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Flight to Independence


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Chapter 1: Up the Rabbit Hole

The VAB’s Cargo Bay 3 is a secluded concrete box behind a massive sliding door, but on that day, it nevertheless resonated with the ruckus as Jeb flipped over one of the empty fuel valve crates bearing his name, and perched on it. Bill shook his head, and joined him; Bob kept mulling about, while Val simply plopped onto the cold concrete floor, protected by the aramid fabric of her orange suit, gutted and stripped of badges.

Around them stood the crowning achievement of KASA; but KASA itself was no more. The Kerbal Space Center was being stripped of anything that could be carried away by a swarm of workers that had descended upon it a week ago. The VAB, the Mission Control, the comms array, the administration and R&D facilities… like a swarm of locusts, they consumed everything.

“So, I guess this is it,” said Bob, just to break the silence.

“He… won the bet,” sighed Valentina, “and now we’re getting downsized.”

“And Kerminsky didn’t hold his word either”, muttered Jeb, drawing surprised looks from everyone involved, “Yeah, I ‘have sources’”.

Outside the door, amidst the extensive scaffolding, towered a half-assembled Sarnus V. They probably weren’t going to drag the five Mainsails and their fuel tanks anywhere, and would just leave them standing. A month back, another one of those monsters carried a tiny can containing Jeb and, unfortunately, Bob, all the way to Munar orbit, and the small ship on top landed onto its desolate surface. They planted a flag, they took measurements, they took samples, and then they blasted off and returned relatively safely. President Fitz Kerman was absolutely delighted – for about a week. Then, all this happened…

“Hey, guys!” barked out Gus Kerman, in his usual safety helmet – which was coming in handy, because they could hear bolts and tools getting dropped left and right.

“I’ve got a spare Rabbit out back, care to ‘accidentally’ launch it?”

“Well…” drawled Val, “it’s not like we have anything better to do."


The primary launch pad had been fully reconditioned. The modular gantry had been dismantled and the blast trench was covered by heavy grates that easily supported their truck. Gus casually drove straight over the crawlerway connecting the pad and the VAB, a big no-no back in the day.

The Rabbit was a slender sounding rocket, three times as tall as Jeb, but only as wide as a helmet. A small slanted launch stand, the truck’s crane and a briefcase with remote firing controls; all of it about ten minutes’ work. However, Bob had to be sedated with Val’s elbow to the stomach.

“Fire in the hole!” Jeb barked, appropriately. There was a brief hiss, then a burp, and the rocket blasted off.

The screams of horror coming from the VAB were quite satisfying.


The Rabbit spared itself the trouble of having any stabilization. The thick trail of its solid-fuel motor began to form a distinct spiral as the angled fins sent it into a wild spin, which actually helped keep it from veering off-course too much. They didn’t need any particular accuracy: after the motor burnt out, the empty casing tumbled into the bay to the north of KSC, with a parachute trailing behind it to reduce the impact speed to a reasonable 6 m/s.



“Who do you think is going to buy all this stuff?” Val idly wondered.

“I did,” Jeb answered nonchalantly, “All of it. And I also own Rockomax, so all that money the Pres has 'wasted' is now lining my pockets. And I have big plans.”


Modlist (current as of June 2):

  • 6 Seat Mk3 Cockpit
  • Astroniki Sunflare
  • B9 Part Switch
  • BahamutoD Animation Modules (cropped)
  • BZ-1 Radial Attachment Port
  • Chatterer
  • Community Resource Pack and Community Terrain Texture Pack
  • Control Lock
  • Cryogenic Engines, Cryogenic Tanks, Heat Control, KerbalAtomics, Near Future Construction (cropped), Electrical (cropped), Solar (cropped), Spacecraft by Nertea
  • Deployable Engines Plugin
  • DMagic Orbital Science
  • Docking Port Alignment Indicator
  • Docking Port Sound FX, RCS Sounds, Rover Wheel Sounds
  • Engine Lighting
  • Final Frontier with Engineering, Operations, Science roles packs
  • Firespitter (core)
  • Kerbal Alarm Clock by TriggerAu
  • Kerbal Attachment System and Kerbal Inventory System
  • Kerbal Joint Reinforcement
  • Kopernicus and Outer Planets Mod with Sigma Binary
  • KSP AVC (duh!)
  • Magic Smoke Industries Infernal Robotics
  • MechJeb 2 (minus the parts, added to pods as standard)
  • Mk 1 Cockpit RPM Internals
  • Module Manage (duh!)
  • NavBallsToYou
  • RasterPropMonitor
  • Real Plume
  • RealChute Parachute Systems
  • Planetshine
  • RemoteTech (with extremely custom configs, available on request)
  • SCANsat
  • scatterer
  • Shuttle Lifting Body
  • Smart Parts (cropped)
  • SmokeScreen
  • StageRecovery
  • Stock Bug Fix Modules & StockPlus
  • Stock Visual Enhancements (ultra)
  • Surface-Mounted Stock-Alike Lights
  • TAC Fuel Balancer
  • TACL Life Support (cropped, with two visual upgrade packs)
  • Texture Replacer
  • Throttle Controlled Avionics
  • Toolbar
  • Trajectories
  • TweakScale (severely cropped)
  • Universal Storage
  • USI Exploration Pack (cropped to one part)
  • USI Survival Pack (with custom config)
  • USI Tools
  • Ven's Stock Overhaul (cropped and altered)
  • Stockalike Station Expansion

This is going to be a poorly-roleplayed Sandbox game suffering from delusions of grandeur and realism.

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"So how exactly did you manage to buy Rockomax? I thought Fitz was all about anti-trust and diverse suppliers. Which is why we spent a third of our time making parts work together!" Val inquired as they jogged along one of KSC's hexagonal driveways.

"Something something shell companies something something greased palms," Jeb grinned. "There was one resistive guy..."


"Remember the fourth Stayputnik launch?"

"Do I ever, that was quite the crash... Wait, you mean..."



The operation had been moved to the old aircraft hangar. It turned out Team Locust had so clumsily removed the flight computer and the miscellaneous shiny parts from Sarnus V that it would take a few months to dismantle it; Gus was arranging for several conservation warehouses to store the massive 2.5 m parts until they could be properly cannibalized. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew was busy rescuing a few of the government workers from the topmost floors of the VAB, after their comrades downstairs carted away the cargo elevators.

…Except for Bill Kerman, who managed to occupy a football field-sized hangar with a mere five presentation boards, a reasonably large engine and another cylindrical object on a cart, and was adjusting – for the hundredth time – one of the blueprints as Jeb and Val walked in.

“You sure we can substitute the VAB with this?” she asked.

“Rockomax had to build huge trailers for Sarnus tanks. I reckon we can refit them to carry around and flip over entire assembled rockets instead. We’ll have the operation-critical stuff replaced by sunrise, and the gantry crane here can handle entire stages. Shouldn’t be an issue. Bill?”

“No, it shouldn’t, boss,” Bill tensed up, “Fitz also sent orders through non-KASA channels. Without those, we wouldn’t have cheaper engines and new solid rockets.”

“Why would he need those?” Val piped up.

“I dunno, something about ‘Polaris’ and ‘Titan’. Anyway! He’s been paying STEADLER to equip the Hammer with gimballed nozzles, and hired Jeb’s outfit to create a double-length version called the ‘Sickle’. But this… this one’s really interesting. Remember Jeb’s 1.25s?”

Val nodded. She remembered the explosions, too.

“Well, we’ve found a way to knock a zero off the price tag while also reducing their mass!” Bill exclaimed. “We dropped regenerative cooling, removed the ignition system, and voila!”

“There’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere,” Val turned to Jeb, who seemed quite grim.

“Ablative cooling. No pre-fires,” he explained quietly, “and we’re using an oxidizer that by itself ignites on contact with fuel.”

“Highly toxic,” he added.

“I’m not flying that,” Val announced.

“No, you’re not,” Jeb agreed, “but we can’t afford regular flights with Reliants and Swivels. Too little bang for the buck, unless we recover them, which is something we’re completely unprepared for. Bill, next.”

Bill pulled the cover off the other object. “Meet the Intern, index A2, article 1.”

Val recognized the capsulated heat shield from the Kerlington pod at the bottom, and the satellite was topped off by an electronics compartment plated in solar panels, surrounded by small retrorocket engines. In between was a bulky cylindrical compartment covered in thermal blankets, with doors on one side. The probe seemed ready for final integration, and thus everything was sealed shut.

“It’s a materials science bay,” Bill answered the unspoken question. “We have to test new materials for effects of vacuum and sharp temperature gradients, and we do it better if we bring it back.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” Val began as Bill checked for the nearest door. “I’m sad to say I’m quite familiar with the effects of temperature gradients in near-vacuum.”

Bill began edging towards the door.

“…like that one time, when the door of my pod ejected in the middle of re-entry.”

Bill bumped into Jeb.

“Bill, please continue,” he said coldly, nodding to Val.

“W… well, beyond that,” Bill stuttered, “Beyond that, the design is largely off-the-shelf. We’re using a modified Project Moho retrorocket as the third stage, we’ve mated the STEADLER computer and telemetry unit to a Daskh… Dachshund stack, and… and had to throw in a pair of Hammer boosters.”

“Thank you, Bill,” Val said, her tone alleviating none of his nervousness.


Even though half of the components had already been at KSC, the assembly took two weeks. The passivation of the oxidizer tank was the most complex part, but ultimately, the rocket was complete.

