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About Fenisse

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  1. While I'm working on the next update (actually quite a few of them at the same time), I've also been learning how to use a drawing tablet (for completely different purposes), and have put my brother's Adobe subscription to good (citation needed) use. A poorly drawn sketch of Isaac Perry's Aquarius Block 1A Spacesuit, as used during the Aquarius 4 flight. Obviously based on the (famous) photograph of Gordon Cooper wearing his own Mark 4 spacesuit. Notice the mission patch on the right shoulder, and the IASRDA patch on the left side of the chest. I chose Perry purely because I already had designed the mission patch.
  2. I actually performed Pathfinder 2's course correction; I rolled a dice and decided for the probe to be still working, but incapable of communicating to Earth, which is a terrible fate, even more so than abruptly suffering the robotic equivalent of a heart attack. It probably (Kraken willingly) encountered Mars after all, I didn't check. I did not mention that because the updates are in-universe, so the IASRDA wouldn't know about that. Now that I think about it I should include it in the ending note. Thank you for giving me a new idea!
  3. XXXIII: The Way to Progress, Part 2 The Seat with the Clearest View While the world celebrated the successful flight of Commander Isaac Perry aboard Aquarius 4, the IASRDA was still managing another, almost as important, but less flashy, mission. The two probes that had been sent to Mars in September of the previous year, Pathfinder 2 and 3, were still on their way to the red planet. Of course, in the eye of the public a manned spaceflight was of far greater importance compared to sending what essentially was a glorified calculator to a red rock floating somewhere in space. It is to be said, however, that if human spaceflight to low Earth orbit is hard (even more so back then, in 1961), placing something on a course to a planet millions of kilometers away is roughly equivalent to standing on a ridge, throwing a rock at a building a couple of thousand meters away, and hitting the rightmost third floor window dead center. While blindfolded. The technology of the time certainly didn’t help either. Plagued by electrical failures, system errors, mechanical problems, communications breakdowns; not to mention the fact that launch vehicles of the time lacked the accuracy necessary to send a probe on the correct trajectory to the Moon, let alone Mars. But that hadn’t stopped the IASRDA from trying; after all, people often only think about whether they can do something, not if they actually should. This time, however, one could argue that it had been for the best. The two Mars probes had been in flight for not even three months, and they already were to perform a course correction maneuver that would (hopefully) bring them to within 20,000km from the red planet. The first of the twins to carry out the burn was actually the second one, Pathfinder 3, on October 27, 1961. Pathfinder 2 was planned to follow suit just over a month later, on November 30th. Planned is the fundamental word here, because contact with the probe was abruptly lost on the 26th of November, without any apparent explanation. Further attempts to communicate with the spacecraft in the following days were unsuccessful, and the mission was declared a failure shortly thereafter. The mystery of what had happened to the probe still laid unsolved for some more days, until a thorough examination of the last moments of telemetry that had been relayed to Earth revealed a harrowing detail. A problem with the main communications array power supply (probably related to the vast amounts of radiation in the interplanetary medium) had apparently completely fried the spacecraft’s antennae; the extent of the damage was not known – it was completely possible that the probe was still functioning, and had performed the course correction, but unable to communicate back to Earth; just as it was feasible that the entirety of the spacecraft’s circuits had been affected and it was dead in the void. It was assumed that the same identical failure was the root cause of the loss of contact with the Pathfinder 1 mission earlier in the year. The problem would be rectified in later probe designs, but it was already too late for the other Mars probe: it already was well underway to its destination. An imperfect solution was devised for Pathfinder 3: the engineers would simply order the spacecraft to switch to the smaller (due to weight limitations) backup supply, thus limiting its data transmission capability, but at least increasing the chances the probe would make it to its destination in hopefully one piece. Unfortunately for the probe, which was still doing its best to function, the mission became a symbol of bad luck, so much that personnel assigned to it did their best to not mention the name “Pathfinder” unless strictly necessary; superstitiously believing that if they did not nominate it, it wouldn’t encounter any more issues. This, as one might expect, didn’t help bring publicity to the already almost forgotten program. Nonetheless, Pathfinder 3 was still alive, if barely, and still collecting very useful data about the radiation environment encountered in the interplanetary medium. SIMULATION. Pathfinder 3 in flight towards Mars, 43 days from encounter. The Milky Way is in the background. After a lengthy trek of nearly 320 days (roughly 10.5 months), and despite all odds being stacked against it, on August 3rd 1961 Pathfinder 3 finally reached the sphere of influence of the Red Planet, starting roughly 574000 kilometers from the celestial body. Of course, at that distance the effects of its gravity well were minimal at best, but just enough to be recorded by the probe’s onboard sensors. SIMULATION. Pathfinder 3 heading towards the Red Planet, having just entered its SOI. Both Phobos and Deimos are too faint to be seen. The spacecraft approached Mars from “below”, if we assume its north pole to be the ‘top’, and would have its closest approach with the planet two days and a half later, at around 4.9 thousand kilometers from the surface (more precise measurements would come in down the line) and an inclination of 71.195°. The spacecraft would be freed by the influence of the celestial body five days after first entering it, completing the fly-by phase of the mission. Pathfinder 3 was given some time to adjust its orientation-keeping gear to the new conditions, and at 10:19 UT on August 3rd science mode was remotely activated. Unfortunately, since the probe was operating on backup power, not all of the experiments could be run at the same time, so the engineers manually selected those in operation at a single time. The crews on the ground regretted not being able to have enough weight margins for a camera, as the sight must have been truly magnificent. SIMULATION. 174 thousand km away from Mars, and counting. The data received was, however, still of incredible scientific value. The early magnetometer and cosmic ray recordings from high orbit revealed that Mars apparently possessed no magnetic field at those altitudes, the infrared spectrometer hypothesized an average surface temperature in the range of 200K, much lower than that of Earth (287K), some micrometeorite impacts were also recorded; the other information seemed consistent with already known evidence. SIMULATION. Martian ground features become visible as Pathfinder 3 is 52 thousand kilometers from the planet. As Pathfinder 3 came closer to Mars it finally started to detect a really faint magnetic field, nowhere as extensive nor complex as Earth’s own, so weak that much of the solar radiation probably reached the surface almost unpunished. The planet’s thin atmosphere was revealed to be constituted mostly of carbon dioxide, with surface pressure varying between 400 to 700Pa, less than 1% of that of Earth. The characteristic red color of Mars was probably owed to some form of iron oxide sand or gravel covering the surface, but nothing further could be gathered by Pathfinder 3’s primitive instrumentation. Alas, no sign of little green men could be found. SIMULATION. 19000km away from Mars; Uranus is visible just below the space probe. SIMULATION. 6000km away, the Valles Tharsineris canyon system is clearly visible from this angle. The spacecraft’s closest approach to Mars occurred, as calculated, at an altitude of 4942km, with a maximum relative velocity between the two of 4.107km/s. Had the probe been equipped with a camera, it would probably have been able to catch sight of the planet’s ice-covered north pole, whose presence was however recorded by the onboard instrumentation. The advantage of the fly-by trajectory chosen for Pathfinder 3 was that the spacecraft was able to remain in constant communication with Earth, something truly invaluable considering the limited transmission capability when resorting to backup power. SIMULATION. At periapsis. Mars' north pole is visible. If you look at the top left of the frame you may be able to see Phobos. The bottom-left speck is a star. SIMULATION. Pathfinder 3 leaves Mars. From left to right, the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn are clearly visible in the background. The spacecraft finally left the sphere of influence of the Red Planet on August 8th, but its mission would continue on for some more months as it kept gathering data on interplanetary space. Pathfinder 3 was one of the many unsung heroes of the IASRDA space program, almost forgotten in the midst of the first manned spaceflights, despite being perhaps one of the most important, and groundbreaking, missions ever attempted by the Agency thus far, ranking up there with Ethereal 1 and Aquarius 4. The data obtained by the probe was absolutely priceless, both confirming and disproving many an astronomer’s theories; but even more than that, Pathfinder 3 was the first human-made spacecraft to ever successfully reach another planet, not to mention the first to ever reach Mars, while also measuring its magnetic field, and giving a first glimpse at what its surface conditions may be. Last but not least, this mission taught the IASRDA several important lessons, first and foremost how to handle an interplanetary mission. The legacy of Pathfinder 3 is vast; the equipment testing procedures were revised significantly (and thus saving at least three lives in the future) in the aftermath of the loss of two of the three probes; as a result of its observations on solar winds and cosmic rays the IASRDA found out that human spaceflight beyond the relative safety of low Earth orbit would be harder than originally thought; the Deep Space Network would be created to better track and communicate with spacecraft in deep space (hence the name); the Agency learnt that, no matter how unimportant sounding something is, it should always be publicized, researched, or analyzed, for it is often in small details where the truth rests; and, finally, that no matter the hardships one might encounter, the night shall, sooner or later, come to pass. Yes, it’s a relatively small update, especially when compared to Stairway to Heaven, but it’s probably one of the most important ones I’ve written thus far, if only for all the advancements the IASRDA has, and will, make as a result of Pathfinder 3. As you may have noticed, screenshot (what I call simulations in-universe) quality has improved significantly; that is a result of me installing the amazing KSP3P mod, which adds post-processing effects to KSP. I nearly destroyed my install by installing a wrong version of the mod, but as you can see by the fact the update is here I managed to fix it. Please don’t install mods at 4 in the morning, especially if the instance you’re modding is already unstable as is. General ramblings aside (to which you probably are accustomed by now), I hope you have enjoyed the update. See you soon™. Additional information (thanks @Kerballing (Got Dunked On)!): I rolled a dice, and chose to perform Pathfinder 2's course correction. Though the IASRDA would never know it (and that's why no further mention of the probe is made in the update), the spacecraft was still working, just unable to communicate back to Earth. With all probability it made it to Mars (a few days after Pathfinder 3 did), but unfortunately I really wanted to spend those science points and... uhm... I forgot to check. Welp.
