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First Flight (Epilogue and Last Thoughts)

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Ravens_cry - as always you're more than welcome. :) 

OrtwinS, Lindemherz! Long time no see - great to have you back! I figure if Alan Shepard can 'fess up to shedding manly tears (and you don't get a lot more manly than Alan Shepard) on the Moon, then we're in good company.

Speaking of 'fessing up - I got the chills too in places. Not sure if this is a good thing, a bad thing or just a wee bit of authorial self-indulgence, but there you have it. Especially when listening to Faith of the Heart - yeah that definitely gives me chills. Those opening lines - they really, really work for both those last chapters but especially for the launch. Maybe one day, once I put the keyboard down on First Flight, I'll set a video to it, although most likely, I'll only get as far as drafting a script. Something like this maybe:

<Camera opens on a pair of kerbal eyes, seen behind a window; pulls back to reveal a kerbal face in a space helmet>
It's been a long road...

<Camera pulls back further to reveal the whole helmet with 'JEB' stencilled on the front.>
Getting from there to here

<Camera pulls back to reveal three kerbonauts strapped into their couches. Brief side to side pan to show details of the capsule around them>
It's been a long time...

<Cut to Mission Control. Camera focuses on the Flight Director, who has GENENEY written on his name badge>
But my time is finally near.

<Camera follows Geneney's POV as he turns to look at a rocket on a large monitor screen. Starts a zoom towards the monitor>
And I can see my dreams come alive at night.

<Zooms through the monitor to an outside POV of the rocket on its pad.
I will touch the sky.

<Zoom continues back into the capsule. JEB holds out his hands, palm up...
And they're not gonna hold me down no more... (music starts to build and keeps going)

<Other kerbonauts slap their hands into JEB's>
No they're not gonna hold me down!

<Cut to main engine start. POV at the base of the rocket looking up...>
Cause I've got faith of the heart...!

On a related note, I've got my crib sheet prepared of loose ends and plot points to tie up in the next part, together with an idea of how the main story arcs are going to play out and a rough outline of the next chapter. So yeah - the Age of Fire is starting... :)

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I know a lot of people didn't like it, and it was rather US centric to put it mildly (compare it to the opening for the Planates anime which references several nations' space achievements) but, yeah, I liked the chosen theme for Enterprise.

I love real space travel, and you captured the wonder and glory of that reality.

Yes, it's also tedious and dangerous, but the launch, riding the thunder and the flame, riding from the blue into black, to see the jewel set in midnight, to set foot on a world of, in the words of Aldrin, "magnificent desolation" and then to return to that oasis in the dark.

It's no surprise being an astronaut, even into LEO, or LKO, changes people.

She loses her scars, her boundaries, and you see her for who she is.

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18 hours ago, JakeGrey said:

...I can't think of a single main character in it who was either likeable or interesting.

I agree, the characters are indeed very much like normal people ;).


The books are about the roots of society, and the way it develops depending on history, tradition and flawed individuals. The characters only provide windows, through wich we are allowed a brief glimses of the motivations and subjective experiences of all kinds of mundane and pivotal events.

Together, they shape a thought-provoking epic chronicle of humanities greatest undertaking to insure its survival (ie doubling our chances by terraforming and colonizing a second planet). Even though very few individuals actually live/work with that in mind. Which points back to the way culture and society devolop. Have influence and are influenced by (for and individual) unrelated choices and instances. Where as we, the reader, can connect the dots of the greater whole.

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5 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

So I've been wondering... where DO you come up with all of these wonderful names? They all sound so very Kerbal, did you just endlessly click thru the Hires list at the Kerbonaut center? Did we even have one back then?


Took me a quite a while to find the easy answer.

Geneney and Lucan were two of my kerbonauts in a long gone save game from a long gone version of KSP.  After that, much scavenging through picture threads on the forum and/or noting down good names from my own games. Some of the female names were adapted a bit to make them sound more feminine - female kerbonauts were definitely not a thing when I started writing so I had nothing to go on there!

Eventually I found this wonderful site for all your kerbal-naming needs. :)


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16 hours ago, Elrond Cupboard said:

Finally read through this today, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for your efforts sir. I look forward to the continuance of the tale with some eagerness.

My pleasure and thanks for dropping by to say so!

The next chapter is finally under way. Only about a page and a half of text so far but it's a start - and that's always the hard part for me, especially when I'm starting a new section of the story.


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Hey, KSK, I made an account just to tell you how awesome this story is!

Though, things are going pretty well for the space program. A little too well in my opinion. I think that the Kerbals need to be reminded of the dangers...


Anyway, my Kerbal-roasting thoughts aside, I am really liking this story and I cannot wait for the next chapter! Though, I noticed a screenshot of a rocket someone posted. Is there a released mod based off of this story?

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On 26 January 2016 at 6:54 AM, VelociraptorsofSkyrim said:

Hey, KSK, I made an account just to tell you how awesome this story is!

Though, things are going pretty well for the space program. A little too well in my opinion. I think that the Kerbals need to be reminded of the dangers...