The roll-out took place under the cover of darkness, as they had prying eyes: while they were busy sweeping the VAB for lost workers, about a hundred of them set up camp in the astronaut training facility and resisted all attempts at eviction.

By late morning, the rocket and the fueling gantry were erected and the servicing personnel cleared the pad. A T-30 minutes, Jeb personally started the pumps that fed the devilish brew into the tanks. The tanks were full in exactly 4 minutes 23 seconds, but the gantry remained in place, compensating for slow loss of pressure in the third stage.


The launch control complex was hurriedly put back together. Its radio systems consisted of a bunch of Communotron datalinks on top of the VAB, and the remaining computers were linked by the cables littering the floor. Luckily, Jeb’d worked with STEADLER and MuMech to cut down on personnel, to the point that all it took was a dozen volunteers and a ground crew of wrench-draggers.

“Booster?” Jeb began to call out.

“Go,” responded Gene, demoted to a position entailing an actual fussy job for this one.


“Go,” answered Val from behind her console.


“Go!” shouted Linus, causing Bob to sigh at the enthusiasm of Werner’s former intern.

“Firing Control?”

“We’re go, Flight,” Gus looked up.

“Range Safety?”

“Standing ready… ow wait. Go!”

Bobak Kerman was a rookie, responsible for triggering the self-destruct on a stray rocket.

“This is Dawn Flight,” Jeb went on with the platitudes, “Initiating launch sequence.” He inserted the launch key and turned it.

The signal went down the crawlerway, up the umbilical. The STEADLER flight computer booted up, filling up their screens with test, error and fault messages before the real telemetry came in.

“Flight program initiated. T-30 seconds,” Linus announced. Outside, the sirens began to blare.

The computer, in turn, booted up the satellite’s systems, while also testing its local telemetry antenna.

“T-10,” he continued, as everyone peered into their screens except Jeb, who stood at the massive polycarbonate windows facing the pad.

“Gantry retracting,” Gus reported.

“Internal power nominal, we have comms,” Linus confirmed.

“Fuel pumps starting up…” Gene proclaimed, “ignition in 3… 2… 1…”

The sickly-yellow flare coming from under the central stack was barely visible from that distance, but vibration was easily felt.


“Thrust nominal, committing!” barked Gene, raising his voice for the first time in weeks.

The rocket’s own automation agreed, igniting the solid rocket boosters mounted between the fins, and immediately releasing the clamps – lest the rocket would carry the pad with it.


“Tower cleared. Acceleration nominal.”

“Decon team to the pad!” Gus called out, his job remaining groundside. He fired up the sprinkler system to wash off most of toxic residue, noting with satisfaction that the noxious cloud was blowing towards the ill-prepared hobos in the Astronaut Training Centre.


“Initiating pitch, acceleration nominal,” Val observed. Between the Dachshund and the Hammers, even with the latter set at half-thrust, the Intern was being carried at breakneck speed. “Approaching max Q. Acceleration climbing… booster separation in 10… acceleration critical… 3… 2… 1… Cutoff! Jettison!”

Far above the KSC, shaped charges blew holes in the Hammers’ outer casings, with the rest of the flame choked up by the sudden loss in pressure. The pyrobolts fired and the small rockets in the nosecones activated, pulling the empty cans clear as the core stage surged upwards. The smoky trails of the SRBs died off, leaving only the ever-thinning Dachshund plume.


“Thirty to MECO,” Valentina announced as the freed-up controllers crowded behind her.

“That’s it. Main motor cutoff. Payload decouple, retrorockets firing.”

The main stage had a large complement of separation motors to counter Dachshund’s issue of occasionally not shutting down as expected. Before parting ways, it fully woke up the sat’s electronics and comms.


“FIDO, please confirm trajectory,” Jeb said with poorly-concealed apprehension.

“Payload and third stage headed for circularization burn of 766 m/s. INCO, stand by to receive maneuver program… and… sending,” Val responded before leaving her station as well.

“Received, transmitting. Traffic received and acknowledged, stand by to enter autonomous mode. Loss of contact confirmed at 2:29:32. Expecting to regain contact in thirty-five minutes,” Linus intoned, “Why are you all looking at me? There’s no chance I’ll get traffic through this ball of rock. Get off my back!


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Chapter 3: Forward Unto Dusk

The big problem of the nascent Independent Space Program was that the government had all of their surface comm stations. The window during which they could communicate with their satellites in low orbit was around 15 minutes, out of a 45-minute orbital period; outside of direct line of sight, communication was extremely limited; during Project Moho, they stretched it to 25 minutes using Morse code, but that wasn’t good enough for probes.

Jeb was sipping koffee. Bill had already gotten drunk on KoolAid and had to be expelled from Mission Control; half of the freed-up staff was also out for supper. Val was napping right on her console.

Linus, on the other hand, was struggling to make an impression, and pressed the headset down so hard his ear was becoming blue.



“We’re past the thirty-five minute line… still no contact,” he announced.


“Got a heartbeat signal, sending status request!”

“CONTACT!” barked Jeb into the PA system, drowning out the second half of Linus’s phrase.

A stampede immediately ensued on the cantina.

The printer spat out a sheet’s worth of gibberish.

“Third stage jettisoned, experimental bay deployed, temperature regime within nominal, solar power influx above expected,” Linus translated.


“Jeb… your call!” Gene puffed.

“Bring it in at the end of the second orbit,” ‘Dawn Flight’ resolved.

“Alright, that would mean the retroburn at MET T+1:25:34,” Val responded.

“INCO, compile and send through the command.”


The sat soon barreled back out of comms range. This time, the whole crew went on break, only to reassemble in thirty minutes.

The fun was going on without their participation. The sat aligned itself along its orbital vectors, and then the ring of solid-fuel rockets fired, slowing it into the suborbital trajectory.




“Bobak, see anything?” Jeb asked. Mission Control moved to the top of the VAB, and their sole focus was now the rookie and the telescope.

“Stand by, Flight.”

A few minutes passed.

“Flash, twelve o’clock, 17 degrees above the horizon!” Gene called out.

“Copy, confirming visual,” Bobak called out as he brought about his telescope.

A small spark appeared in the night sky.


“Constant bearing, decreasing range. Nice entry, FIDO,” said Gene.

“It’s… it’s coming right for us!” screamed Bobak, darting to the stairs in the blink of an eye.

“Get back to your post!” Jeb shouted, “Linus, man the ‘scope! Get back here, you yellow bаstаrd!”

The spark in the sky dimmed. Another minute passed. There were sounds of a scuffle coming from downstairs. Val shook her head, and headed there. A minute later came a sharp smack, and the noises stopped.

“Anything?” Jeb called through the door.

Linus turned up the radio receiver, which gave off regular static.

Suddenly, sharp, loud beeping came through. That was the radio beacon in the parachute system.

“Linus, bearing!?”

Far below, a woman in an orange flight suit rushed towards the aviation hangar.

“5 to 10 klicks west!”

“Saddle up!” Jeb yelled.

As half of KSC’s personnel drove every available vehicle into the empty field, a jet blasted off the airfield and headed off in the same direction. A dagger of light erupted from under the fuselage, eliminating an area on the ground, as the plane began to bank around it. A tiny pinprick was visible in the middle of it.


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3 hours ago, MarkWatney said:

Can't waint for more keep up the good work:wink:

Your botany powers have forced me to drop a couple of spoilers!





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Guys, there's also a rookie cinematography question. I'll be doing a brief flashback to a Sarnus V mission - which I'm about to run now, having just completed the ship's design - and the question is, how do I give the screenshots a cheesily retro effect just by using Windows 10's stock photo editor?

Here's my best effort thus far:




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Interlude: An Executive Disorder

Jeb was going over the piles of paperwork generated by Bill in the wake of the Intern flight. Why the guy needed his signature on all the flight logs and telemetry was anyone's guess, and he was only going to crack the experiment container itself open in the morning!

There was a knock on the door.

"Yeah, come in."

Three kerbals in suits filed in.

"Special Agent Kirrim Kerman," the lead one introduced himself, "We have received information that you and your co-conspirators have engaged in illegal spaceflight activities."

"Illegal since when?" Jeb demanded.

"Illegal since the executive order two hours ago," the agent grinned.

Without a word, Jeb walked out of his office, set in a tiny outbuilding by the pool. Only a few windows in KSC were lit, and the new flag was flapping in the weak wind. Jeb seemed particularly interested in the flag, looking at it for a few seconds before turning back to the agents.

"So you came from Fitz to shut us down," he began icily, "You chose to confront a man who has stared into the screaming void, in a facility he now controls. In a facility full of explosives and deadly machinery, I might add. I find your tactics rather flawed..."

He took out a remote from his pocket.

"...and your situation quite unenviable, agents," he finished.

A lamp flickered on by the SPH, illuminating a bizarre contraption.




Valentina was driving back after a night out celebrating. The KSC was built a good 20 km away from anything, and the KSC Driveway through the Exclusion Zone was actually a pretty good highway.

A black sedan came screaming along in the opposite direction.

"Get the krak away from here!" the terrified driver in a business suit yelled at the top of his lungs.

With a corner of her eye Val noticed flares of small sounding rockets coming up from near the airfield complex, spinning into spirals before dying out.



A few seconds later, the metal cylinder of an RT-1 motor with tiny fins blew past her and embedded itself in the shoulder.

Val barely slowed down. Whoever those pansies were, they hadn't been there in KSC's glory days.