  4. @fulgur should have been clearer; I’m in Southern Italy — Naples to be precise.
  5. Hello everyone! I'm really sorry I haven't been able to post anything in over a month but, as you may have heard from the news, a lot of things have happened in the past few days. But first let me reassure you; I'm in perfect health, apart from a couple of paper cuts on my fingers. Luckily, I'm not in one of the areas that have been affected the most by the Coronavirus outbreak here in Italy. That being said, I've not been able to write much in the way of Beyond Earth for a couple reasons; - First of all, up to a few days ago I was working assiduously on my exam session (now obviously suspended), and I couldn't really focus that much on writing, let alone playing; - I've had to readjust my life overnight as a result of the (necessary) safety measures put into effect by the government -- nothing too hard, but alas time-consuming; - We are now following university courses online; as you might expect the lectures take up much of my morning schedule -- I have more time on my hands overall, just in a different span. Fortunately for us students and professors, (almost) everything appears to be working, but nobody knows why (as is generally the case). So, Beyond Earth will return shortly (other catastrophes permitting), and I actually hope to deliver two updates this month -- but that depends on how the situation evolves. As the IASRDA motto says; "Per Aspera Ad Astra" -- Through adversity to the stars (eventually) I spent far too much time doing this
  6. @nepphhh Eh, don't have Spotify, but my David Bowie playlist on iTunes clocks in at just over 7 hours. Not to mention the 80+ days of music on the Cloud. Yes, that's a lot of music. Still, there's four people on the account adding songs and albums every other day, so...
  7. Aw, thank you! Too kind as always. Bit of trivia: The first quote is a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation S3E15 ("Yesterday's Enterprise"); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1L3URogjWI amazing episode, should've been an entire movie imho. Oh, and expect a starship's worth of Star Trek references in the future. The second quote is instead a reference to (part of) the opening scene to Bioshock: Infinite; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob31N78K-Rg That tune (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHXc6IHeOG4) is pure gold (as is the rest of the OST, tbh), and I flew the ascent while listening to it, that's how I got the inspiration for the quote. By the way, this episode was by far the longest I've ever written for Beyond Earth, coming at around 13 and a half pages on Word at 12 font size and normal everything. No pictures as well, I only copy the link in the document. For comparison, the average episode comes off at between 3 to 5 pages, with the average being around 3.5, by my estimates. It also depends on the Chapter, early updates were much shorter than the newer ones. Oh, you'll find a lot of music, and Bowie, quotes, starting from... next update actually. Although, for Aquarius 4 "There's a Starman / waiting in the sky" (or, as I've come to call it, F-Dm time) would've also fit rather well. Yes, all of them in fact. Time to catch up on Bowie's work! Low's my favourite album, although I recommend you listen to them in order of release; off the top of my head: David Bowie (if you want to suffer), The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin-Ups (optional, but some songs are nice), Diamond Dogs (amazing), Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, "Heroes", Lodger, Scary Monsters, Let's Dance, Tonight, Black Tie White Noise, Outside, Earthling, Hours, Heathen, Reality, The Next Day, and finally Blackstar. Feel like I've missed a few. Oh, hey, that's me! Though you'd need to add music from the 1900s to the early 1990s (and some 2000s). And the Postmodern Jukebox covers of them. A couple of decades, give or take...
  8. XXXII: Reaching for the Stars, Part 4 Stairway to Heaven June 17, 1961 – vicinity of Cape Canaveral AFB, Florida – 23:01 ET The small clock on the wall indicated 23:01. Perry could definitely imagine the contraption urging him to go and get some sleep. And yet, that night of all nights, he was restless. He was alone in the room that had been rented for him: he wanted nobody near him that night – not even his beloved wife and kids; although he was starting to admit that it probably would have helped him relax. A couple of minutes later Perry finally decided that it was time to stop aimlessly wandering around the place and actually get something done for once; he therefore grabbed a cigar, and proceeded to light it. He then moved to the suite’s window; if you squinted enough, you could almost make out the outline of the Cape against the pitch black of the Atlantic Ocean. He then looked at the night sky: not a single cloud in sight – perfect for a launch, he told himself; deep inside, however, he hoped a thunderstorm of biblical proportions would come in and endure; maybe forever. It was a curious feeling that which he was experiencing; Perry was not a stranger to peril – hell, he had been in combat during the war. That was it. The last time he had experienced such unbearable anxiety was when he first took to the skies in his fighter aircraft, back in 1940 – 21 years earlier. But he was just a kid back then, it was obvious he would be afraid; now he was a 43-years-old man, with his share of experiences and knowledge; and yet he still felt like he was 22, sitting in the cockpit of a Hurricane, and with orders to cover the withdrawing forces at Dunkirk. And just like back then running from his duties would not have helped in any way. As he was still processing his thoughts, someone knocked on the door. Perry jumped at the noise, subconsciously releasing enough tension to operate a crossbow. He just hoped it wasn’t one of the engineers or doctors – it was the last thing he needed at the time. He slowly opened the hotel door, cautiously peeking over the edge as it unclosed. Luckily, it was a friendly face to greet him. “What the hell are you doing still up?” thundered Mitchell as he watched Perry unhurriedly open the door. “Can’t sleep” replied Perry in a somewhat dismissive tone. “Yeah, thanks, I can see that” The friendship between the two had been kind of an unexpected one. They were the almost complete opposite of each other; Perry being somewhat introverted and always composed, and constantly thinking before acting, maybe too much. Mitchell, on the other hand, was much more extroverted, always finding a way to crack a joke, and also being more impulsive in his actions. The only thing in common between the two was their professionalism. Probably it was that almost total difference in personality to grant them such great chemistry; one could almost say they completed each other to perfection. “Don’t be a divvy, will you? I’m already under pressure as it is” “C’mon Is, I was kidding – no offence meant” “None taken” assured Perry, “Uhm… can I come in now?” asked Mitchell while trying not to sound too much of an ass. Mitchell could almost feel the tension coming out of his friend’s body: his face was red, he had bags under his eyes so large you could stuff an entire turkey in there, and he was smoking that cigar like it was the end of the world. That was very unusual of Perry: before that moment he had always been very calm before and during even the most dangerous of missions – in fact, Mitchell could not recall of a time he had seen his friend even so much as showing a hint of shakiness. “What’s going on, buddy?” Mitchell gave his friend a pat on the shoulder. “I’ve never seen you like this before” “Look, Mitch…” Perry slowly exhaled, then inhaled. “I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m scared [censored]less. I’d rather be bladdered in a terrible bar down the street than be in this damn hotel room!” he cried. “C’mon, c’mon now, it’s not so bad” Mitchell helped Perry sit down on the hotel’s bed. “What are you afraid of?” “I don’t really know, that’s the point” explained Perry in a composed tone, more akin to his character. “I know how you feel. You want to do something, but there’s something else that stops you, and you can’t quite grasp what it is. Happens to me all the time” “Does it now?” Perry giggled. “It never shows” Mitchell spent the better part of an hour trying to calm Perry; cracking jokes, reminiscing about the past and discharging most of the tension his friend had in his body. However, he knew that wouldn’t be enough; he needed to strengthen Perry’s resolve in some way. Despite what many may think, Mitchell could empathize quite well with people around him, and understood almost immediately what was bothering his friend so much: he didn’t believe enough in himself, and as soon as he had been removed from a sort of “comfort zone”, he had started to consider himself incapable of performing a task for which not only he had trained for more than a year, but was also extremely talented at. “…and you reminded me to not pull up just yet” Mitchell reminisced. “You should’ve seen my face! The Earth is getting closer and closer, and some cretin right behind me won’t stop saying that we need to almost skim the ocean before leveling the damn plane” “Oh, come on! Skimming the ocean? That’s a tad extreme! I only said to get to thicker air, that’s all.” he corrected Mitchell. “Although, you have to admit, I was right after all” smugly said Perry. “Indeed you were, my friend. Indeed you were. Which should tell you that you are more than capable of doing this stunt tomorrow morning” “But what if I mess up? What if I get something wrong?” “You won’t. You’ll know what to do up there. And if things really go so farther south than even damn Alabama, remember that I’ll be there at your side, and I’ll be damned if I let anything happen to you, buddy” reassured Mitchell. “At my side… as you always were” Perry smiled, as he finally felt the pressure coming off his chest. “Thank you, Mitch. You really are a great friend” “Ah, don’t mention it” It was right there that Mitchell and Perry looked up at the clock on the wall, and only just realized how much time had actually passed since they started the conversation. It was now almost midnight. “Okay, so now just… lie on the bed, forget about the world, and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need it tomorrow” said Mitchell as he was heading out of the room. “Alright, lad. See you tomorrow” “Oh, just one more thing, Is” remembered Mitchell at the last minute. “I’ve got your patch prepared. The one you designed, I mean. Remember to have it sewn on your suit tomorrow morning” Aquarius 4 mission patch, as designed by Commander Perry himself. June 18, 1961 – Cape Canaveral AFB – 6:00 ET Perry woke up early the next morning, anticipating his 6:00 AM alarm by a whole nineteen minutes, the sun not having risen yet. This came as a surprise to the team which had been tasked with ensuring the astronaut would indeed wake at the specified time, since they found him in the bathroom, trimming his moustache, as if it were a normal day. They let Perry finish preparing himself, and awaited outside the room, not before leaving a newspaper on the room’s table. The astronaut didn’t bother with it at first, but, as he was exiting the