Angel-125

Kerbin Elcano Exploration Project - Chapter Eight: Never Goes As Planned

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Shout out to @adsii1970 for encouraging me to put this into the story. Thanks! :)

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“Back up a bit so you don’t hit the truck,” Bill called out from the copilot seat.

“I got it,” Jeb said, not bothering to hide his annoyance. The Munar Landing Trainer’s jet engines roared as Jeb jammed the throttle up to gain altitude, then cut it and nudged it back up again to simulate a landing engine running in munar gravity.

“The engines aren’t going to like-“

I got it, Bill.”

The engine controller balked, coughed up an alarm, and threatened to shut one of them down, forcing Bill to switch to a backup system. But the trainer landed safely on the ground, missing the graviolium truck by a scant few meters.

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“See?” Bill just gave his old friend the “I told you so” look.

“Hey guys,” Bob radioed, serving as the training mission’s Capsule Communicator and knowing he’d be flying with Jeb next. “Gene wants us to cut our training short and report to his office immediately. He’s got a mission for us.”

“Uh, what? What does he need us for,” Jeb radioed back. “Tell him we’re busy.”

A few seconds later, Bob radioed once more. “He says we’re the only available flight crew qualified to fly an airship.”

What? Why do they need us? The Akron and the Fulton are in-country. They’re the only airships that KSC has.” Jeb looked to Bill, who just shrugged.

“Not any more, Jeb.”

***

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Six long days of travel later, Bill, Bob, and Jeb found themselves standing on the freezing runway at the South Pole Research Station, talking with the facility’s director and staring at an enormous airship. It looked like the Fulton, but without the upper landing deck, claws, and engineering gondola. It also had a cargo bay oriented like the later model Heisenberg airships.

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“Let me get this straight,” Jeb grumbled, irritated by the side trek. “You guys toured the Fulton while she was still a museum at South Hope, took detailed notes, and decided to build a replica?”

“That’s mostly accurate,” Mathesar Kerman, the research center’s director responded. “We also looked at some historical documents. When KSC announced the Akron’s world tour, we thought that the space program would need another capsule recovery airship.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be, you know, doing research about the Antarctic? Studying thermians at geothermal vents or something?”

“Not Thermians, Jeb,” Bob corrected, “extremophiles.”

“Whatever.”

“Well, we are, Jeb,” Mathesar said, “and we are, but…”

“But what?”

“But, well, we get isolated out here, and too much isolation and monotony can make a kerbal go crazy. The team needs something new to do every now and then to keep their spirits up. One of my engineers is an airship enthusiast, and he toured the Fulton a few times, and uh… started building one of his own. He couldn’t keep it a secret for long- word travels fast at the base- and I saw the project as a way to keep everyone’s sanity. I let the team keep working on it as long as it didn’t interfere with their duties.”

“I’ve heard of homebuilt aircraft, but a homebuilt airship? Wow,” Bill remarked. “We should get Wernher to hire him. Building an airship isn’t simple.”

“Too late for that, I’m afraid,” Mathesar lamented. “The Air Force hired him. He starts next week. Some classified top secret project…”

“Ah.”

“How did you get the funding for this,” Jeb asked.

“Just some creative budgeting,” Mathesar admitted.

“I bet Gene flipped out when he found out,” Bob mused.

“He did, and then quickly realized that we just solved a problem he had.”

“The Ostrich,” Jeb noted. Several days ago, the Ostrich, a quad-tiltrotor designed as a backup support vessel for the Akron, flew from the South Pole Research Station to the Antarctic Anomaly discovered by SCANSat 1. After the research team found a giant atomic-powered temple of unknown origin and investigated it, the team decided that their findings were too sensitive to report via wireless and tried to fly back to SPRS. Unfortunately, the Ostrich was simply too underpowered and overweight to lift off the mountain again, even after discarding all non-essential hardware. Parie Kerman, the mission commander and tiltrotor pilot, had to break her promise to keep quiet about the airship so that her crew could be rescued.

“I’m really curious about how you managed to build the, uh, what’s her name,” Bill asked.

“We’re calling her the Liberty-class Capsule Recovery Vessel,” Mathesar answered. “Uh, CRV-1 in Navy nomenclature.”

“The Liberty. How’d you get the parts? There’s no way that ‘creative budgeting’ could hide components like that, they’re too large and too custom to go unnoticed if they were shipped from KSC.”

“You can find all kinds of things on the Lattice. We did a bunch of Mosaic searches for Last War-era surplus Cyclone engines, bought some gyros from memorabilia collectors, hired some metalworking companies from around the globe to build the superstructure, and even found the original suppliers who made the airship hull canvas. They make all kinds of fabrics now…

“We kept all that off the books and had them fly their stuff out here where we assembled them. She isn’t done yet though. The cargo bay’s gangplank and crane control booth, for instance, aren’t done yet, and we haven’t painted her name on yet, but she’s flyable. We think. Speaking of flying, why are you guys here?”

“We learn to fly airships as part of our astronaut training,” Jeb said matter-of-factly. “I’m surprised you don’t have your own crew.”

“Oh, I have some volunteers,” Mathesar admitted, “but nobody has flown one before. Besides, we were more interested in building the Liberty than flying her. But we figured we would find some retired airship pilots to train us.”