A daytime test of the Devastator MLRS - proving shots out to 2400 m



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Chapter 4: Volunteered

The old airplane hangar has been ultimately redubbed the Horizontal Integration Facility. With a handful of refits, it would be able to handle even the theorized seven-stack 1.25m satellite carrier rocket. But that day, the design was far less gargantuan. The stages had already been partially outfitted, resting in cradles arranged in resemblance of the general layout.


Bill was running another presentation.

The primary booster system was a set of three Sickles and a Hammer. One of the Sickles was outfitted with an onboard ignition system, a more robust frame, and small stabilizer fins; the RT-10 was stuck under it, and the RT-20s, topped by nosecones, were attached to the sides.

The ship itself was equally familiar. The Kerlington Mk 1 pod was only slightly updated, and the Spark retrorocket with a toroidal fuel tank was a trusted piece of kit. But the reaction control system and parachute compartment on the top of the pod was gone. Val stared at the device on top of the parachute assembly for half a minute before remembering where she saw it.

“You’re actually going to attempt a docking?” she finally asked Jeb.

“Well, Fitz footed the bill for a direct ascent vehicle with Sarnus V, so we delivered. But this method is not sustainable for bigger expeditions, so we need to practice on a small scale.”

The ring connecting the pod to the service compartment, which normally carried just the external telemetry antenna, now also mounted two clusters of five miniature engines, which were clearly immensely more useful at fine manoeuvring. That explained the bizarre rearrangement of the rest of the SM’s key components. The heliostat-equipped folding solar panels, the whip antenna and the supplemental avionics package were offset by 45° from their expected positions, and now shared the space with four small tanks labelled as containing more manoeuvring jet monopropellant.

“And the mast?” she asked, pointing to the flimsy girder with a crown of solid rockets on one end and an adapter fitting the docking port.

“Ah, the Launch Escape System,” Bill interjected, “we can’t abort by cutting thrust on either of the two stages, so we’ll just rip off the pod with this thing. It is blown off automatically five seconds after Separation Event 2, once you switch to H-lOx. We just fire the motors and the guillotine at the same time, instead of sequentially.”

‘H-lOx?’ Val thought, looking back at the alarmingly long third stage, covered in what looked like thermal blankets, “Bill, are you about to introduce us to yet another experimental engine?”

Bill paled.

“Congratulations on yesterday’s promotion to Chief Test Pilot,” Jeb noted quietly.

Bill just made his way to the back of the stage. The mounting ring was already there, surrounded by Project Moho’s trusted Sepraretrotron™ ullage-separation motor packages. The primary engine, however, was mounted separately nearby, seemingly guarded by a kerbal engineer in grey overalls of unfamiliar make.

“This is Mr Kerbalov of the Automatics Design Bureau, the guys behind the Ct10 design,” Bill introduced him.

Val gawked at the new design. The oversized nozzle started immediately from underneath the frame. “Deploy it,” Bill intrusted.

“Da, comrade.”


The nozzle fell down, revealing the usual machinery of a rocket engine. The resulting nozzle was bigger than that of the gargantuan Mainsail!

Val just kept staring at the seam between the two halves of the nozzle, almost next to the combustion chamber, by her guess the area subject to greatest stress.

“You want me to fly THAT!? Without the LES?”

“Val, we tried!” Bill began apologetically, “We couldn’t fit the design within the capacity of THREE strap-on Sickles if we used the Terrier; we had to either drop the manoeuvring system, or drop the LES. We needed that one-third boost in efficiency, Val!”

“Jeb,” Val slowly asked, “would our future projects need an engineer flying them?”

“Yes,” he answered, pulling something out of his pocket and beginning to move between Bill and the nearest door.

“And it’s not like we ever do unmanned test flights…” she continued.

The device in Jeb’s hand popped out and extended, electric sparks running between the prongs at its business end.


“You always assign pilots this way?” Kerbalov asked.

“Nah, it’s a special case.”


“Kraken’s guts…”

Bill tried to get up, and felt the safety harness push against his shoulders.



“Go flight.”


“Go, flight,” Val answered sweetly.


“Go flight!” Bob responded.

Great, he was strapped in, and through the tiny window he saw the crew gantry retract.


“Commence final countdown! T minus ten, nine, eight, seven…”

“Uh, guys?”

The umbilical keeping the hydrogen tank filled up despite the gradual boil-off also retracted.

“…five, four, three, two, one, committing!”


The noise of the fans and the chirping of electronics inside the pod was instantly drowned out by the thunder of the solid rockets. Bill was promptly hammered down into his seat as the rocket blasted clear off the pad.

“Tower clear.”


“Flight, pitch anomaly!” Gene called out.

“Stand by!” Jeb responded.

“…pitch back to normal, Flight.”


“Pad chief, please assess damage to the tower. Continue tracking, Booster.”

The acceleration continued building up. The first separation event was to occur at 10 km. From the pod’s instrumentation he could see it coming up.

The acceleration died off. There was a bump. The indicator lights on the console changed.


Bill braced himself.

He was then hit with a sledgehammer as the remaining RT-20 ignited, and the acceleration came back.


“Flight, pod’s computer just crashed, rebooting in 5,” Linus’s voice came up on the radio.

The boot-up sequence began to flash across the screens again. Then, it was flooded with error messages. And finally, the Master Alarm went off.

“Flight, Booster, failure of launch computers A and B!”

The stage kept firing, though.

“Flight, Vector-1,” Bill finally forced words out of his throat, “Attempting to separate computer systems from each other. Reboot launch computer A on my mark...” He began to tap code into the console.


He felt the booster tilt sharply as the engine gimbal kicked back in. He lost much of the stage’s telemetry, though.

“This is Flight, ten seconds to Sep 2. FIDO, report!”

“Slight overshoot, flight. Not mission-critical,” some new rookie Bill didn’t recognize responded.

He felt the acceleration climb in a crescendo and then slacken off as the last Sickle finally burned out. However, it didn’t disappear, as the separation and ullage motors surrounding the bottom of the third stage ignited.


8 seconds in, there was still some humming, the acceleration did not disappear completely, and there was no explosion. That could only mean one thing.


The Chelyabinsk was up to its job, spewing out a stream of steam and unburnt hydrogen.


The long burn to achieve orbital velocity after the initial loft was going to uneventful. Bill briefly glanced at the surprisingly sharp stars in the window before beginning to work around the half-dead computer to deploy the ship’s radio and solar panels. The four interstage fairing panels blew off with a bump.


The burn dragged on for another minute.


“Flight, INCO, feeding an altered circularization program to the flight-comp.”

“Vector-1, please confirm thrust cut-off,” Jeb finally called out.



The seven-minute drift to the final burn began.

“Vector-1, CAPCOM here, please acknowledge receipt.”


“Vector-1, darling, please respond,” Val continued, “surgeon, is he even alive in there?”

“Pulse below normal, but he’s still around.”

The engine reactivated on time, exhausting the remaining fuel in the tank. A few seconds later, without cue from the puzzled mission control, Bill separated the final stage.


“INCO, what’s he doing?” Jeb finally asked.

“Another flight computer reboot, he seems to be removing his fix… And he’s reorienting the ship manually.”


“Flight to Vector-1, please respond.”


“Flight to Vector 1, Bill, you alive out there?”




The ship left the radio range.


It came back, but there was no communication. Val had to be sent away.


“Ten minutes to expected re-contact,” Linus announced.

“Alright, Gene, we need to consider our options,” Jeb finally said.

“Nominal supplies of life support for three days, full retrorocket, nice low orbit,” Gene counted off, “I say we let him run it as he wishes.”


“Contact… FIDO, what’s with this telemetry?”

“Flight, we’ve got a problem!”

Jeb simply sighed.


“He’s coming in, and he’s coming in fast! Pretty sharp entry, must have burnt for twice longer than planned!”



Bill watched the radar altimeter count off miles. As it hit 68 km, he reached for the switches on the board, and began flipping them. There was a bump as the service module separated.


A few seconds ago, the first streams of ridiculously hot plasma began to appear. The grew colder, but much thicker, as the ship rammed the atmosphere. The g-force counter began to go upwards as the world grew blacker around Bill.





ISP’s SAR flight found Bill’s capsule descending on the parachute 40 km east of KSC, just at the terminator.


The recovery was successful. The pilot was responsive, but stubbornly quiet.


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22 minutes ago, Angel-125 said:

Nice to see engineers getting to do engineering:)

Yeah, but I think Val broke someone. This is gonna get interesting later.

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Interlude: Press Pass

Bob was driving. He didn’t know if Val’s red eyes were due to crying or drinking tears away, but he wasn’t going to take chances.

The checkpoint at the boundary of KSC proper was normally deserted. But this time, there was a swarm of people clogging it up.

“Oh, krak,” Bob mouthed.

Reporters. They rushed towards their car as soon as they spotted them. “Is it true that you’ve killed a pilot!?” “Has Jeb set up a secret fortress on the Mun!?”


“Fall back, I’ll cover you!”

They saw Walt Kerman, wearing armour on top of hazmat gear and gasmask, racking the slide of a shotgun. The front-most lines of journalists rushed back, resulting in a pile-up that the two astronauts easily ran around and through the half-open gates.

“Come on, you brainsuckers!” KSC’s head of Public Relations shouted before putting a few more blasts into the paparazzis.

“He’s going to murder someone!” puffed Bob as they slowed down to a jog.

“Come on, it’s just rock salt.”

“How would you know?”

“What, you’ve never climbed KSC’s fence in the dead of night?” Val asked.