room after getting dressed, he stopped to give a quick glance at it; he snorted as he saw his picture framed on the front page. His family and the team were awaiting in the hotel’s reception area; one could see through the window blinds the oceanic crowd that had gathered outside the building, hoping to get a good if fleeting glimpse of the future space explorer. Perry didn’t exactly like all the attention he was getting, but there was nothing he could realistically do about it, and tried to be as polite as possible to everyone he encountered who recognized him. The group left the hotel and swiftly reached for a van, hoping to get to the Cape without too much interference. Escorted by a couple of police cars and motorcycles, they managed to reach their destination by 6:40 AM, ten minutes earlier than originally planned. Perry and his family were taken to a small building, where they had breakfast, including a nice hot cup of Earl Grey tea, the Commander’s favorite. Cape Canaveral Mission Control during Aquarius 4. In the mission control room, just a few hundred meters from the building Perry was in, the situation was already very tense. The team that had been assembled at Cape Canaveral to support the astronaut consisted of, among others: Dr. Eugene “Gene” Carpenter, the Flight Director (FD), a bright engineer, who, amusingly, at 33, was younger than some members of his squad; Senior Captain Joseph “Joe” Mitchell, our well known and loved IASRDA test pilot, as Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM or CC); Dr. Liam Adams as Systems Engineer (SYS); and last but not least, Dr. Mathias Pasche as Flight Surgeon (S). This was but one of the many control centers involved in supporting the flight, with up to eighteen ground stations all over the world having been readied for the operation. After he finished having breakfast, Perry gave one last goodbye to his wife and kids, and then was led to a small trailer, where he was given a last medical checkup, and a final briefing on the mission, including a thorough explanation on if and how to use the many medical supplies his capsule carried; among other things, pain relievers, cardiac stimulants, and counters to motion sickness. Moreover, a survival kit was placed on board the spacecraft, in case Perry could not be recovered immediately after splashdown. The astronaut was also allowed to bring along his Leica M3 rangefinder camera with two films, one color and the other black and white. Perry was helped into his silver-lined (due to the aluminum-coated nylon outer shell) pressure suit shortly after the medical check-up; afterwards the mission patch was sewn on his right shoulder at his request, while the IASRDA insignia was attached on the left side of his chest. He was then cleared to board the spacecraft by 8:00 AM, but that was delayed by half an hour due to a faulty sensor on the Prometheus that needed replacing. At 8:43, after the problem was solved, and further checks were made, Perry was finally allowed to embark on his spacecraft. As he exited the building, he looked in the direction of the launch pads, hoping to get a glimpse of the glorified firework he was to fly on. He then entered a small van, which would take the astronaut to Launch Complex 1, where the mighty Prometheus rocket proudly stood, ready to unleash its power at will. As they approached the pad, Perry leaned over to the vehicle’s window. And then he finally saw it, the roughly 30-meter-tall beast, looming closer and closer. “30 meters! That’s a ten-story building” he thought. It was a wondrous sight, with its white skin and black stripes, standing there, with the sun coming up from right behind it. A sense of wonder, fear, curiosity, and respect filled Perry’s chest as he reached the launch pad. Image 19610618A. The Enterprise sits atop its Prometheus launch vehicle. Perry rode the elevator to the top of the launch tower, and slowly walked towards the Aquarius 4 capsule: the Enterprise, which was also his radio callsign. He was helped into the spacecraft by the workers there at the pad, and, at 8:53, the hatch was finally closed and secured in place via explosive bolts. The countdown continued. 18 June, 1961 – Launch Complex 1 – 1536 UTC An hour and a half would pass before everything was ready for the launch. The pad crews had been evacuated long before then, and the launch tower bridge had been retracted for forty minutes already. Perry received all kinds of messages from various world leaders; he pretended to appreciate them, but he knew that they didn’t truly care about the IASRDA’s goal, nor his safety, their focus was on beating the Soviets, and nothing else mattered. At 10:36 local time (1536 UTC), the communications between the capsule and mission control were switched to the “Air-to-Ground” loop (ATG), and the audio recorder was started. At that point, a projected 70 million people were watching the launch on television, not to mention the thousands that had gathered on the beaches near the Cape. One minute and fifteen seconds before launch, after communications were verified up and running, the flight director, Gene Carpenter, started the first “go or no go” roll call in the history of the IASRDA, a tradition that lives on to this day. The importance of this phase of the countdown sequence is often understated, but it is here that it is determined whether or not the mission shall proceed: the flight director asks every technician if everything is in order, a “go”, or not, a “no go”. All it takes to abort a mission is just one station reporting that something’s not right. Flight Director: “Let’s start the roll call, one minute fifteen seconds” Flight Director: “Missile Power?” Missile Power Tech: “Go!” Flight Director: “RF Systems?” RF Systems Tech: “Go” Flight Director: “Engineering?” Systems Engineer: “Go for launch” Flight Director: “Medical?” Flight Surgeon: “Go” Flight Director: “Capsule?” Capcom: “Go!” Perry listened very closely to what the people on the ground were saying, hoping everything was alright, as he was growing more and more impatient as time went on, and the weight on his chest just wasn’t going away. “Alright, we’re go for launch” said Carpenter. “Please confirm, Enterprise” “Roger that, go for launch” confirmed Perry. For a very brief moment, he felt relieved as he heard the flight director utter those words, but it took just a second for that feeling of anxiety to return, but the astronaut managed to retain control. He could swear that he could feel his heart rate going up every passing second, especially when someone on the other side of the radio said how much time was left before the rocket engines were started. Image 19610618B. Aquarius 4 is ready for launch, only a few minutes remain. Just a couple dozen seconds before launch, the last gantries were released, and the Prometheus was now held in place only by the two clamps at the base of the rocket, just above the engine skirt. There then was a long pause between any further communications; with Perry being only able to hear the deafening silence of static, and the thunderous beating of his own heart, now more akin to a drum of war than to an organ of life. And then, almost out of the blue, Mitchell began the final countdown. “Ten” “Nine” “Eight” “Seven” “Six” “Five” “Four” “Three” “Two” “One” “Zero” It was then that time slowed down to a halt for Perry. He could already hear the sound of the mighty turbopumps spinning, however faintly. He could feel the fuel being directed towards the combustion chamber, and he could definitely sense the small vibrations produced by the escaping oxygen. Things had been set in motion. He took a deep breath, and the passing of time resumed as normal. It was then that flight director Gene Carpenter uttered the famous words: “And may history never forget the name Enterprise” Followed by a heartfelt “Godspeed, Commander” by Joe Mitchell. Image 19610618C. The two LR79 are ignited, smoke coming out of the pad openings. It was but a second later that the powerful roar of the two LR79 reaching full thrust overshadowed every other sound. Adrenaline kicked in. Perry’s heart pounded at more than 110 beats per minute. Then, at 15:37:25 UTC, the Enterprise finally took off to the skies, to reach for the stars. Image 19610618D. A fireball engulfs the bottom of the Prometheus as the engines reach full power and the rocket is released. 18 June, 1961 – Ascent Perry was pushed slightly into his seat as the 1.14gs of acceleration provided by the Prometheus started propelling the rocket upwards. He communicated to mission control that everything was alright from his part. “Roger. We’re underway. Let’s go!” he said, excited. About thirteen seconds later, just as the roll program was being commenced, he described the situation on board. “Tad bumpy in here. Everything’s fine” “Roger” replied Mitchell. Image 19610618E. A series of cameras follow the ascent of Aquarius 4. Digitally colored photo, original in black and white. The Prometheus initiated the automatic pitch program at T+23 seconds, at an altitude of 634 meters. Seven seconds later, the ground-based guidance system locked onto an onboard transponder, to aid the vehicle get to orbit, as the computers of the time were either too large to properly fit in a rocket stack, or too weak to actually perform the task at hand. Image 19610618F. The Prometheus passes 2300m of altitude, pitch program already underway. At 14500 meters of altitude, elapsed time T+93 seconds, the Prometheus stack reached Max Q, at a recorded dynamic pressure of just above 42.7kPa. Perry commented on what was happening in the following way. “Some vibrations coming up right about now” “Roger, reading you loud and clear” reassured Mitchell. “Roger, we’re in high Q; I’ve seen a contrail out the window” continued Perry. Image 19610618G. The Prometheus passes through Max Q. About twenty seconds later, the vibrations ceased as the rocket passed through the Max Q phase. “Smoothing out now” Perry reported. “Roger. You’re through Max Q. Flight path is great” “Roger. Feels good” Image 19610618H. Aquarius 4 is through max Q, and the flight smoothes out. The separation sequence began at T+155 seconds after launch, when the second stage engine ignited. MECO occurred 1.5 seconds later, just as the acceleration Perry was subjected to reached 4.8gs; separation of the first and second stages via the explosive bolts mounted on the interstage took place at T+157. “Pitch 30 degrees. MECO” remarked Perry. “MECO confirmed. Stand by for separation” Mitchell waited a few moments until the staging event took place. “Separation confirmed” “Roger. Could see the tower go. Tower separation is green” “Roger. Tower and first stage separated” confirmed Mitchell. SIMULATION. Separation of lower stage and escape tower. In a moment, the g-forces Perry experienced dropped to around 1.31gs, confirming that the staging event had gone smoothly. The astronaut reported that he was starting to see the horizon through the window, and that the sky was “pitch black”. If everything were to go well, it was just a matter of time before the Prometheus’ second stage would insert itself and the Enterprise into an orbit of the Earth. SIMULATION. The LR105 on the Prometheus' second stage propels the Enterprise towards space, leaving Florida behind. Both acceleration and vibrations increased as the