Anyway, my Kerbal-roasting thoughts aside, I am really liking this story and I cannot wait for the next chapter! Though, I noticed a screenshot of a rocket someone posted. Is there a released mod based off of this story?

I'm flattered - thank you very much!

And yep, things have gone quite well so far, although the coolant leak on Pioneer 1 could have been a close call.

On the KIS side, their 'we all build them, we all fly them' mentality helps a lot. Friends don't let friends ride badly made rockets and management, such as it is, also have (or had until very recently) hands-on roles in the engineering and manufacturing side of things. Rockomax - well they could be good or they could just be lucky. They do have a rather forceful flight director though - I can't see Nelton putting up with any Go Fever nonsense. :)

Also until fairly recently there hasn't been a serious time pressure or national prestige at stake that might have tempted either main protagonist to cut corners. Even the competition between Rockomax and the KIS was fairly pragmatic - back before the Moho 1 launch, Jeb was keen to be the first kerbal in space but not so keen that he wanted to be the first kerbal to stay in space!

Obviously things have just changed significantly, so who can tell what will happen...

There's no released mod that I'm aware of, although minepagan did make a start on modding in the early KIS engines. Not sure what happened to that - I suspect real life reared its ugly head.

I'm not sure what Jake has in mind but it sure sounds interesting and I'd definitely be up for trying it! I won't be much help on the coding side of things but I could certainly help with flavour text for the contracts. I was also wondering about a re-worked tech tree with SMAC style descriptions of each of the parts or technologies as seen from the POV of some of the major characters. Something like this maybe:


The Kerbin Interplanetary Society was founded on enthusiasm, dreams and no shortage of wild ideas.The hard realities of building any kind of working spacecraft forced us to shelve most of those ideas - but we didn't forget about them...

- Jebediah Kerman:  "KIS - a history of kerballed spaceflight."

Edited by KSK
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Unfortunately I don't know much about coding either. But the tools are definitely there. Kerbal Konstructs enables alternate launch sites and other features, Contract Configurator does pretty much exactly what it sounds like it does and enables missions in specific regions of Kerbin, I haven't found a good tech-tree editor yet but I'm sure there's several. Besides that it's mainly a question of taking some existing mods like RoverDude's Sounding Rockets (which I really recommend by the way), getting the creator's permission where necessary and modifying the descriptions a bit.


EDIT: Okay, I've found a tech tree editor now. It doesn't work in either Mono or Wine, but at least I know it exists.

Edited by JakeGrey
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17 hours ago, JakeGrey said:

Unfortunately I don't know much about coding either. But the tools are definitely there. Kerbal Konstructs enables alternate launch sites and other features, Contract Configurator does pretty much exactly what it sounds like it does and enables missions in specific regions of Kerbin, I haven't found a good tech-tree editor yet but I'm sure there's several. Besides that it's mainly a question of taking some existing mods like RoverDude's Sounding Rockets (which I really recommend by the way), getting the creator's permission where necessary and modifying the descriptions a bit.


EDIT: Okay, I've found a tech tree editor now. It doesn't work in either Mono or Wine, but at least I know it exists.

Cool. There's also a mod somewhere that gives you bigger stock fuel tanks and (if I remember correctly) lets you swap around their textures. I'd like to add that to the wishlist - swapping the relatively clean 1.25m tank textures with the 'oil drum' 2.5m tank textures would make them fit better with First Flight. Oil-drum style 1.25m tanks would work quite nicely for the early years KIS spacecraft, whereas clean 2.5m tanks would work better for the more professionally built Rockomax designs and the later Eve class KIS boosters. Best of all, we can just repurpose the existing stock textures without having to rootle around in the mountain 'o mods or create our own parts.

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  • 2 weeks later...
9 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

RE: Valentina's debut in Ch. 46, had to smile. :D That is all, as you were. 

I'm curious when and how she'll roll into the space program.

She seems a bit tied down with nationalistic/military stuff at the moment.

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12 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

RE: Valentina's debut in Ch. 46, had to smile. :D That is all, as you were. 

Given the depth that's gone into your Val, I'll take that as a big compliment! She is a bit different to most of my characters and fun to write for that reason.

2 hours ago, OrtwinS said:

I'm curious when and how she'll roll into the space program.

She seems a bit tied down with nationalistic/military stuff at the moment.

Funny you should mention that... :)

After a bit of a hiatus, the next chapter is getting towards done. Hoping to have it finished, revised and posted by the end of this week but that'll mostly depend on how nuts work gets this week.

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32 minutes ago, KSK said:

Given the depth that's gone into your Val, I'll take that as a big compliment! She is a bit different to most of my characters and fun to write for that reason.

That chapter was from what, April? Had she even had her big debut yet, or were you just as prescient with her as you were with female Kerbals in general?

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Yep - end of April, so a bit before the opening chapters of Whispers. I think we'll chalk that up to great minds thinking alike rather than prescience! Either that or the fact that a USSR themed KSP fic just wouldn't be right without Val in it! :)

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Thanks - I hoped it would be. It was quite a way out my writing comfort zone -  but it was also something that I'd been foreshadowing for a while so I wanted to do it justice.