Agent Kirrim pulled off his gasmask as he left the engine test-fire bunker.

“Specialist, execute.”

The egghead at the control console – whose name Kirrim could not be bothered to remember – flipped a few switches. The Dachshund engine in the bunker wound up its turbopump, the gas generator burped, but there was no sustained ignition.


The gas generator spun up the turbopumps again, this time completely dry. Nothing happened.


The turbopumps were spun up again, and this time they proceeded to explosively delaminate, sending hypersonic fragments screaming in all directions.

Then the fuel and oxidizer flowed out of the broken pipes, and there was ignition, major uncontrolled ignition.

Special Agent Kirrim will return once he substitutes a treasonous supplier!


“Jeb, you’ve got Walt shooting up the press!” Val shouted as she charged into Jeb’s office.


“OK, you ordered it?”

“Of course. One more way to shake the press down for cash, not running into the shotgun-wielding bogeyman” Jeb responded, spinning about in his chair.

“So,” Val said, straightening out her business suit and dramatically raising her voice, “the first meeting of the Space Council is called into order!”

Gene proceeded to tap her on the shoulder, and the motley band of KSC, JKJSP, STEADLER, Rockomax, MuTech and KADB employees gathered round.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Mortimer has a crucial announcement to make,” Jeb began.

The stern-looking accountant stood up.

“Thanks to the publicity gathered by Vector-1, we have received a considerable number of publicity contracts just for conducting spaceflight. Our monthly budget is now approximately…

“OVER 9000!?” Bob interjected.

“…less than one hundred billion…” Mortimer grinned slightly.

“…just from TV people…” Valentina inserted.

“…but well over what we need to expand our operation and pay off Fitz for any ‘defective’ parts,” Jeb ended, “We can begin the scramble to secure funding for pet projects in five, four…”


“So, the Vertical Assembly Building is just a skyscraper-sized assembly hall?” asked one bubblehead, which Walt thought worked for the 4-o’clock news.

“Well, if you would call it that,” the now-dressed up and seemingly harmless kerbal retorted, before stepping inside the VAB’s work area. He seriously enjoyed the next few seconds, as the journalists all dropped their jaws on the floor and almost broke their necks looking upwards.

They weren’t to blame, exactly. The Hermes-A handling mock-up only stretched halfway to the roof, which was already getting some cloud condensation – gotta ask Gus to check the dehumidifiers – and it was made of spare Sarnus V parts and painted cardboard on an aluminium frame, but it was quite the sight. The worn-out Mainsail, surrounded by fins and drag brakes, stood at the bottom of the massive, slender stack, which stretched upwards until the interstage, which was missing the Tunguska, Chelyabinsk’s bigger, badder sister. Its insulation-coated tank terminated in the electronics ring and the payload fairing.


“Guys, we’re out of time, could everyone shut up please!?” Jeb shouted. No-one reacted, so he fetched in his pockets for a flare launcher and pulled the ring on it, firing a tiny rocket into the ceiling.

The ruckus died down.

“Alright, so before I leave, an executive summary: communications relay, instrumentation sat, weather sat, Mun probe, orbital laboratory, no manned Mun mission on the agenda.”

He then stormed out.


The press was far more civilized this time, not charging Jebediah Kerman as he appeared before them, but limiting themselves to thunderous applause.

“Now, dear visitors, please be seated.”

“No, Mr Kerman, I’d prefer to stand,” a few of them chorused with pained expressions.

Walt Kerman couldn’t hide a grin.


Val had to admit, Jeb could handle the inanest questions with charismatic swagger. If she were in his position, there’d be murders.

Finally, he sent them off, and Walt corralled the whole lot out of the room.

Jeb paused on the podium, looking back at the only other major piece of furniture in the room – an actual, working Hermes-A Return Vehicle, a sleek truncated cone with the door on one side, windows on the other, docking port and parachute system on top, and the bottom lined with attitude control jets.

He lingered on it, as if reminiscing about something.


“So, no Mun mission!?”, the indignant Val finally broke the silence.

“No real point. No science, expertise or glory to get by retracing Sarnus. We should focus on permanent orbital presence. Push gradually, rely on probes, and eventually extend our range. It’s a year’s flight to Duna, and we haven’t been up for more than five days. We need a completely different approach,” he began to mutter absent-mindedly.

“And that’s a plan that requires docking ports…”

“I know you’re a sceptic, Val. So fine, I’ll do it. I’ll have Linus slap together a target sat, priority launch. We’ll be preparing for a fairly intense sequence of launches with the comm array anyway. I’ll bet money on it if you want.”

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Chapter 5: Resting on Laurels

It had been a noisy week at the KSC. The build-up of surge capacity meant that their courtyards were filling up with FL-series tank fuselages and empty RT-series bodies waiting for the solid fuel to be cast into them. Jeb had spent these days running up and down the stairs and gantries of the VAB and the HIF, as well as the new warehouse housing the Spacecraft Assembly and Testing facility, where the larger space-worthy designs were strapped together in clean room conditions – although, admittedly, he spent a lot of time patting the ‘clean’ room personnel for any smuggled snacks.

Finally, in the dead of night he plopped down in his chair, only to notice Bob hidden amongst the piles of paperwork scattered about his office.

“Have you seen Bill?” Bob asked bluntly.

“He was ordering around the second line in the HIF.”

“So, is that just me, or we just lost the babbling part in Babbling Bill?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Jeb sighed, “Doesn’t sound like a mere mental breakdown, does it?”

“Oh, we’ve seen plenty of those already. No, he seems almost… enraptured.”

“Shorter words please, Doctor!”

“Remember how much time you spent staring during Sarnus V?”



“Sarnus V, flight controllers, pre-launch checklist! Booster?”





“Guidance go.”






“Go flight,” said the guy before relaxing, because astrogation wouldn’t be needed until out of atmosphere.


“Go,” responded another controller who had no part in the launch.


“Go,” another switch was flipped.



“Pad leader, Cueston Flight Control, go for launch.”

“Roger that, sixty seconds.”


“Alright, helmets on, Bob,” said Jeb, strapped into the flight station by the pod’s only window, which was facing the insulation in the aeroshell anyway.

Bob tightened up the belts on his seat in the back of the can.

Then they heard growling and creaking of the 300-ton rocket under them. The launch vehicle’s machinery started up.


“How’s our reactor?” Jeb asked.

“Subcritical, neutron flux within limits, cabin exposure negligible.”

“Pad, Cueston, we are go for launch… ten… nine… seven… six… five… ignition sequence start!”

The growling was drowned out by the thunder.

“Four… three… ignition!”

The furious vibration drowned out the rest of the Universe.


Slowly they felt the acceleration build up.

“Liftoff! Tower clear! Cueston, how copy?”

There was no response.


“Pad, Sarnus, how copy?”

“Good copy, Sarnus, trying to raise Cueston on our end too.”


“Alright, beginning roll program,” Jeb called out over the intercom. The fins and the gimbals on the outboard motors went to work, spinning the rocket around the longitudinal axis.

“Still no response from Cueston. Roll complete, we are pitching.”


The drag-induced shaking intensified as the Sarnus slowly began to tip over into a gravity turn.

“Sarnus, this is Flight. We’ve experienced structural failure on all of our windows during ignition. We’ll be back with you in two minutes. We’re also getting third-party reports of an earthquake at KSC, in case you’re wondering.”

The tiny command pod shook with laughter.

They were still mostly climbing, and picking up g’s, as they crossed the 10 km mark. However, the five Mainsails drained the two outboard tank stacks, so it was time for a staging event. There was a backwards jerk as the two engines died, then a bump as the pyrobolts and the separation motors pulled the first set of strap-on boosters free of the rocket.


The ascent continued, with the pitch slowly increasing as the rocket began to build up downrange velocity.

“You know,” Bob spoke up, “If they can’t handle one of these without getting glass in their face, how will they handle even bigger boosters in the future?”

Jeb remained silent.



“Did you know back then?” Bob wondered.

“I had my suspicions,” Jeb responded, offering Bob a glass. Bob sniffed.

“Fuel-grade ethanol?”


‘Just like the old days,’ Bob thought. Though they had more explosions back then.



The ascent continued on three motors. The second separation event took place at 37 km, well over halfway to space. The rocket was already in nearly horizontal flight.

The second set of boosters fell off, leaving the last Mainsail and a fully fuelled reduced-length tank stack underneath the transfer vehicle.


A few seconds later, the Orbital Correction System came into action, with a supplemental ring of four Thud motors.


“MECO in ten. Five. Four. Three. Two. One!”

There was a burp as the Mainsail cut off. A few seconds later silence fell as the Thuds also died.


“Sarnus, this is Cueston, we’re back online!” came the voice on the radio.

“Great timing Cueston, we’re halfway to the Mun already,” Jeb sneered as he fired up the OCS’s lateral steering rockets and pitched over for the circularization burn coming up in seven minutes spent on arguing with EECOM over checklists.


The Mainsail was not designed for vacuum refire; so only OCS’s Thuds were involved in the brief burn, with next to no noise and acceleration compared to the main engine.



“Do you realize how far we’ve gone since then?” Jeb asked. Bob shook his head.

“What do you mean?”

“The Mainsail, the one on the Hermes core stack. Back on Sarnus we had about 10% power in reserve; Hermes will normally use 43% more thrust than each of the Sarnus stacks. All thanks to our – how did you put it? – ‘enraptured’ mutual friend.”


With the final launch stage dead, Sarnus V was rapidly passing over the terminator. The crew began preparation for the Transmunar Injection.