LR105 rocket motor (relatively) slowly exhausted its supply of RP-1 and Liquid Oxygen propellant. Roughly 80 seconds before the specified engine cutoff velocity was reached, the launch vehicle and its payload passed through 150km in altitude. By that point, Commander Isaac Perry already was the second man to ever reach space since he broke the 100km of the Karman line a minute earlier. But would he be the second man to reach orbit? “One-hundred-sixty-five kay” said the systems engineer over the mission control channel. “Roger. Enterprise, you’re passing through 165 klicks” Mitchell relayed the message. “Roger” replied Perry. “Pitch says -4°” said Mitchell. “Mine checks -3°” As Mitchell and Perry were discussing the different pitch values their instruments were giving, the Systems Engineer notified the other members of mission control that only 40 seconds of powered flight were between Aquarius 4 and a successful orbit. Mitchell promptly relayed the information to Perry, whose heart rate started climbing once again to above 100. He started preparing the spacecraft for orbital insertion, and had to struggle not to look too much at what was outside the capsule’s window, and instead concentrate on flying the vessel. One can’t really blame him for doing so, for that surely must have been a wondrous sight. “175 klicks” said Mitchell. “180k” he reported a few seconds later. “20 seconds to SECO” “Roger” acknowledged Perry. “7km/s speed” “185 kilometers. SECO. Perfect burn” announced Mitchell. There was a brief moment of silence, but it didn’t last very long. Mitchell and Liam Adams briefly glanced at each other, the latter nodding, acknowledging the fact that Aquarius 4 was in orbit. Mitchell then announced it over the radio, and the exchange of words between him and Flight Director Carpenter became legendary just as the spaceflight itself. “The Enterprise has made orbit” “Hallelujah” June 18, 1961 – First Orbit The Enterprise achieved orbit at exactly 15:43:30 UTC. The mission control room and 70 million people around the world all rejoiced in unison. But there still was some work to be done before the IASRDA could call it a day. Five seconds after making orbit, the spacecraft performed its programmed 3-seconds posigrade boost, as to bring itself away from the expended second stage. The Prometheus booster deserves special commendation, as it performed flawlessly throughout the flight. The Enterprise’s final orbit, according to the telemetry data, was 193.7x184.8km at an inclination of 32.5°, and with an orbital period of 1 hour 28 minutes and 8 seconds. SIMULATION. The Aquarius capsule separates from the Prometheus' second stage. SIMULATION. The Enterprise floating in orbit around the Earth. Some quick calculations by the engineers and physicists at the Cape showed that the spacecraft would be able to retain enough speed to last for about seven orbits, but a later assessment by supercomputers showed that the spacecraft would be able to actually remain in orbit for 2.25 days, before orbital decay affected the vessel enough for it to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Thirty seconds after Aquarius separation, permission was granted to Perry to manually control the spacecraft’s attitude. The first thing he did was to turn the spacecraft around, so that he may see the spent Prometheus second stage through the capsule’s window. He quickly grabbed his camera, already loaded with the color film, and took a quick picture at what remained of the rocket that had boosted him to orbit. While he was doing that, he described what he saw and felt to his fellow mission controllers down below. Image 19610618I. The first photo taken by a human in space, of the Prometheus' second stage drifting behind the Enterprise. “I’m in zero-g, but it feels good. It is very natural, sort of standing in a pool of water. I’m now going to look at what’s outside the window. “Oh my god. “I-I’m speechless. It’s… magnificent. I can see the ocean, it’s a very pleasant shade of blue. There are very few clouds over it. I can see the atmosphere terminator, fading into the blackness of space. There’s also the booster lagging behind me, but by far the best sight is the Earth itself. “I feel terribly small from up here. Simply breathtaking. The best view I’ve ever seen in my entire life. God, I’m sorry my voice’s breaking, but you lads should really see this. I feel blessed. “My heart is slowing down. I feel… at peace. “I must say… if there really is a place such as heaven… well… I think we’ve just found it” Image 19610618J. The coast of Africa as it appeared from orbit. Enterprise flew over the Atlantic Ocean with no issue at all, switching between all the various relay stations beneath its flight path: the Cape first, then Bermuda, then a ship in the middle of the ocean, and finally locking on to the ground station on the Canary Islands. Perry maneuvered the capsule so that the window would be facing in the “forward” direction of flight; that way, he saw the African coast slowly rise up from behind the horizon. After he passed the Western Sahara Desert, Perry once again switched ground station, now communicating with Kano, in Nigeria. As he flew over the station, he reported sights of a huge dust storm, stretching all the way from Egypt to Nigeria, just east of his location. The ground controllers verified the sighting, explaining that there had been very strong winds all the past week. Afterwards, Enterprise locked on to Zanzibar, where Perry was able to observe his first sunset from orbit. “It’s magnificent” he said “I can see a bright blue strip in the upper atmosphere, just before the darkness of space. The lower atmosphere is orange, it seems, with a layer of green in between the blue and orange. Looks almost like a rainbow” Image 19610618K. The beautiful orbital sunset witnessed by Perry. Notice the bands in the atmosphere. As the sun went down, the light around the capsule started dimming, although Perry wasn’t in complete darkness until five or six minutes after twilight began. He then conducted a medical check-up, which revealed that everything was good, and the astronaut himself reported that he had adapted very quickly to the feeling of weightlessness, and could easily reach all the switches, as well as operate his camera. Perry then said goodbye to the ground crews in Zanzibar, and promptly switched to the Indian Ocean Ship, which performed an experiment; the ship firing a mortar flare up in the night sky. After a bit of searching, the astronaut was able to locate the small explosion, which was very noticeable over the black canvas of the ocean. Image 19610618L. That yellow spot is supposed to be the city of Perth, unfortunately it is just barely visible. Afterwards, Perry connected to the Australian relay station in Perth. He reported that he could see a “very bright light” which looked like a city, and guessed it was indeed Perth. This turned out to be correct, as many in the city had turned on their lights as to be visible from space. Only now, after Perry’s eyes had adapted to the darkness, he was able to get a glimpse of the Milky Way, as well as the Moon. He joked with the ground crews about how his day had been “quite short”. Image 19610618M. The Milky Way as seen from the Enterprise. The Moon is also visible on the top right of the frame. As the Enterprise went over the Pacific Ocean, and the sun started rising over the horizon, Perry reported he was seeing the same colors he had witnessed during the sundown but 45 minutes earlier. He then noticed something outside the hatch. Image 19610618N. The ice crystals seen by Perry. “I see thousands of little, brilliant specks” he reported. “They look like shooting stars” These “specks” disappeared as the sunlight became brighter. Originally believed to be a micrometeorite shower by the astronaut, it was later determined that they more probably were simply ice crystals venting from the Aquarius 4 capsule. Image 19610618O. Heavy cloud cover over the Western United States. As the Enterprise came near the Americas, and linked to the Guaymas station in Mexico, Perry noticed that the automatic attitude control system was giving some problems, and could not hold position reliably. Therefore, he asked and was granted permission to fly the rest of the mission in manual mode, trying to preserve as much fuel as possible. Image 19610618P. Florida, where our journey began one orbit earlier. June 18, 1961 – Second Orbit As Perry passed over Cape Canaveral, and started his second orbit, the Cape Mission Control noticed that there was an error coming from his heatshield sensor, and promptly advised all stations to monitor the issue as Aquarius 4 passed over them. They also notified Perry to verify that the heatshield deployment switch was set to off. He didn’t think there was anything wrong at first, but he later became suspicious when every station in his path was asking him about the heatshield switch. Image 19610618Q. The coast of Africa, once again. Perry was using the B&W film to save the color one for other shots. Luckily, just as the spacecraft passed once again over the Indian Ocean, it was determined that the issue was not in the heatshield itself, but in a faulty sensor. Perry could rest easy, and so resumed working on the experiments that had been planned for him. However, later in the second orbit, as he was flying over Australia, yet another problem arose; a warning light came on, indicating that the humidity and temperature in the capsule were very high. Apparently, the automatic heat regulator in the capsule was faulty as well, and Perry would have to manually manage the temperature in his suit for the remainder of the flight, which of course proved to be a significant challenge when one’s busy doing countless other things at the same time. There were no more issues during Aquarius 4’s second orbit. A very interesting experiment was conducted while the capsule was in flight over the Pacific Ocean; Perry didn’t directly connect to a ground station, instead using the Connection 3 satellite, launched in a geosynchronous orbit in December of the previous year, as a relay to communicate to the Perth station, which now was below the horizon. The connection was decent enough, if spotty at times, probably due to the limited bandwidth of the small relay satellite. Image 19610618R. The Hawaii are visible in the middle of the frame. As the spacecraft approached Hawaii, the link to Connection 3 was lost as the satellite fell below the horizon. Perry promptly switched to the direct ground link once again, to Canton Island for a brief moment and to Hawaii proper later. He and the mission controllers started calibrating their clocks, as the next orbit would involve the retro-burn that would, hopefully, take him and the spacecraft on a course back to Earth. June 18, 1961 – Return to Earth SIMULATION. The Enterprise flying over Mexico. The third orbit of Aquarius 4 didn’t exactly begin in the best of ways. As Perry was maneuvering the capsule so to get a good view of Florida and Cape Canaveral from the window and take a photograph, the spacecraft’s attitude control system stopped responding to the astronaut’s commands. The issue was made even worse when, slightly annoyed by the spinning motion of the capsule, Perry activated the automatic attitude keeping system, which, instead of