***

The SPRS science team cheered as their creation lifted off the frozen runway, turned around, and headed towards the Ostrich. Unlike the quad-tiltrotor, the Liberty had no trouble gaining altitude. Before long, she cruised along at 146 meters per second at an altitude of 3500 meters, easily beating the Akron and Fulton’s top speeds.

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A half-hour later, the Liberty reached the Antarctic Temple and awaiting Ostrich. Jeb wasted no time and had Bill rig a cable between the airship and quad-titltrotor while the Ostrich crew climbed aboard. He hardly noticed a long cargo box that the crew gingerly loaded aboard.

“Let’s go, Bill,” Jeb called out, “hurry up.”

“Cable is hooked up, but we should rig some struts or another line for safety.”

“We’ve wasted enough time as it is, let’s get moving.”

“But-“

“No buts, get aboard or get left behind.”

The Liberty lifted off with the quad-tiltrotor slung underneath. They heard a loud metallic groan, but Jeb kept raising the airship’s altitude.

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“Jeb, the winch is straining against its bolts, we need to set her down.”

Jeb ignored him. The groaning got louder.

“Jeb…” Metal screamed in protest. He pushed the throttle to maximum.

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“JEB! We’re going to lose the Ostrich! SET HER DOWN!”

“FINE!” Just in the nick of time, the Liberty landed. Bill went aloft and secured the winch with additional struts, then hauled the Ostrich up close to the freight bay. The veteran engineer then connected some struts and hooked up an emergency line between the Ostrich and the Liberty’s command cab. Most likely it would just rip the cab from the airship, but it was a last-ditch jury rig. He climbed back into the cab.

“Ok, now you can go.”

Once again, the Liberty lifted into the sky. This time it had no issues.

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The airship completed its maiden voyage by landing back at the South Pole Research Station, with her builders cheering loudly as the airship kissed the frozen runway. Everybody pitched in to disassemble the Ostrich and store its components in the airship’s freight bay for transport back to the KSC.

Several days and airport hops later, the Liberty arrived at Kerbal Space Center. Bill, Bob, and Jeb parted company with the Ostrich crew, who immediately unloaded their precious cargo and took it to one of the science complex’s newer buildings.

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Gene Kerman had snacks prepared for the crew, it was going to be a long meeting.

“600 grand in exotic minerals isn’t hush-worthy, nor is that ‘giant atomic clock’ you found. The vonKermans could easily have built that. What’s in the box that needed an in-person report, ancient religious symbols?”

“Oh no,” Parie answered. As one of "The Next Three" astronauts, she never thought she'd make such an important discovery on the ground. “Something much more interesting.

Gene gasped as Parie opened the cargo box. Inside held a skeleton with a squashed skull, long arms, and slightly longer legs.

“What is that,” the Gene asked. “Is it a genetic ancestor of ours?”

Parie shook her head and stabbed a stubby green finger at the skeleton. It was about 2 meters long with its bones laid out.

That is no kerbal.”

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"That's no Kerbal! It's a space alien!"

Great chapter! And Jeb... I can almost hear him now... "Read the manual?!? Do I look like the type to read the manual?!" As he ignores the sounds of metal fatigue, warning klaxons, and his screaming crew mates! Again, good chapter.

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4 hours ago, adsii1970 said:

"That's no Kerbal! It's a space alien!"

Great chapter! And Jeb... I can almost hear him now... "Read the manual?!? Do I look like the type to read the manual?!" As he ignores the sounds of metal fatigue, warning klaxons, and his screaming crew mates! Again, good chapter.

Yup, that's Jeb. Generally good natured until he gets frustrated or stressed, then he's a beast and not fun to be around. Definitely a fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy. Fortunately Bill knows how to handle him..

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Contact Lost With Munar Science Rover 2

Kerbal Space Center: Walt Kerman, head of Public Relations at the Kerbal Space Program, announced today that the Kerbal Space Center has lost contact with MSR-2, the Aldrin Munar Science Rover. “Unfortunately, a gap in our Echo Relay communications network forced MSR-2 into safe mode,” Walt explained. “Once we had a clear signal again, we tried to contact the rover, but it wouldn’t pick up the phone, so to speak.” After several hours of trying, mission controllers decided to declare a Loss of Vehicle and End of Mission for the Munar Science Rover.

“We are all disappointed about MSR-2, but these things happen. Space travel is hard. Still, Aldrin proved the viability of the Buffalo rover system, and she discovered a second munar arch as well as other interesting geological formations. With a mission elapsed time of 247 days, 5 hours, 56 minutes and 33 seconds, Aldrin lasted far longer than her projected design life. We didn’t reach the last anomaly on our list, but that’s ok, it’s likely just a data glitch like the others- MunSCAN has many of the same issues that we fixed on SCANSat-1,” Walt said, referring to the SCANSat satellite repaired by the Brumby 4 mission.” So it’s unfortunate, but we definitely got our money’s worth.”

Like its predecessor, MSR-2 had its share of close calls, including losing its primary surface abrasion laser and hydrogen detection sensor during a previous crash, but thanks to its backup sensors, it was able to continue its mission…

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