“Craft fairing jettison…” Jeb read off, flipping switches. The foil in front of him flew outwards, revealing the dark side of Kerbin outside.


“…Interstage fairing…”

There was a bump.

“Stage detach.”


“Alright, stoking up the pile,” Bob announced, “Control drums to standby positions, coolant pump one operational, pumps two and three on standby. Neutron flux increasing… criticality achieved.”

Jeb just sighed as he read off the output of the flight computer. He did not want to be on the other side of the ship’s radiation shield.


“You know, to think of it, mass limitations and the short mission duration are the only reasons why we didn’t add full-blown turbogenerators instead of solar panels.

Jeb tried to leave a post-it note, but his handwriting was getting dangerously erratic.



“TMI in two minutes. Orientation 0-35-40, Brennschluβ set to 5 minutes 25 seconds, remass pumps standing by, drums in full power position. FIDO, please confirm burn data.”

There were some creaks and hisses the pair could feel through the tank and over the final interstage.

“Commencing burn in three… two… one.”

There was a slight jerk. The acceleration was barely sensible. Bob and Jeb exchanged glances, and then both looked at the radiation measurement sensor block on the bulkhead.

Sure, the nuclear motor had twice the mass efficiency of a chemical rocket, but at that moment, nervously watching the heightened radiation flux indicator lights, they really doubted if it was worthwhile.


After six nervous minutes, the autopilot cut off the reactive mass flow. Bob immediately began to push the reactor back down to standby power levels, and the γ-ray detector stopped displaying unhealthy measurements. They began the day-long drift towards Mun’s Sphere of Influence.


“And that’s when your cabin crazy started to manifest,” Jeb complained.

“My cabin crazy!?” Bob objected.

“Do you even remember how much monoprop I burnt when you wanted to photograph Minmus?”


“I… I undertook… astronomical measurements. You? You just slept, ate, and stared into the window.”

“And what exactly was wrong with that? I could just retract the panels and hook you up to a generator!”

“You were staring at Kerbin. For hours! And whenever you’d look back, it was as if Kraken had eaten your soul!”



By the end of T+1 day, they were entering the sphere of Mun’s gravitational dominance. Their trajectory was beginning to curve behind the dark side.


They fell out radio contact with Cueston, but as they came into the shadow, they stoked up the reactor pile again, and with a one-minute burn they slowed into low munar orbit.




“You reached the peak of hysteria one hour before landing,” Jeb commented.

“Oh, did I?”

“Claiming retrograde amnesia, are we? Well, I’ve transcribed some of the things you said. Let’s see. ‘Watery world-door’. ‘Ten-foot laser pole’. ‘Duna potatoes’…”



Cueston relayed the final landing solution as they swung back over the nearside. What followed was unofficially known as a ‘suicide burn’. Aimed to maximize use of the nuclear rocket, it involved almost completely cancelling the orbital velocity before plummeting almost directly downwards onto the desired LZ.


“Bingo fuel, pump dry!” Jeb shouted.

“Scramming the reactor!” Bob responded in a rare moment of lucidity.


The retrorockets pulled the final stage clear of the landing craft, for a calculated crash about 10 km away, while still keeping it in the shadow cone of the directional radiation shield.


The lander began the fall towards the surface. However, there was no terminal velocity on the Mun, so it just kept accelerating. The rocky, cratered, dull grey surface was approaching rapidly, which caused loud objections from Bob.


“Not yet,” barked back Jeb, concerned about their reactor.

“Just fire already!”

“Not yet!”

Jeb watched the radar altimeter. At just near the point of no return, he kicked in the throttle.

The Poodle rocket motor ignited and kicked into full thrust. In a thick atmosphere, it was absolutely hapless, but on the Mun, it gave the 10-ton landing craft a thrust-to-weight ratio of over 10, the sudden g-force finally shutting up Bob as Jeb clenched up to resist the black-out.


The attitude control rockets and the engine gimbal worked furiously to keep the ship on trajectory, killing the vertical speed as well as the remained of the sideways movement. With a click, the six landing legs dropped and extended.


The g-force let up as Jeb hovered to get a quick estimate of the terrain. They were above a slight incline, within tolerance, so he continued the slow descent.


There was a bump, and the leg contact indicators flashed green one-by-one. Finally, Jeb cut out engine thrust completely. The craft slightly tilted on the shock absorbers, and then came to rest.


“Cueston, how copy, we’re landed, preparing for EVA.”

He slapped the half-unconscious Bob before accidentally catapulting himself into the ceiling due to the deceptive gravity.


Jeb turned back before starting the vacuum pumps, and had to sigh.

“Bob, helmet!”


Jeb peered carefully through the open hatch. The surface was pretty far below, the sun was blinding, but it was pretty far up. He carefully turned around, and felt for the first step of the ladder built into the side of the rocket.


The climb was pretty long, the EVA suit heavy, but the low gravity made it manageable. The last few meters were a collapsible section to make room for Poodle’s long nozzle.

Finally, his boots touched the ground.



“You know, I was honestly expecting you would be sucked in!” Bob exclaimed.

“Why?” Jeb asked, followed by a hiccup.

“I thought the Mun was covered in a few meters of dust. But then Werner was pressed by Fitz, so he just, like, ordered the Mun to be solid. We had a scrap of paper with his signature assuring us we were to prepare for regular old rock.”


Bob carefully followed Jeb down the ladder. He pressed his boot into the regolith, and watched the thin layer of sharp dust particles flow around the aramid fabric.

“Snacks!” Jeb suddenly said, taking aim with his helmet-mounted camera.


He then produced a tube from his life support pack, extended it, shoved it into the ground, and turned the latch, causing the spring-loaded horizontal bar to pivot upwards.


The metallized fabric of the Kermerican flag shook slightly after being unfurled.


“Oh, the conspiracy nuts gave us sooooo much flak for that!” Bob cried.


Jeb turned away from the lander, and glanced downhill, surveying the sun-baked munscape. A lot of random boulders, a few hills here and there.


As a geologist, Bob should have been more excited.


“Basalt,” Jeb heard Bob grumble over the local radio, “And yet more basalt. Maybe a meteorite here and there. I’d give anything for a core drill…”


Despite complaining, Bob spent twenty minutes grabbing seemingly random rocks before returning to the ship.


Jeb paused for a few minutes, glancing towards the paler hills in the distance. Despite the tremendous effort, the victory began to feel hollow. The alien landscape before him felt only more inhospitable, more unwilling to give up secrets. They were clearly doing something significantly wrong if all they could do after so much effort was grab a bag of rocks.


They both got in, repressurized, and stowed the samples. Jeb got into the flight seat, and mechanically ran through the pre-flight check-list.


In five minutes he got the go-flight from Cueston, and fired the Poodle again.


Mun’s craters quickly fell into the distance as the ship was climbing into a 50 km orbit.


After another quick orbit, another burn sent Sarnus on an escape trajectory into a highly elliptical Kerbin orbit.


After that, there was only a adjustment burn between them and home.



“Did anything even happen during that day?” Jeb suddenly wondered.

“Well… my snacks got stuck in the heater, so I threw a tantrum,” Bob responded.


“…oh, and you were staring at Kerbin again.”



They were coming in hard and fast, with an extra kilometre per second over a regular entry. They ejected the landing stage at atmosphere interface, facing the oncoming impact with a shield of epoxy glue and ceramics.


The deceleration was pretty rough, with tongues of plasma licking Jeb’s window.


Inside, the vibration was quite nasty, and the temperature control system failed to handle the heat that broke through.


“Alright, we’re midway through!” yelled Jeb, and Bob heard the clicks of the attitude correction motors firing despite the ruckus. Jeb was trying to avert a ‘double dip’ scenario, which would subject the heat shield to another cold-hot cycle, likely with disastrous results.


Finally, the pod slowed below 800 m/s, and began to fall merely at hypersonic velocity. The heat eased up, but the g-force held up for another minute.


Then there was a jerk as the initial drogue chute came into action.


The offset chute caused the pod to tip down on Jeb’s side.


Finally, there was even a sharper jerk as the main parachute array deployed and the capsule descended towards the sea.



“So, you think I’ve gone crazy from staring at Kerbin?” Jeb asked.

“Crazy? No. Did it have an effect? Most definitely. We’ve already seen how badly space travel screws with spatial orientation. A psychological impact from such a view is pretty much to be expected. I’ve known you since when, the dorm explosion? You changed pretty dramatically after the first Moho flights. You were never such a fanatic; just a week prior you were just in it for the glory.

“So we broke Bill, but we may have awoken something much greater.”


"You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you sоn of a bitсh'."

 - Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14)



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Chapter 6: Rendezvous and Drama

The Intern booster carrying the A3 Targeted Automated Rendezvous and Docking Instrumentation System departed the pad a few minutes after midnight, its twin Hammer boosters leaving a column of smoke.



As it entered the thermosphere, the nose fairing ejected, and the solar panels and whip antenna extended, but instead of the payload separating, the two small engines alongside the Dachshund kicked in, completing the orbital insertion and the extended circularization burn.


After that, the ejector valves on the stage ensured it wouldn’t explode in the near future. The oversized satellite came to rest in a 250 km equatorial orbit.


Jeb arrived to KSC a few minutes later. Before he was kitted in the new ISP-issue spacesuit and strapped into a Vector, Bill– quiet but seemingly lucid – showed him the experimental Kerbal Ramification Artificial Simulation Hub.


KRASH still needed more work.