helping out, sent the spacecraft spinning in the other direction. The problem was apparently solved when the Aquarius was returned to manual control. Image 19610618S. The final photo taken by Perry during Aquarius 4, once again of Florida. By the time the Enterprise flew by Africa, spaceflight had become almost routine, except for the forgettable complications that occurred every now and then. Perry had adapted quite well to the weightlessness of orbital travel, and by now he was operating the spacecraft relying completely on the muscle memory built in the past three hours. SIMULATION. Sunrise over the Pacific. The quasi-final deorbits burn calculations had been already computed by the time Aquarius 4 was over the Indian Ocean. The 100m/s maneuver would occur at around T+4:22:05 since lift-off, approximately over the Hawaii Islands. Perry inserted the specified values in the onboard clock, and resumed what he was doing. The remainder of the orbit was not as interesting as the flight had been up to that moment, although another first was marked when, whilst in night flight over the Indian Ocean, Perry consumed the first “meal”, if one can call it that way, in space. The rations weren’t exactly what one might consider delicious, consisting of pureed food packed in aluminum tubes and sucked through a straw. Perry had no problems whatsoever actually eating the food, although he thought that, depending on the product, it was “between terrible and outright disgusting”; nonetheless, he didn’t comment on the quality of his meal over the radio, although he’d definitely have preferred what airlines offered on their transoceanic flights – “or anything else, to be fair”. SIMULATION. Perry prepares for the retro-burn. A series of adjustments to the retro-burn timing were made over the following minutes, to account for the rotation of the Earth. The retrograde velocity change remained the same, but ultimately the maneuver was scheduled to occur at T+4:23:29, at coordinates 23°38’N by 161°17’W. Perry carefully managed the spacecraft attitude since, as the automatic controls weren’t working properly, he’d need to conduct a manual retro-burn; ergo, he’d have to keep the spacecraft more or less in the right direction. “Alright, 15 seconds to sequence” relayed the Hawaii CAPCOM. “Understood” Perry replied. “Ten seconds. On my mark” “Five, four, three, two, one, fire!” instructed the ground controller. “Roger that, pack is firing” acknowledged Perry. SIMULATION. The Enterprise thruster pack performing the return maneuver. The retro-rocket pack expended all of its HTP propellant at T+4:24:55, after a 1 minute 26 seconds burn. The spacecraft was now on a course back to Earth, with expected landing time of roughly 30 to 40 minutes after the maneuver was completed. At T+4:31:27, as he was approaching the coast of California, Perry ditched the rocket pack by the mission controllers’ instructions. Separation was smooth and occurred without any incident. The capsule was then set into descent mode; essentially a switch was toggled, which activated an accelerometer that, as soon as the capsule started encountering enough atmospheric drag, would retract the viewing periscope. The capsule passed through 140km at T+4:34:33 since lift-off. Until he entered the thicker parts of the atmosphere, at which point the offset center of mass would start doing its thing, Perry was to keep the Enterprise at roughly 0° pitch, which he did brilliantly. The 0.05g accelerometer was triggered at 91km altitude, at which point Perry “let go” of the controls and slowly allowed the capsule to attain a 25° angle of attack. The reason for this is to avoid a ballistic re-entry, which would put a lot of stress on both the astronaut, due to high deceleration, and the heatshield, due to a very high peak re-entry heat. A lifting re-entry (although it is not an entirely correct terminology for the Aquarius capsule), on the other hand, spreads the forces involved over a longer period of time, reducing stress on the occupant, due to lower g-loads, and on the shielding itself. The Enterprise shot right over the continental United States, heading towards a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Perry started hearing brushing noises from outside the capsule, which soon would be encapsulated by the plasma of re-entry. SIMULATION. The Enterprise is engulfed by the flames of re-entry. “I see a fireball outside the spacecraft” reported Perry. “Roger that. Keep using manual for re-entry” “Understood” “Enterprise, this is Cape. The weather in the recovery zone is great-” the communication abruptly interrupted as the air around the capsule became ionized. “Cape, come again?” “…recommend that…” “Cape, you’re going out” said Perry. He waited a few moments, and then he tried to contact mission control once again to no avail. “Cape, do you copy?” “Cape, this is Enterprise. Do you receive?” No answer came from Cape Canaveral, Perry being essentially alone during those critical moments of atmospheric re-entry. Peak deceleration occurred at 42km in altitude, when the spacecraft experienced 3.05gs of force. As soon as the fireball outside the capsule started dissipating, Perry was once again able to contact the Cape Canaveral mission control. “How are you feeling, Enterprise?” “I’m good, but Lord, was that thrilling!” happily reported the astronaut. Perry reported that the window was completely burned or otherwise coated in smoke, and he could see very little through it. A few seconds later, the capsule started oscillating violently, and Perry could no longer keep the Enterprise steady with manual controls. He engaged the automatic attitude control system, which helped somewhat, but the fuel level was getting perilously low and wouldn’t last much longer. Hopefully the parachutes would stabilize the craft when they deployed. Perry waited for the terminal descent phase, in which the descent pack would be discarded and the drogue armed, to deploy automatically at 10km altitude. Nothing happened. He initially thought that he may have gotten the altitude mixed up. He looked at the altimeter. “14km. 13km. 12km.” it displayed. And yet, the descent pack would not deploy. Thinking quickly, he went into manual override mode, and smashed the emergency release button. He was extremely relieved when he felt the spacecraft finally slowing down as he was 9.7km from the surface of the cold, blue ocean. SIMULATION. At long last, the drogue chute deploys. The now deployed drogue parachute fully inflated at 5km altitude, bringing the Enterprise’s downward velocity down to a much more manageable 53.2m/s, from the more than 150m/s of just a minute earlier. At 2km from the sea, as planned, Perry heard the three main parachutes deploy, and reported it to mission control. By that point the astronaut had established communications with the recovery personnel; he learnt that he was almost 100km short of the planned landing zone, but, luckily for him, a US Navy Gearing-class destroyer, the USS Duncan, was close-by as part of the fleet that was to track the capsule during descent. “Enterprise, this is Mercury. We have you on visual. Parachutes looking good” “Good to hear you, lads” Perry replied, relieved. “Do you have an estimate on recovery time?” he asked. “We estimate 20 minutes. 7 miles from your position” the ship explained. “Roger that, 20 mins and counting” The Enterprise splashed down at T+4:53:46 since lift-off, at coordinates 24°04’50’’N by 74°42’26’’W, near the island of San Salvador, just west of the Bahamas. The error in the splashdown zone location could have proven to be fatal, since the Aquarius capsule wasn’t designed to support a landing on anything other than water. Fortunately, everything went well, and Perry survived his rather eventful spaceflight. SIMULATION. Aquarius 4 safely splashes down in the ocean. Image 19610618T. The Enterprise is hoisted aboard USS Duncan. Duncan came alongside the Enterprise sixteen minutes after the spacecraft splashed down. The crew hoisted the capsule, which bumped a couple of times in the side of the destroyer during the process, and placed it on deck. Perry intended to leave the spacecraft through the top hatch (where the parachutes were located), as per standard procedure, but the extremely high temperatures inside the capsule ultimately made him decide to blow the side hatch instead. He warned the destroyer’s crew to stand clear of the capsule and then hit the detonator button, slightly bruising his knuckles in the process. With a very loud bang, the hatch was off. Perry came out the Enterprise with a huge smile on his face, and stood on the deck of Duncan. His first words after that historic spaceflight were: “Where’s the nearest pub?” The “Fourth Orbit” – Aftermath of Aquarius 4 Aquarius 4 was a major turning point in the history of the International Aerospace Research and Development Agency, even more so than the creation of the Agency itself. While it was true that it may not have won the race to get a man into space before the Soviet Union, it showed that the IASRDA was resolute in achieving its goals, and the promises that had been made during the Undiscovered Country speech were not in vain. Popularity of the organization soared, with experts determining that even the US, with its huge industrial complex, wouldn’t have been able to achieve the goal on its own until “at least early 1962”. Perry was hailed as a hero, and he and his capsule, the Enterprise, went on a worldwide tour that spanned 15 destinations in the US alone, with a further 20 stops in Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. An estimated two hundred thousand people attended the events, and even more watched them on television. An educational television show series, called An Evening with the Stars, was launched worldwide, and still continues on to this day. The episodes touched a number of topics such as orbital spaceflight, rocket propulsion, astronaut training, and more. The show had a sort of familiar setting, with IASRDA Administrator Philip Perrington as host in a decorated living room. The Aquarius 8 astronauts were frequent guests, alongside mission controllers, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, chemists, doctors and even simple mechanics. Visit to a sort of “laboratory” were common, where a scientist would explain concepts in an engaging way, often involving comical mishaps such as small explosions. As the show progressed special episodes were produced, where people could call and ask questions themselves. An Evening with the Stars was a huge success, being praised for its simple, captivating way of introducing complex subjects to common folk, and did wonders for the IASRDA’s reputation in the public eye. Aquarius 4’s success would have far reaching consequences, some predictable, some not so much. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the popular TV show Star Trek, named the famous starship portrayed in the series in honor of both the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and the spacecraft Perry flew aboard during his historic mission. Nowadays the Enterprise capsule is displayed at the IASRDA museum in Cape Canaveral, alongside the photographs Perry took during Aquarius 4, as well as his suit. Gene Carpenter’s wish had come true at last; for history would never, ever, forget that name.
