilot. We lost another one. What's happening here?!! The thing is dying!!"

The few seconds of silence were all the answer Donbree needed. They did not know.

"...Roger...."

Panic started to take over the control room. Nobody was sure what to do. But there was nothing to do. Either Donbree lands the ship, or.... You know, it's over.

 

"Pssst...."

 

"All remaining engines on full power, I'll slow it down as much as I can. Brace for impact!!"

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Silence.

"LSTV, Mission control. Do you read?"

.....

.....

"LSTV, Mission control. Do you read?"

......

......

"Flight, FIDO. We are getting some telemetry. It's really weak, the antenna must have been damaged. But it seems they have crahed to the surface at about 20 m/s"

"And the crew?"

"We don't know yet. If the comms are damaged, perhaps they don't hear us."

.....

.....

"LSTV, Mission control. Do you read?"

......

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.....

"Flight, GNC. We are concerned about the fuel."

"GNC, flight. The fuel?"

"Yes flight. If the tanks did not survive the crash, if there is a leak, the thing is full of hypergolic fuel. And if these two mix, it's going to explode."

"Roger, GNC."

.....

"LSTV, Mission control. Do you read?"

......

"Flight, FIDO. We just lost all the systems on LSTV."

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Edited by michal.don
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Oh no the lander fell ove-*BOOOOOOOOOOM*

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1 hour ago, TopHeavy11 said:

Oh no the lander fell ove-*BOOOOOOOOOOM*

Yeah, not exactly a great day for the program, and especially for the crew..... :)

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This reminds me a lot of this. Sadly, @Jeb Jawkins hasn't been online since February. ;.; Cool rocket designs, also, though I expect they will move farther and farther from their real-world analogues as the manned launch window for Mars approaches.

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27 minutes ago, cosimas said:

Good stuff, keep going kerbonaut !

Thanks, will do :)

15 minutes ago, NISSKEPCSIM said:

I expect they will move farther and farther from their real-world analogues

Yeah, probably they will. The first mission will probably use the Apollo capsule, it's the largest one that RP-0 has, but there's no way I will fly Saturn V to Mars...... :) 

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Chapter five: "What the hell happened there?!"

Late 1971

Mission control was in complete shock. After a few moments, Gene Kerman regained his composure and started to organize the investigation of what happened in the last few minutes. Soon, everybody was given a job to do. Engineers started to analyze the signals coming from LSTV prior to loss of communications, the team that assembled the vehicle started to look at the possibilities of what went wrong, and the team responsible for Struve base sent the rover to take pictures of the crash site.

"Flight, we are approaching the site. We can see something on the surface there, possibly the remains of the lander."

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"Wait a minute.... That's not debris, we can see the crew!"

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In a few minutes, Donbree and Erissa boarded the vehicle and contacted mission control.

"Mission control, Struve rover here."

"Donbree, mission contol. We are really glad to hear you. What the hell happened there?"

"Well, I was hoping you would tell me. The thrusters were dying, one by one. I couldn't put it down softly, we hit the ground at quite nasty speed. Jess was thrown out of her seat and Erissa almost got crushed by the lander."

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"As soon as I managed to get up, I helped the girls up on their feet. Since I knew that there was still some bang left in the tanks, and it seemed that it was starting to leak, we decided not to stay too close to the lander, which was probably a good idea."

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"And then the taxi came. That's pretty much it. Luckily, at least the guys who make the space suits seem to know what they are doing, these things can take a beating and still work. Requesting permission to switch the rover to manual control and get out of here."

"Roger, permission granted. We suggest you take Erissa to Struve base, and then come back for Jess."

"No need mission control. I got it covered."

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"Donbree, you know you are violating at least ten different mission rules now, do you?!"

"How about a new rule sir? How about "If you can't design a lander that doesn't try its hardest to kill the crew, you don't get to make rules?"

"For gods sake Donbree..... Ok, just take it easy, we don't want anything else to happen there....."

 

After a short drive, the trio arrived at Struve base. The first order of business was to check the life support and power systems, power up the habitation module and check the state of consumables.

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"All right, mission control, Struve base here. We completed the checklist, and everything is A-OK here. Apart from my tongue, I bit that pretty hard during the landing. All the systems are running, and we have about four months worth of food, oxygen and water, plus a bit extra in the rover. If the lab manages to land here tomorrow, we should get another month or so of water and oxygen. Considering that we'll probably run out of food first, I suggest you put Jess on a diet, I noticed she started to look a bit chubby... Ouch, that hurt, Jess!!"

"Roger Struve, we think it won't be neccessary, we are investigating the possibilities of resuply missions just now, and we'll try to get a return vehicle to Struve as soon as possible. If you are ready, we'd also like to land the lab tomorrow. We don't see any reason to wait."

"Roger, we are ready. The girls are looking forward for their experiments, and surely, not sharing a roof with me."

The next morning, the lab completed the insertion burn and was waiting for the most favourable landing window.

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Everything went well, and the Mooncrane landed the lab right next to the fuel tanks at Struve. Erissa and Jesissa started to power up the thing while Donbree was sent to gather some scientific data with the rover.

In the next month, the life on the Moon has become as monotonous as life on another planet can get. The lab was working perfectly, and every day, a lot of interesting scientific data arrived to mission control. While the base was working perfectly, a team of engineers was working without a break to deliver a return vehicle to Struve as soon as they could, in case something went wrong there. They did a great job, and in four weeks, the lander was ready to launch.

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"Struve base, mission control. Good morning, we have some good news for you. The return vehicle should be landing at your location in a few hours. We are also sending you the checklists and procedures to get it ready for your trip back to Grissom XVIII. Your are still go to stay at Struve for a few weeks, but we want you to get the vehicle ready as soon as you can, just in case."

"Mission control, Struve base. That's good to hear. I'm quite curious what the guys in engineering came up with. Are the new procedures much different than the ones we had with LSTVs? We dont' have an engineer here."

"Erm, negative. We believe there will be no problems. The procedures are, ehm, very similar."

"Ok, we'll get back to you when the vehicle lands."

In a few hours, the new lander touched down at Struve with a cloud of dust. When the dust settled, the crew had their bit to say.

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"Mission control, Struve base. You've got to be kidding me."

 

 

Edited by michal.don
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4 hours ago, michal.don said:

"Mission control, Struve base. You've got to be kidding me."

Dammit, Mission Control. You could at least have made an effort and painted it a different colour, or something. 

At least Donbree got to try out rover ladder surfing on the Moon. Camwise is jealous.

I wish them good luck with their ascent. They're going to need it. :D 

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25 minutes ago, UnusualAttitude said:

At least Donbree got to try out rover ladder surfing on the Moon. Camwise is jealous.

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Well, I think Camwise and Donbree would have a nice conversation about reusing not so successful lander designs :)

Edited by michal.don
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Typical kerbals. "Let's use something again even though its already blown to pieces!" :wink:

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