Val didn’t bother to show up in person. But then, there would be an emergency interruption on all TV channels anyway, so there was no need to rub it in her face.

The Vector blasted off within five seconds of the predetermined time required to catch the target hundreds of miles above.


However, the rendezvous was inherently set outside of comms range. Jeb was going to handle it on his own. The problem was amplified by the fact that, in the middle of the Chelyabinsk burn, he began to realize he’s going to overshoot the target.

As the circularization burn was coming up, Jeb had the automated docking system send a heartbeat to the target vehicle. The signal came back, allowing for the separation to be measured. The distance shined on the console. 221.3 km.

Jeb pulled out his kustom astrogation slide rule. After a few manipulations, he produced the required orbital period for an intercept on the next orbit. A few more operations, and he had the value of 26.6 m/s that could effortlessly be added to the circularization burn.

He informed the KSC of the unscheduled manoeuvre half an hour later. There was panic among the junior staff, before Jeb managed to get a telemetry update out of them.

The intercept was coming up. Distance on the docking radar kept ticking off at a maddening pace.

At precisely the determined time, Jeb fired the SM engine. The Spark rapidly slowed down the ship to a stop relatively to the target. Jeb unclutched the gyros, and brought the ship around, peering through the tiny window.

The TARDIS hung in space, less than 2 km away.


Jeb immediately fired an 11 km/s burn along a vector passing slightly ‘above’ it, and less than a minute later he used the forward two RCS jets to kill the velocity again.


He then carefully compensated for the slight overshoot, flying slightly back before locking his bow onto the docking port. Carefully he brought the ship onto the approach axis, using lateral thrusters. He had half the thrust on the left-right axis compared to the two others, but that wasn’t much of the problem; neither was the slight asymmetry causing the manoeuvring thruster to generate torque – the gyros and automatic stabilization compensated for it.


Controlling the docking was no simple affair. Jeb had no direct view of the target ship through the tiny window. He had to rely on the docking radar and, later, on the narrow-angle camera embedded in the docking ring.


Finally, he began to bring the ship in, somewhat overzealously using the retrograde thrusters to keep his velocity down. A few last meters…


He saw the camera black out; he heard a bang, and watched the indicator lights flicker as the ports grappled onto each other. He pulled a handle on the console, and the two ships were linked solidly. Telemetry from TARDIS’s flight computer flowed onto his consoles.


But that wasn’t the end of the day’s work. Jeb almost immediately undocked, backed away from the port, and then sent his ship “upwards”.


He waited until he drifted to 50 m, and then reinitiated the docking approach system.

“Alright, tin man, show me what you can do,” Jeb mouthed, flipping on the autopilot.

The RCS thruster valves clicked furiously. Jeb wouldn’t have risked translating along three different axes simultaneously, but the autopilot did so with mechanical precision as it moved to the final approach initiation point, and then performed a nice, soft re-docking.


Jeb ran the checklist on TARDIS and the docking system before undocking and departing the target.



He was hurtling towards the terminator, and KSC’s radio range.

‘Never too old for this,’ Jeb thought, as he began to tap on the long-range radio:

“...- . -.-. - --- .-. ..---   .-. --.- ... -   .-.. -. -.. .. -. --.   ... .-.. - .. --- -.”



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Guys, is anyone getting injured by all the puns I have flying fast and loose here?

FYI, the bit with Morse code comes from the transcript of Vostok-1 comms. The Soviets, especially early on, had a problem similar to what the ISP has - very limited radio coverage, so I thought it was appropriate.

The Phoenix lander is going to get quoted much, much later.

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47 minutes ago, DaMachinator said:

Go ward off the scavengers with paintball gun turrets, and keep posting!

Aye, sah, I shall run them down! Fooooor da Empra!


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Chapter 7: Black Sun

The Surge Week began. With tested boosters and the SAT staff finally having learnt how to operate a drill, they had several related satellite launches to do.

Skipping the A4 for a moment, A5 Deacon was rolled onto the pad, and departed in the dead of night.


Unlike other launches, it pitched north, and accelerated into low orbit.



The satellite’s solar arrays and whip antenna unfurled as it drifted above the frigid arctic wastelands. As it escaped KSC’s LOS, the new-fangled Satellite Group Control woke up the TARDIS passing above their heads, and improvised a high latitude relay to the Deacon.


Above the ice cap, the Terrier upper stage borrowed from old Moho launches, half-empty to maintain commonality with A4 stacks, inserted it into planned orbit before separating.


The large antenna grid on top of the bulky power management system unfolded, and began sending radio waves towards the surface.


Jeb and Gene watched the transmitted data turn into a blocky altimetry map of Kerbin’s tundra. The resolution was about half a kilometre.



“Not exactly useful,” Gene sighed.

“It’s good enough for Eve,” Jeb assured him.


Pad reconditioning was in full swing, meaning Jeb was confined to his office for the rest of the day.

Val peered in through the door.

“Flight, we’ve got a problem,” she said. The daylight coming through the door behind her was weak and a deep orange, but that couldn’t have been it.

“There’s a crowd outside, they want us to drop what we’re doing.”

Jeb just stared back.

“They think we’re to blame for the eclipse, and they want to sacrifice you to the Kraken!” she laughed.


“Eclipses happen weekly everywhere under 20° latitude,” Jeb sighed, his pained expression amusing Val even further.

“And since when exactly are the loonies concerned with facts?” she asked.

Jeb pushed the desk clutter away from himself, and then gave his head a good bang on the hard surface. Without pulling his head up, he took the phone off the hook.

“Gus, what’s the status on the Odin? Still casting the fuel? What about Beacon-Alpha? Good, skip a few checks, roll it out.”


The Beacon blasted off the pad as usual; the Terrier just got to burn a lot longer, lobbing its payload into an orbit that was 2.5 Kerbin diameters away from its surface.





Upon reaching the target orbit and disposing of the upper stage, the Beacon’s side antennae unfolded. Its directional radio transmitters could sense lightning in Eve’s atmosphere, and communicate with probes as far away as Dres.


The bulk of the loonies fled upon seeing the rocket depart, probably convinced that Jeb cold control eclipses.

Odin finally completed launch preparations the next night. A tiny craft less than 200 kg in mass, it used a design Bill quickly slapped together from a Vector’s retrorocket, mounted atop two sequential solid motors.


Odin’s job was quite peculiar. It was developed largely to assist Gene Kerman’s astrodynamics team, with its gravioli detector and on-board telescope assisting them in plotting transfers and predicting optimal launch windows.


The grind continued onward.


Beacon-Bravo and Beacon-Charlie were first sent into the 250 km parking echelon, completing an orbit before receiving the data for a Hohmann transfer that would put them into the 1500 km orbit, precisely 3637 km apart.


“Alright, tracking station dishes warmed up, orienting to target – Beacon-Bravo,” Linus, the newly appointed head of SGC, narrated.

Jeb watched thoughtfully. Being outside of radio range, on the wrong side of Kerbin, had been a bizarre experience. The home was so close, yet doom was one retrorocket failure away.

“Uplink achieved. Beacon-Alpha… online. Beacon-Charlie… online. Deacon… online. Odin… online. TARDIS… online. We have control.”

Near-Kerbin space, except for the wrong sides of the two moons, now had constant radio coverage. No more radio silence.



Jeb entered the Astronaut Training Centre’s main auditorium. Sitting before him was about a hundred candidates selected for the Hermes program flight crews.

The rather dim eyes were hardly promising.

“Alright, does anyone know the Kerbinovsky rocket equation?” he finally asked.

No hands came up.

“Does anyone know what an orbit is?” he asked, his heart sinking.

Still no hands.

“OK… can everyone point in the general direction of space?”

A third of the class pointed upwards. Two-thirds pointed directly at him. The rest was pointing downwards.

Jeb sighed. This was gonna be interesting.

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Chapter 8: Breaking Point

There was one more launch to go, but this one was pretty exotic.

Thor was built on the same chassis as Odin, and was largely identical, but it used a full-size Terrier-Dachshund launcher.


That was because it was pushing the envelope, aiming for an orbit beyond that of the Beacon Array.


It slipped into position, assuming an orbital period of exactly one Kerbin day, and would hence remain permanently stuck in the sky above the KSC, its multispectral cameras and cavity radiometers tracking the weather patterns down the launch path.




The next launch was even more peculiar. The Dachshund core was fitted with new Sickle boosters also carrying embedded fuel tanks.





The Pathfinder was first delivered into a 250 km parking orbit.


“Flight program compiled and sent,” Gene intoned, “Transmunar injection in 60 seconds.”

“So we ARE coming back to the Mun,” Val noted.

“In an extremely cheapskate and risk-free way, yeah!” Jeb responded.

The Terrier motor reignited. It burnt, and burnt, and burnt, until the stack was headed onto a near-collision course with the Mun.


The probe detached from the booster stage, deploying its primary radio dish and going into sleep mode for the entirety of the transfer.




Jeb didn’t think he could experience cabin fever on the ground, but between the underway flight and the cadets, he was clearly experiencing it. Which meant he’d explored every broom closet, bar and tree in a twenty-mile radius, scared every slacking-off technician by popping out of nowhere, and was generally making repeated orbits through KSC.

One kerbal caught his eye, though. The guy wasn’t wearing any of the ISP uniforms, he wasn’t a peacock from the press, and he wasn’t even one of Fitz’s suit-and-tie goons – the guy was wearing a light long-coat. At the equator. That made Jeb stop. The weirdo reacted immediately.