  9. What?! I absolutely need more images, not less! Oh, and congratulations on the TOTM! Plainly brilliant work you've got here.
  10. Work on the next part is proceeding as planned (and as there is very little planning regarding my KSP schedule, I don't know if that's a good thing), and hopefully I'll be able to release it by the end of next week, or sooner. BUT. It's not my style to leave you people empty handed. So... Here's a subtle tease of things to come: Say hello to my "little" friend. And now, there's a certain show on Prime about an Admiral (retired, mind you) that awaits me...
  11. Uh, are you referring to the Tonkas? Otherwise I've probably never heard of the stuff (or have forgotten about it). Still, there's that lovely Pentaborane/N2O4 combo the Soviets were planning on using with the RD-270M. Or that Liquid Fluorine/Hydrazine mix that the US wanted to use for the Agena replacement...
  12. Well, still better than that time someone decided either Dimethylmercury or Hydrofluoric acid would make perfect rocket propellants, for some twisted reason. Sounds like something I'd do if I had a Cessna powered by a 1,700hp engine. You know what they say; If it works...
  13. XXXI: Reaching for the Stars, Part 3 The Undiscovered Country There was much debate in the days following the successful Aquarius 2 mission; the question being, “To launch, or not to launch?”. The IASRDA leadership wanted to launch a man into space as soon as possible, but the engineering teams argued that the failure of the first suborbital test flight warranted another dummy run at the very least; according to them taking the chance to launch someone in flesh and blood into space at that point would have been extremely perilous at best. Time, however, was a commodity the IASRDA could not afford to waste, and by March 26 a compromise was reached between the brass and the scientists; there would be another two test flights, both suborbital, one early in April 1961, and one either in late May or early June. After these two tests, a man, most likely Perry, would be sent into orbit in August 1961, on what would be Aquarius 5. This was deemed to be the perfect balance between safety and speed. The next test flight, Aquarius 3, would be ready for launch by early April even without speeding up the manufacturing process; in fact, work on the capsule and Deacon rocket had already been completed, and both were on their way to Cape Canaveral, where they would arrive by April 2. At the Cape, then, the usual assembly process was carried out; the rocket engines were tested for no appreciable defects, and so were the tanks and structure of the Deacon. After this phase, it was time to mate the capsule to its launch vehicle. This wasn’t a terribly complicated procedure; moreover, in 1961 the process was conducted in conditions that would make the modern engineer (and worker) shiver, expediting the process even further; nonetheless, miraculously thus far no one had yet died during the assembly stage of an Aquarius mission. In the end, owing to the serrated schedule that the IASRDA had set for mid-1961, the mission was ready for launch by the second week of April. Originally intended for the 7th day of the month, a streak of not-so-clement weather ultimately postponed the flight to April 10; this, however, wasn’t expected to cause any delays in the long run. The assembled vehicle had already been rolled over to Launch Complex 4 by the late afternoon of April 5, and was repeatedly tested in the days before the flight was supposed to happen. After the bad weather subsided, the rocket was checked again, due to fears that it might have been damaged by the rain and wind. Fortunately, no damage had been recorded, and the mission was authorized to proceed as planned in the early morning hours of April 10 1961. Image 19610410A. Aquarius 3 at launchpad; liquid oxygen is being vented (the puff of smoke near the engine). The last launch pad crews were evacuated from the area at 0930 hours, and soon thereafter, at 0945, loading of liquid oxygen in the rocket was terminated. Not much later, at 0950, the rocket switched to internal power. Finally, launch clearance was given at exactly 1000 hours, although it would take eight minutes more for the vehicle to ignite its engine, and detach from the clamps three seconds later. Image 19610410B. The Deacon ignites, and frozen condensation falls off the side of the tanks as the rocket shakes. Image 19610410C. Aquarius 3 lifts off. The launch profile would be very similar to that of the previous mission. Therefore; the rocket climbed vertically for the first twenty seconds after liftoff, at which point it was set to execute the standard 0.5°/s pitch program. Image 19610410D. Aquarius 3 in flight, at approximately 6600 m altitude, 60s after launch, current angle of attack roughly 70°. After 110 seconds in flight, the rocket reached 45° pitch, which would then be held until Main Engine Cutoff, as per the flight plan. SIMULATION. The Deacon rocket holding 45° angle of attack, as it passes through 50000 meters in altitude. MECO occurred at T+138, at an approximate altitude of 60450 meters, with the launch vehicle possessing a surface speed of 2110 m/s, and a vertical speed of 1385 m/s. At this point, without the thrust vectoring provided by the engine, the Attitude Control System switched on to control the attitude of the rocket. SIMULATION. MECO has just occurred, and Aquarius 3 is drifting due to inertia. The Cape is visible in the background. As usual, the abort tower was discarded at T+155 seconds, at an altitude of 85300 meters. SIMULATION. At T+155 seconds the abort tower is ditched. Five seconds later, at T+160, the explosive bolts that connected the Aquarius 3 capsule to the Deacon rocket were fired, detaching the two. The former then fired its maneuvering engines for three seconds, so to move away from its launch vehicle. SIMULATION. The Aquarius 3 thruster pack fires to bring the capsule away from its launch vehicle, in case something were to go wrong with it. At T+180 the capsule performed the turn-around maneuver, positioning its sacrificial heatshield prograde. SIMULATION. Aquarius 3 mid-turnaround maneuver. Notice the Deacon rocket, slowly getting farther and farther away. Aquarius 3 then started slowly (in relative terms) climbing towards its 168.7 km apogee, the highest yet for an Aquarius flight. The capsule reached the highest point of its flight at T+295; as soon as the accelerometer recorded that Aquarius 3 was falling towards the Earth it ignited the capsule’s motors to perform the retro-burn. SIMULATION. Aquarius 3 performing the retro-burn. The burn was finished at T+381; two seconds later the thruster pack was discarded, and descent mode was initiated. Maximum recorded vertical speed was 1.405 km/s at T+462 seconds. SIMULATION. The thruster pack has been ditched. The maximum recorded acceleration was 9.75, which, although higher than Aquarius 2’s, was significantly lower than Aquarius 1’s. SIMULATION. Aquarius 3 holding attitude during descent. At 17km altitude, and T+520, the descent pack was discarded, and the capsule entered the terminal descent phase, the first stage of which was the arming of the drogue chutes, which then deployed at an altitude of 9.7km, at T+575. SIMULATION. Ditching of the descent pack. Notice the two small solid motors that aid in the separation. SIMULATION. The drogue parachute is deployed... The capsule would then slowly descend to an altitude of 5km, at which point the drogue parachutes fully inflated, and brought the capsule’s vertical speed down to 51m/s, a safe velocity for main parachute release, which occurred at T+670, at an altitude of 2km. SIMULATION. ...and fully inflates some minutes later. SIMULATION. All three main parachutes deploy. The three main parachutes fully inflated at an altitude of 950 meters, bringing the capsule down to a safe 3.8 m/s vertical velocity. SIMULATION. With the main chutes deployed, the capsule slowly descends towards the ocean. Aquarius 3 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at T+878, and was recovered but 20 minutes later by a group of helicopters from the Essex-class carrier USS Randolph (CV-15). Its exact recovery coordinates were 28°24’39’’N by 74°43’40’’W, roughly 574.1km downrange from Cape Canaveral, a bit further southwest than originally planned. The success of the Aquarius 3 mission, and the confirmation that g-forces during re-entry would not be lethal, meant that the IASRDA was now willing to take more risks when it came to manned spaceflight; therefore, the next mission would certainly carry a man into space. In the days following Aquarius 3, a vote was scheduled to be cast, to decide whether the following (manned) flight would be a suborbital one, to take place in May, or an orbital one, which would instead occur in late-June or even August. The suborbital flight could be achieved earlier, and although a man would be sent into space, it would not be quite the same accomplishment as actually putting someone in orbit. However, an orbital flight, while being definitely much more challenging, and therefore more rewarding, would also require more preparation, delaying the launch by at least a month, and when time is of the essence, that month could make the difference between success and failure. In the end, however, any decision the IASRDA could have made would have been inconsequential. Just two days after the Aquarius 3 mission, on April 12 1961, the Soviet Union managed to send a man, cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, into an orbit around the Earth aboard Vostok 1, launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh Steppe. The spacecraft completed one orbit around the Earth, and the success of the launch was confirmed by several ground stations across the world. Officially, to abide by FAI rules, the Soviets declared that Gagarin landed with his spacecraft; in truth, he ejected from the capsule before landing, but this would only become known years after the fact. Nevertheless, the news of Gagarin’s historical spaceflight shocked the IASRDA. Many in the US started questioning the validity of the joint space program, and the actual capabilities of the IASRDA launch vehicles. Officially still, the Agency and its participants congratulated the Soviet Union for its outstanding achievement. In the aftermath of the Vostok 1 mission, the IASRDA was forced to significantly change the way it operated. In the end, its leadership chose to proceed with the orbital Aquarius 4 flight, allocating all available resources to allow the mission to be performed in June 1961 at the very most. To show its resoluteness, the IASRDA called for a conference, which was held at Cape Canaveral AFB on April 15. The attendance to the event was incredibly high, with many world leaders, journalist and even common folks present. The event would be hosted by Administrators Philip Perrington and Garret Woodward, and all eight Aquarius astronauts (Isaac Perry, Joe Mitchell, Sam McDonald, Douglas Cherry, Ivano D’Antonio, Jean-Pierre Giraud, Danny Higgins and Thomas Lynn) were present as well. Perrington and Woodward had prepared a speech, which would be given by the former, as he was “the charismatic one”, as the latter put it. An excerpt of the address, which would later become known as “The Undiscovered Country” in popular culture, is available below; the chosen passages are the most important ones, and the complete speech is significantly longer, approaching twenty minutes in length. The Undiscovered Country, excerpt “First of all, we want to once more congratulate the Soviet Union and its space program for successfully sending a man into space and back. It is, of course, regrettable that the International Aerospace Research and Development Agency has been beaten in this race. But, it is entirely possible one can commit no mistakes and still lose. And that, ladies and gentlemen – that is not a weakness; that is life. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we do not stand in the rain, powerless; instead we shall act; and, in time, eventually succeed. As the old proverb goes; the battle may have been lost, but the war is still entirely open. “Yet, don’t quote these words as they were told. This is not a war – it is a race, a competition; we are no enemies – we are adversaries. Space can, and shall be explored without feeding the fires of war, without committing the same mistakes that humanity has made during the entirety of its existence. There are enough flames of hell on our planet as it is. We have too much become used to our anger. It has become comfortable – as if it were old leather. We must cooperate. Otherwise, our own hatred will be our own downfall. As it has always been, over, and over again. […] “The IASRDA, the organization we lovingly call “the Agency”, is a wonder to behold. In these eleven years, we have achieved so much it is all but impossible to make a definitive list. And we have managed to achieve this only by working together. Indeed, ladies and gentlemen. One man – hell, even one entire nation – is nothing against the will and power of the many acting as one; each of us adding something different, something unique – increasing our potential, breaking the repetition, and, most significantly, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. […] “But why choose space? What purpose does it serve to look at the stars and remind ourselves of how fragile we are? And the answer is that it is the struggle itself that is most important. We must strive to be more than we are. Because that is what it means to be human. And if I may say something that probably goes beyond the scope of this speech, cherish these moments, because they will never come again. We must live now, the present, for the sake of our future. […] “Space is the final frontier of humanity, and its exploration will not be easy – in fact, it will be hard. But it is exactly because it is hard, that we accept this challenge. Somebody may say that it is impossible for man to survive in the harsh realm of space, just as somebody once said that we could not fly over the oceans, just as someone said that we could not cross those oceans altogether; probably somebody even said that it was impossible for us to master fire, or build the wheel. Things are only impossible until they are not! “And it takes courage to make the impossible, possible. We will gamble, take chances. We will commit mistakes, we will fail spectacularly. We will need to invent alloys and machines that do not exist yet, we may even have to reinvent the field of mathematics as a whole. But in the end, we will succeed. And when you look at the night sky, gaping in awe at the beauty of the cosmos, know that – perhaps – one day, in the future, humanity will have finally reached the stars. But this – this is where we start. Today, we all are holding infinity in the palm of our hands. […] “These seven men who are standing here, now, beside us, are only the first of many who will have the extreme honor and privilege to sail among the stars. It is now time to build, to fly, time to dream; it is now time to search for, find, and explore the unknown: The Undiscovered Country that is space.” Notes by me I am truly sorry I've kind of left this project for dead in the past months. Unfortunately, I've had to deal with a series of... unpleasant situations in my personal life. Doing so has taken a lot of my free time, basically all of the time I didn't spend studying, sleeping or eating. Writing even a single update takes a lot of time; this one here has taken me around a week to finish, with the speech needing a couple days by itself - I'm not totally pleased with the result, but I can always "retcon" it later, if necessary. The flight you see here are actually three different flights; the first I went too far ahead in time warp while on pad, and had to revert; the second I accidentally went out of the pause menu while studying, and also had to revert. The third launch was the definitive one, although the only screenshots I took from it are those of the descent, as the others had already been taken. Sadly, not all of the unpleasant situations (tm) have been dealt with, which means I really have very little time on my hands. Does this mean that Beyond Earth is dead? No. Absolutely not. Just expect any progress to be quite slow, especially since the next paragraph is kind of the "big one", at least for now. You can guess what it will be about. It will come, just not as soon as I'd like. By the way, since writing Beyond Earth paragraphs takes a very long time, I started re-playing more "casual" games. I must admit, when I first played Bioshock: Infinite, about 7 years ago when it came out, I didn't really appreciate it. After playing it again now that I am more mature, I must say that I was very wrong. The game's a masterpiece. Only a couple times in my entire life I haven't been able to do anything for days after reading, watching or playing something, because I was too involved in the story. Of these few times, it happened after finishing reading Nightfall by Asimov, it happened after finishing watching Deep Space 9, and after finishing playing Red Dead Redemption II and Bioshock: Infinite. That's really high praise from me. Sorry for the little excursus; i got carried away. In universe reason for the lack of content: #PrayFortheCape
  14. XXX: Reaching for the Stars, Part 2 Absolute Beginners The Aquarius Abort Tests, also known as Aquarius Phase I, had been an almost complete success, save for the failure of one of the motors on the AT-3 flight. Nonetheless, the three flights had demonstrated that the abort system worked and, most importantly, it worked well. The IASRDA was therefore ready to move into the second phase of the program. Aquarius Phase II would involve suborbital flights, which would verify the structural integrity of the spacecraft during the most hideous parts of flight; i.e. during atmospheric re-entry. Atmospheric re-entry of a manned vessel was something never attempted before; indeed, atmospheric re-entry of an orbital spacecraft was a very novel concept altogether. It must be remembered that, at this point in time, the only two IASRDA objects to ever be recovered from an orbital flight had been Ethereal 6 and 7, and even then, the re-entry section on those missions was nothing more than a small capsule with a time-activated parachute and an ablative shield – nowhere as complex as a manned spacecraft. Blueprint of the Aquarius Block II spacecraft. The Aquarius Block II spacecraft was almost identical in appearance to the earlier Block I; most of the changes that had been made were not superficial, but they were nevertheless essential to make the Aquarius capsule a proper space-capable vessel. First of all, the (relatively) inexpensive materials used for the construction of the pressure hull were exchanged for the René 41 nickel alloy, developed by General Electric – this new material had been conceived to retain a high structural strength even at extreme temperatures up to and exceeding 1000° Celsius (1800°F, 1273K). Moreover, the pressure hull was now actually able to be pressurized, and all the instrumentation, seating, and life support systems were mounted and connected to the electrical system, whereas the Block I only contained lead weights to simulate the presence of all that is described above. The astronauts would be seated in a forward-facing custom-fit fiberglass seat, with their back to the heatshield. Apart from ascent and re-entry, they were allowed to fly with the pressure suit uninflated: this allowed them to have better control and freedom of movement – flying with the “visor up” was made possible by the pressurized cabin, and its internal pure-oxygen atmosphere rated at 5.45psia (37.6 kPa), roughly equivalent to an altitude of 25000ft (approx. 7620m): this simplified atmospheric control compared to a mix of O2/N2 at sea level pressure. The astronauts had complete control over the three axes of stability: pitch, yaw, and roll. In fact, in an emergency, the person aboard would be capable of switching to manual control, and possibly land the spacecraft “by hand”. On a normal flight, however, guidance would be provided by a series of IBM 701 computers on the ground, which would then relay their commands via a number of ground stations and, if available, via the Connection satellites in orbit at that point in time. The descent and control section and the escape tower were identical to those of the earlier Block I craft; the only difference was that, on the Block IIs, the explosive bolts that were meant to separate the tower from the rest of the spacecraft were actually in place and armed. Another addition, probably the easiest to spot of them all, was the retrofire package mounted below the capsule. This consisted of a 1.3m in diameter by 0.4m in length tank assembly, containing 87.4L of HTP. The peroxide would be fed in two 888N thrusters, for a total of 1.776kN of thrust. The two thrusters would burn for 88.3 seconds at most, providing a maximum of 102 m/s of delta-V, just enough to re-enter from a low Earth orbit. The retrofire package was completely controllable by both astronaut and ground crews: it could be shut down at the operator’s pleasure, and its thrust could be completely controlled by a series of valves. To fulfill the objectives of the Aquarius Phase II, the IASRDA took quite an unconventional approach. Instead of developing and qualifying an entirely new launch system, they would re-use already available hardware. The IASRDA had manufactured an excess of Deacon I rockets back in the day, hoping to use them to launch satellites, and in 1960, three were still ready for use at a moment’s