“Mr Kerman? Yaroslav Kermanov, Union of Journalists,” he introduced himself with an odd accent.

“Where’s Walt Kerman?” Jeb asked bluntly, ignoring Yaroslav’s offered hand. How did this loon escape his handler and made it to the VAB?

“Corralling the rest of the talking heads, I would assume,” Kermanov responded. Jeb squinted – the journalists he’d seen were pretty full of themselves, but they harboured collective delusional pride in their profession.

“Where did you say you worked again?” Jeb asked after a pause.

“A freelance science journalist,” he responded.

‘There ain’t no such animal,’ Jeb thought, wide-eyed. “What are Duna’s ice caps made of?” he blurted out.

‘He’s gonna say ice, he’s gonna say ice, nobody bothers to learn the difference…’

“Frozen atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

Jeb was about to explode. Since when does the press worry about reality? They still thought Jool had a surface.

“Can one grow food on another planet?”

“Yes, inside an artificial habitat, but the chemical imbalance is likely to render it inedible.”

“What should one do if their deorbit motor dies on them?”

“Might as well get out and push,” Kermanov smiled.

“Well, Mr Kermanov, I’m liking the cut of your jib. If you can keep your brains from getting torn out by the g-force, I think I have a job offer for you.”

Dear readers, meet Flight Journalist Yaroslav Kermanov, or Slava. He’s got these yellow suit marks, so he doesn’t look anything like other Kerbals!



An op-ed rant to follow:

The Internet has, by and large, killed journalism. First came the new media, geared for clickbait and listicles rather than actual dissemination of information; but now the old media aims to erase the boundary, replacing every 10 actual sleuthing and scooping journalists with about 4 twenty-something keyboard jockeys mindlessly telegraphing information for maximum publicity. In the New York Times Magazine’s profile on Ben Rhodes, the author unintentionally describes how political journalism has been replaced by uncritical repetition of White House press releases – who are, in turn, written by the person who is more concerned with image and narrative than actual truth.

Science journalism went down the drain even before that, even though its role is even more important. Considering the rampant anti-intellectualism both on the right and on the left, this only exacerbates the divide between the common taxpayer and the ivory tower of hard sciences. With the ranks of science popularisers similarly depleted, we’re no longer looking for a return of the Golden Space Age. At best, we can hope for a silver one.

In 1965, the Soviets began selection of an on-board flight journalist for late Voshkod-early Soyuz flights; the program died with Sergei Korolev. The first and only journalist sent by the Soviets into space was one Toyohiro Akiyama. Naturally, the mission proved a commercial failure, which is why it shouldn’t have been profit-driven in the first place. The comparable US Teacher in Space Project got killed, rather literally.

So, the closest to a science journalist and populariser in space we got is this joker, Botanist, Mechanical Engineer and PR Specialist:


At least he’s proven rather successful…

“Flight, INCO, receiving traffic from Pathfinder 1.”


The probe was hurtling towards the darkside. As customary, the insertion burn would occur out of radio range. INCO was busy narrowing down the trajectory data in the remaining time before contact loss.

Kermanov was on station, scribbling notes constantly.

“Contact lost.”

“So,” Yaroslav piped up, “Do we have confirmation on the landing site?”

“I’m going to drop it into the eastern highlands, it’s the quick and dirty target,” Jeb mused.


“You do not want to risk dropping into a crater yet?”

“It would take a much steeper descent that I’d like to have the autopilot handle.”

“Contact!” Gene barked.


“Telemetry coming through, good insertion!”

“Take it down,” Jeb ordered.

“Sending landing burn data, commencing in one-twenty!”

The probe’s motors executed the burn that sent it on a suborbital trajectory – that is, a collision course with the basalt plateau.


At this point, the probe stopped receiving, and was in fully autonomous descent mode.

Ten thousand meters.

Five thousand meters. The twin rocket motors sparked to life again, throttling up to neutralize the extreme velocity.


Twenty-five hundred. The probe began to pitch over as it finished neutralizing its downrange velocity.


Finally, it throttled down as it had slowed to a stop a few meters away from the ground, and began to gradually set down on the slight incline.


The entirety of KSC watched as the radar altimeter clocked down to zero. The printer spat out a sizeable sheet of data.

The main screen switched to a grainy camera feed that panned across the desolate grey landscape with the blue crescent of Kerbin hanging in the sky above.



Pathfinder 2 had been rolled out the next evening. It was bound for Minmus.


“We don’t know much about what’s to expect,” Jeb admitted to Yaroslav, “No atmo, bizarre terrain, no atmosphere beyond minor ice particles. We’ll have to recon once in orbit.”

“Sixty seconds to launch, fuelling is complete,” Gene announced.

There was a bright flash outside the windows of Mission Control. It was a minute early for the blast-off, and the fireball was a bit too big.


“Oh krak…” Gene mouthed.

Gus kicked in the decon sprinklers. There was yet another explosion as the SRBs disintegrated.

“Go to internal air circulation!” Jeb began barking out commands, ”Keep the fire unit back, have them put up a mist screen downwind! And for Kraken’s sake, keep the front gate locked!”

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Chapter 9: Shakedown

“So, anyone wants to start?” Jeb asked. That ISP management meeting was downright morbid.

“Pad’s out of business for two weeks,” Gus began to summarize the report from his own department, “Twenty hectares of soil replaced as part of decon procedures. No salvageable components, sent the trash to Bill anyway. No personnel casualties.”

If anything, not having people and the devil of a fuel on the pad simultaneously has worked out pretty well.


“At this point all we know is that the lower starboard section of the fuel tank’s aft bulkhead corroded through and then compromised the oxidizer tank, leading to a total vehicle loss. The second explosion was the SRBs detonating. The tank had undergone five inspections, the passivation coating was intact before final assembly, and was subsequently checked for contamination again,” he explained flatly, “At this point I have to ground all Dachshunds until further notice and scrap all of our passivated tank stock.”

Bob sighed, and finally asked the question that was eating at last half of those present.


“I’ll believe it when I’ll find the spanner in the works,” Jeb retorted, causing Val to shake her head, “And, to be honest, scratching the tank with said spanner is something our procedures would’ve picked up. Bill, how much time to mount another Pathfinder onto a Vector stack?”

“Also two weeks, we’ll need to boost it from basic design.”

“And the effect on Hermes?”

“None, we’re progressing as planned, although I think we need to strip it down and recheck everything after this incident?”

Jeb had a small smile.

“Gene, how many cadets have escaped amidst the panic?



The third Pathfinder blasted off as planned; in order to preserve dV of the Terrier stage, Bill slapped a third Sickle booster.



“Good roll program, pitching,” Gene narrated the autopilot’s actions.

“Flight, Booster, I’ve got minor roll instability.”

Bill seemed to tense up. The larger tailfins were supposed to compensate for the wide payload fairing.

“Booster, continue reporting.”

“Passing max Q, roll stable, continuing pitching.”



The rest of ascent, circularization and departure occurred normally, putting the probe on a week-long cruise towards Minmus.





And only at this point it became Pathfinder 2.


Two days before the Hermes-A launch, Val stormed into Jeb’s office, and stuck a paper in his face. It was a flight plan.

“Bob just tried to run it past me!” she spat.

Jeb snatched the document out of her hands. It was surely an interesting one, as it involved the non-existing B2A Hermes First Flight ship, an inclined ecliptic orbit, a magnetosphere scientific payload, and Valentina going on EVA to collect some of said payload; all of this was the ship’s first flight.

“I don’t see a problem with it,” he said, shocking her even further. He picked up the phone.

“Gus, Jeb here. We’re changing the flight plan for the Hermes. Throw out the monoprop and life support modules, pull off the manoeuvring retrothrusters, move the radiators to the lower mounting position, switch the Communotorn to the ‘32 model, and kit the ring with a plasma tripod, and magneto boom, a particle collector, an EVA tether winch, and fill up the rest with extra main motor tankage. Oh, and throw in a Big Mak for me,” he said, and briefly asked Val, “Want a Big Mak? Yeah, one Big Mak.”

He slammed down the phone.

“It’s about six hours’ worth of work for him. I didn’t dump money at Universal Storage and had them design a modular SM to be afraid of a last-minute mission change,” he continued.


Despite Val’s continuing grumbling, at launch day she was on the crew gantry, ready for a very interesting day.


Jeb clambered through the hatch first, followed by Bill in his blue-marked suit. Val got in last, having the dubious honour of sitting in the pilot seat at the hatch, on the lower deck, so to speak.

The Hermes-A stood at the launch pad, her Launch Escape System tower making it as tall as Sarnus V herself, her lines unspoilt by any strap-on boosters. The forced Mainsail stage was quite sufficient for the loft, and the cryogenic upper stage, with its orange tank insulation, would take over from there.


The blast-off and initial ascent occurred normally, with the usual thunder and creaking. The altered roll program worked as advertised.



As the tanks were being emptied, the acceleration mounted, but it wasn’t as bad as the Vector.


There was, however, increasing shimmering.

“Sounds like the first stage needs some further detuning,” Bill observed coolly.


As planned, the Mainsail cut out abruptly in the upper atmosphere, the ullage motors fired, followed by the Tunguska H2-lOx rocket responsible for achieving most of the downrange velocity.


There was a flash as the LES motor fired at the same time as the guillotine, pulling off the boost cover on the return vehicle, exposing the windows; up top, Jeb and Bill had a fairly nice view, while Val has a tiny porthole on the hatch.




The fairing jettison, and engine shutdown also proceeded as normal; the crew and Mission Control continued to exchange terse routine reports; Bob was acting CAPCOM.



Finally, the alterations to the flight plan kicked in. Val overrode the circularization burn setting; Bill accessed the payload control interface. There was some noise as one of the compartments behind the heat shield opened, and the girder mounting the magnetometers began to telescope outwards.


“Magnetometer deployed. Deploying RPWS.”

“Confirmed,” Jeb responded, watching one of the three rods of the Radio Plasma Wave Science array extend outside his window.


“Deploying particle collectors, commencing exposure on Pad 1.”

The ship continued on its half-orbit towards the burn, the solar particles collectors exposed to their origin.


The circularization burn began well in the shadow. Tunguska burnt until it ran out of fumes, and then it was jettisoned.



With whirring, the pumps of the ship’s own Terrier motor started up, and continued the boost, burning almost half of the fuel in its primary tank as well as the four supplemental drums in place of the life support package. It continued the boost until the apoapsis was almost at Mun orbit.


There was almost nothing for the crew to do after that, as the ship’s memory banks were collecting real-time data, and all they did was replace the collector plates as the ship passed through the Von Kerman radiation belts.




It wasn’t exactly a chatty voyage. Bill was busy tracking the ship’s mechanisms, Jeb was simply quiet, and Val was too afraid to start the chit-chat, considering the upper deck likely still had the cattle prod.

The first day of the mission passed. They were already coming back to the periapsis.


It was time to fetch the collectors from the other side of the ship.

Bill oversaw the vacuum pumps collect most of the air, and then overrode the pressure equalization valve to vent what was left, as the pod’s door was forced into its sill by internal pressure. Finally, al swung it open, peering at the blackness outside. Carefully she unstrapped herself from the seat, and slipped on the thruster pack.

“Local comms check, one-two-three-one-two-three,” she called out.

“Good copy,” Jeb responded.

“Opening up the tether bay,” Bill mouthed indifferently.

Val carefully stepped outside head-first; the outer surface had steps built into it, which she used as handrails. She turned on the helmet lights. The cylinder of the SM was broken by the opened doors of the nearest modular wedge, revealing a winch with a carabineer, which she clamped onto her belt, and then kicked free of the craft.


She was drifting aft-wards and away from the craft, protected by the 50 m tether. But still, she activated the pack; with sharp clicks, the compressed nitrogen thrusters fired, spinning her around; with a few pushes of the left joystick, she began moving towards the bow of the craft.


Val gave it a good clearance as she began to descend to the opposite side of the vehicle. In addition to all internal lights, Jeb had kicked in the four hull lights and the spotlight in the docking port.


She carefully slid towards the other open panel on the hull, sporting the characteristic collector plates sprouting from inside.


She landed next to them, grabbing the handrail on the battery compartment, and proceeded to look for the release mechanisms. One-by-one, she retrieved them, and then repeated her trip in reverse.


Val slid the collectors into the storage rack as she floated into the craft.

“Door closed,” she informed Bill, pulling the thrust pack off.

A minute later, the hiss of the air being released was audible.

With the scientific mission complete, the crew began plotting their return sequence.


The plan formulated in the end required a drop in the apoapsis to reduce the time between the final deorbiting burn, and the entry velocity. The engine fired as usual.


“Jeb, permission to augment with RCS thrust?” Bill suddenly piped up.



Val initially just raised an eyebrow as the clicks of the monopropellant fuel lines reached the command pod, but that wasn’t the usual sound. The clicks were also coming from the pod’s internal RCS tanks; it was hardly surprising, as the SM’s tanks had been omitted.

“Bill?” she finally shouted.

“We won’t need a post-sep correction,” he reassured her.

A few hours later they executed the second burn, and Val had to agree that the entry would be pretty neat.






The landing in the tundra was something Val didn’t exactly expect, though, leading to a fairly protracted camping trip amidst a snowstorm. She was unsure if Bill was more unperturbed by it than usual.


A few days later, Gene Kerman began the procedures for waking up Pathfinder 2. The first imagery of the bumpy Minmus, as well as tiny Kerbin and Mun, appeared on Mission Control’s main screen. Val greeted them with a loud sneeze.



“This doesn’t look well,” Bob noted, looking at the notional map compiled through astronomic observation, “By the time we’ll achieve orbit, it’s going to face us with this plateau. Damn, do I miss the tidal locking of the Mun.”


“We’re going ahead setting up the insertion anyway,” Gene responded. Around Minmus, the orbits were extremely slow. It took the entire evening for the probe to move into position.


They then gave the probe 5 hours to do a pair of orbits, and for Minmus to turn around to provide them with a nice LZ. Then the Pathfinder fired its motors.


The descent was also incredibly slow, an entire half an hour.

“FIDO, please confirm LZ,” Gene said with sudden alarm.

“Uh… stand by, Flight.”

That did not inspire confidence, as instead of landing in the middle of the flat mare, the probe was headed for a mountain slope.


“Flight, we’ll only have about a hundred meters of clearance,” Bobak reported, as the probe’s motors fired for one last time.



The deceleration went as normal, and eventually the craft landed just 50 m short of the slope.


This time, there were actual cries of joy as Kerbalkind reached where it had not gone before for the first time since the Sarnus program.


The probe began to send through data and imagery. It was landed in a “bay” surrounded by the light-green slopes that seemed rocky.


The temperature was slightly above vacuum levels, but Bob growled as he read the accelerometer-seismograph readout.

“Flight, could we de-spin the reaction wheels? The probe is shaking.”

“Well, it could be the icy mare suffering thermal expansion-compression cycle…” Slava Kerbalov piped up.

Jeb struggled to ignore the planetological scuffle that ensured in the back of the amphitheatre, and ordered Gene to fire the DAN.

The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons detector blasted the surface with a particle stream, and tracked the signature of hydrogen.


Jeb was hardly interested in finding whether these flat ice fields were made of ice, and more in testing if this thing actually worked, because Pathfinder 1 had detected only the baked regolith.

The read-out looked good, though. That thing might settle the argument around the munar polar ice.


A day after the Minmus landing, Bob barged into Jeb’s office, as he usually did. Jeb merely looked up, unperturbed.

“When Bill began cutting metal for Athens yesterday, I noticed that the station’s design had been modified from the previous iteration.”

Jeb simply looked back, although he seemed slightly concerned by the question that was going to result from that preamble.

“You’ve redesigned the aft interface; it now has a new 2.5 m docking collar. The Hermes is simply too small for such a monster, and we don’t have any other ship in our inventory – or do we?” Bob asked, meeting his old friend’s gaze.

“Let’s just say…” Jeb started after some consideration, “Let’s just say that there are certain milestones that Fitz would try to prevent us from achieving even if he had not been messing with us to this date, so I would like to compartmentalize the info as much as I can.”

“So, that’s how it’s going to be from here on?” Bob grumbled.

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Guys, sorry for the pause, I'm trying to not completely jeopardize my finals.

Also, me and Bill have been doing some work in Acquisitions.

Also also, yes, I'm trying to make the forum end the page.

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Chapter 10: A Divine Tragedy

A Hermes core stack with a bulky payload fairing blasted off a few weeks later.


The ascent into low orbit occurred normally, with the aeroshell splitting open to reveal a bulky, cylindrical vehicle with oversized solar panels and radiators.










Upon arrival into a 300 km orbit, Athens station jettisoned the propulsion stage, and went into sleep mode.



Jeb wasn't in Mission Control for that one. He was screwing around with KRASH, flying a ship through the Harvester gap of Sarnus's rings while in sight of Slate and Eeloo.


Alone, this orbital laboratory was worthless; it needed the Hermes ship, with three Kerbals, miscellaneous scientific equipment and a hundred days’ worth of supplies. So, the following day, they were sending up one. And Yaroslav Kermanov was getting the scoop of astronomical proportions, escorted by new-fangled engineer and pilot as support personnel.


“Athens expedition 1, flight controllers, go or no-go! Booster?” Gene called out.

“Go,” Bill answered.


“FIDO, go.”






“Go, Flight.”




“We’re go, Flight,” Linus responded, having replaced the Sarnus-era Network controller with his constellation of commsats.


“Go!” Jeb responded.

“Range safety?”


“Pad leader, Hermes is go for launch, execute when ready.”

The Mainsail fired as expected, the rocket cleared the tower and began pitching downrange as normal. Bill was watching the telemetry intently; when boosting Athens, the recalibrated dampeners did their job. However, the booster and the payload could possibly interact in fairly surprizing ways.


The rocket thundered past the 10 km mark, all telemetry nominal. The acceleration was building up, as was dynamic pressure.


Then, the pressure data on the second-stage hydrogen tank flat-lined. A heartbeat later, the bulk of data streams cut off. Then, the entire feed from the flight computer – embedded in the second stage – died.


“Flight, FIDO, I’ve got discreting sources on radar.”

“EDS trigger!” INCO barked.

“Range, please confirm visual,” Gene called out calmly.

“CAPCOM, Hermes, please respond!” Jeb echoed.

“Flight, Range confirms total vehicle loss.”


“Walt, lock the doors!”

“Control, Hermes,” Yaroslav’s voice came through, “Boost cover separated, we’re tumbling, vertical speed still positive.”



“SAR go!” Jeb promptly barked, “FIDO, why are you under the table? Get a slide rule and give us a projected LZ!”


Bill stood silent in the ensuing chaos.

“Well,” he mouthed, “This’s just downright embarrassing.”





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