notice and without requiring a vast amount of money to operate. Moreover, the Deacon was found to be a perfect match for the Aquarius capsule, and was deemed capable of performing the suborbital missions required by the second phase of the program. Schematic of Aquarius Block II mounted on Deacon I. The configuration depicted above is named, unimaginatively, Aquarius-Deacon. The capsule was somewhat larger in diameter compared to its launch vehicle (2m vs 1.8m), and so required an awkward adapter, in place of the standard nosecone, to attach it to the rocket below. Apart from that, there was no difference between the original Deacon I and the modified version that would be used in the Aquarius program. The IASRDA decided to launch at least one unmanned suborbital mission before attempting a suborbital manned flight, and even then, a crewed Phase II mission was deemed unlikely to ever happen, considering the risks of such a launch: the main concern was with the g-forces that would be experienced by an astronaut during a suborbital descent; very likely in excess of 8gs, and probably even as high as 14gs – these accelerations, if sustained, may prove to be lethal or, at the very least, may cause severe damage to the occupant of the vessel. Therefore, the first suborbital launch, Aquarius 1, would be unmanned, with a lead ballast in place of the astronaut. It would be flown aboard Deacon I n°23, and had been scheduled for February 23 1961, just over a month from the AT-3 flight: this was only possible due to the extremely tight launch schedule defined by the IASRDA – prioritizing the Aquarius missions at the expense of almost every other program’s. The rocket and capsule were rolled over to the newly constructed Launch Complex 4 by February 22, and after some quick tests, the rocket was approved for launch on the next day, entirely within schedule. Image 19610222A. Aquarius 1 at LC-4. One night later, the capsule would be on its way to the edge of space. The rocket was cleared for take-off at 1107 hours in the morning of February 23. Weather conditions were good, although there was a slight overcast, but it was unlikely to affect the outcome of the mission. Image 19610223A. Launch of Aquarius 1. Notice the clear exhaust of a Etholox rocket engine (in this case, the NAA-75-110 A-6) The Deacon I started its pitch program a T+20 seconds into the flight, with the rocket pitching down at 0.5deg/s from 90° to 45°. Image 19610223B. The Deacon I starts its pitch program to 45°. Aquarius 1 reached 45° degrees pitch at T+110 seconds, and would maintain attitude from that point on, also using the Deacon nitrogen ACS if necessary. Image 19610223C. The ground cameras take one last glimpse at Aquarius 1. The guidance program was set to either complete the Deacon burn, or disengage the engine once the predicted apogee was above 185km. In Aquarius 1’s case, the flight had been planned not to reach that altitude, instead aiming for 155km. The Deacon I exhausted all of its propellant at T+140 seconds. SIMULATION. MECO has just occurred, and for now the Deacon is holding attitude via the nitrogen ACS. Fifteen seconds later, at T+155, the abort tower was ditched, as it wasn’t necessary anymore. SIMULATION. The abort tower separates from the rest of the craft. And, another five seconds later, the Aquarius capsule separated from the Deacon, and fired its two HTP motors for three seconds to maneuver away from the booster. SIMULATION. The thruster pack firing to separate the Aquarius from the Deacon. Twenty seconds after separation, at T+180, the capsule initiated its turn-around maneuver, rotating by 180° on its yaw axis. The capsule reached apogee five minutes and twenty seconds into the flight, at T+320. At that point, the retro rockets had been intended to fire, but a failure of a valve in the HTP system prevented it from happening. The motors were ditched successfully, but Aquarius 1 would come down faster than originally intended. SIMULATION. Aquarius 1 descending towards the Ocean. The capsule reached sustained deceleration forces in the order of 10.34gs during descent, which would have likely made most, if not all, astronauts pass out at the very least. Nonetheless, the automated control system kept operating the spacecraft without further incident, releasing the parachute cover at 19km, arming the parachutes in the process. The capsule landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean after a flight of 16 minutes. It was recovered about an hour and a half after splashdown by the US Navy. The mission had only been a partial success. The telemetry data from the flight revealed that the boost phase had gone smoothly, and the Deacon had performed well above expectations. What had underperformed, unsettlingly, was the Aquarius capsule. If the flight had been manned, and fortunately it wasn’t, the occupant may have been tragically lost during descent. Telemetry recovered from Aquarius 1. An investigation revealed that not only the HTP propulsion system had underperformed, to use a euphemism, but also that the onboard Aquarius control computer had had problems in maintaining attitude throughout the second phase of the flight. These problems were solved by the engineering teams without much trouble, however, the next missions would need to be significantly delayed in order for the changes to be made to the capsule. Despite the many issues that had plagued the earlier flight, and the further delay caused by the mandatory upgrades to the Aquarius capsule, the next mission of the program would be ready for launch in exactly a month. Every engineer and technician at the IASRDA had worked around the clock to ensure this was the case. It seemed impossible, but Aquarius was actually bringing people together for a common goal. Aquarius 2 would launch on March 23 1961, twenty-eight days after Aquarius 1, and even from the same launch pad: LC-4. Image 19610323A. Aerial photograph of Aquarius 2 twenty minutes before launch, with LC-4 already evacuated. Ignition of the Deacon’s main engine occurred at T-3, and liftoff would take place three seconds later, at T+0, after the turbopumps started running at full speed. Local time was 1011 hours. Image 19610323B. The launch clamps release the Deacon I, its engine already roaring. As predicted, the pitch program was initiated at T+20 seconds into the flight. The mission specifics would be very similar to those of Aquarius 1, so the Deacon would pitch over at a rate of 0.5°/s Image 19610323C. The Deacon I in flight. Notice the clear Etholox exhaust plume. 45° pitch were reached at exactly T+110 seconds. The Deacon was instructed to hold that attitude for the rest of the flight. SIMULATION. Aquarius 2 leaves the Cape behind as it continues to climb through the atmosphere. Main engine cut off took place at T+140. The rocket kept drifting towards apogee, and at T+155 the abort tower was separated from the rest of the vessel. SIMULATION. Separation of the escape tower. As usual, its SRMs are extremely underexpanded at this altitude. Five seconds later, the Aquarius capsule decoupled from the Deacon rocket that had carried it all the way to the edge of space. SIMULATION. The HTP thrusters come online for a few seconds to ensure the Aquarius separates correctly. At T+180, the capsule was instructed to begin the turn-around maneuver. The capsule oriented so that the heatshield would face forward. SIMULATION. The capsule orients with the heatshield towards the airflow. The capsule then drifted towards apogee, which, at 168km, was higher than that of Aquarius 1. The likely cause of this was to be found in the upgraded computer system, since it could relay the guidance information much more precisely than before. Nevertheless, the higher apogee was an intended mission parameter. The Aquarius reached that point at T+296, at which moment the computer ignited the retro-kick motors for a whole 1 minute and 25 seconds, providing a 99m/s velocity change in the retrograde direction. SIMULATION. The retrograde burn in process. You can see the Deacon I booster above and to the right of the capsule. At T+381 the retro-burn was completed, and two seconds later the thruster pack was discarded, and the capsule readied for descent mode. SIMULATION. The thruster package, once expended, is discarded to allow the heatshield to protect the craft during re-entry. The capsule would then start its descent towards the ocean, reaching a maximum deceleration of 9.5gs as it reached the denser layers of the atmosphere. 9.5gs was better than the 10.34gs of the earlier flight (especially considering Aquarius 2’s higher velocity), but it still was higher than what the IASRDA would have liked. SIMULATION. Although the most stressful part of descent has been completed, the capsule is not in the clear yet. At 17km and T+518, the descent module was ditched, arming the capsule’s parachutes in the process. The drogue deployed at T+568, at an altitude of 9.7km. The first stage of the parachute system was meant to get the capsule to a safer speed for mains deployment. SIMULATION. The drogue chute, deployed but not yet inflated. The drogue fully inflated at 5km, bringing the capsule down to 51m/s vertical speed; finally, at T+665 the mains were released, and the capsule was now on final descent towards the Atlantic Ocean. SIMULATION. Much lower in the atmosphere, the three main chutes are deployed. Aquarius 2 splashed down roughly 571.5km downrange from the Cape at a downward speed of 3.9m/s, 870 seconds, or 14 minutes 30 seconds, after liftoff. The capsule was recovered not more than 30 minutes after splashdown, a testament to the training regimen that the IASRDA and the US Navy had developed to cut down capsule recovery times to less than one third of before. SIMULATION. With the parachutes deployed and inflated, Aquarius 2 can gracefully glide towards the Atlantic Ocean for a soft splashdown. Telemetry data from the full Aquarius 2 flight, from launch to splashdown. The Aquarius 2 mission had been a total success. Defying Murphy’s law [and, from the writer’s perspective, even Agathorn’s] in its entirety, at least for the moment, everything had worked perfectly. No one, for the first time in the entirety of the IRS and IASRDA history, had committed any mistakes. It was time to make this the rule, not the exception. Now only one or two more test flights were what was left between the Agency and being able to put a man in space before the Soviet Union.
  15. @Cavscout74 well, you joined us at probably the best time possible, at least for the near future of the series. The next 3-4 updates will be quite something, at least when I'll find the time to sit at my computer and actually write them. So if you need to do some catching up, you should have all the time in the world. Well, hopefully not too much time. Anyways, as always, thank you all very much for the support!