And on a different, less intense note, the next chapter is up! This is another one for Madrias - and everyone else who took part in the GAB (Great Acronym Brainstorm :) ) of October 2014...


Engines and Engineers

Thousands waited anxiously by the shore, watching for a glimpse of orange parachute although, in their heart of hearts, they knew there would be nothing to see. Thousands more watched the recovery ship’s triumphant return to port, scorched reentry capsule lashed to it’s deck. They lined the streets, a clamorous, worshipful multitude jostling for a view of the three Mün voyagers. Three of their own, two of them born and raised in nearby Groves, ordinary kerbals-in-the-street to look at – but only to look at. 

Three kerbonauts, hair still damp and smelling faintly of disinfectant, waved at the crowds through their car windows. Although the very idea had been roundly dismissed by most reputable scholars, the persistent fears of something living on the Mün and being brought back to Kerbin had proved hard to dispel. As a result, after a slow tour of the busiest streets, Jeb, Jondun and Malmy were whisked away to the Barkton medical centre for a week under observation, the medical centre staff keeping a close eye on the crowds of well-wishers waiting outside. Amusement turned to surprise which segued into disbelief followed by exasperation as the days dragged on, but eventually the few still remaining were rewarded for their patience. The KIS car drove away leaving behind a group of excited kerbals clutching signed posters and other crowning additions to their collections of space memorabilia. 

By the time the car pulled up at the Space Centre, Kerbol was setting behind the Vehicle Assembly Building, casting long shadows over the stands and smaller buildings. Geneney unlocked the museum doors and waved the three kerbonauts inside. He flicked the lights on and stood quietly to one side, letting them take in the refurbished exhibits in their own time.

Jeb’s eyes flicked over the first exhibit with it’s familar Kerbal and Moho capsules on their stands. Behind them, sets of photographs gleamed in new frames: Bill’s original snaps of Kerbin taken from Kerbal 1, Geneney, Wernher and Lucan riding out to the launchpad and the waiting Kerbal 2, photographs of half built capsules and ascending Moho boosters. He smiled faintly at the large ‘First Steps to the Unknown’ signboard suspended overhead before turning his attention to the second exhibit: ‘Working Together in Space.’

There, the Eve 1 capsule sat side by side with their borrowed Rockomax docking adaptor, still mounted on its mysteriously acquired dolly and facing an engineering mockup of the Eve docking ring on its stand. Photographs of the Eve 1 and Next Step spacecraft joined nose-to-nose in orbit adorned the wall behind them, together with pictures of their crews floating together inside. Spacesuits and other pieces of equipment stood mounted in tall, glass fronted cabinets.

Despite himself, Jeb’s chest swelled with pride at the third exhibit: ‘To the Mün and Back’. Above the first of three large display boards, a plainly printed banner simply read: ‘We, voyagers from the planet Kerbin…’ Below it, pictures of the Munar far side taken from the Muna 2 probe sat side by side with pictures of Kerbin framed in Pioneer 1’s rendezvous window, and the first pictures of Kerbin rising over the Mün. Next to them, Pioneer 2 floated high above the Great Tranquil Sea and Barrie stood atop Pioneer 3’s service module, circling the Mün with Seanan’s signpost clutched across her chest. 

The second display board labelled: ‘First set foot upon the Mün…’ showed pictures of himself and Jondun working on the Munar surface arranged around a huge blown-up photograph of the two of them shaking hands in front of the flag of all Kerbin. Then Jeb turned to the third board and a shiver ran down his back. Labelled: ’We came in peace for Kerm and Kerbal’ , it didn’t have any pictures of space or spacecraft. Instead it was full of kerbals.

 Kerbals packed into village halls. Winding queues of kerbals waiting patiently outside cinemas. A great ocean of green figures surrounding the Capital building and its seven huge screens. The Council of Twelve Pillars themselves, seated in front of one of the screens, watching two space-suited figures walking against a backdrop of grey. And one blurry, pixellated photograph of a group of uniformed kerbals sitting beneath a pair of flags.

“We got that one in the post.”  Jeb jumped, head snapping round to see a sombre Geneney standing beside him. “Sent anonymously but with a letter inside. Those are Wakiran, Kolan and even Firesvarn soldiers, Jeb. All sitting together waiting for you to come around the Mün after MOI.” Geneney swallowed hard. “We came in peace for Kerm and Kerbal. I don’t where you pulled that from but it was nothing but the plain truth that day.”


Muddy, trampled-down tundra, Val decided, did little to improve the view of grey mountains and grey sky. Although at least its not raining. Or snowing. A sudden clink of glass against metal caught her attention and she glanced down at her companion squatting by his open backpack and trying unsuccessfully to conceal an empty bottle.

“I'll take that, Sergeant.”

The weatherbeaten kerbal stood up, staring carefully over her shoulder. "Ma'am?"

"The empty bottle, Sergeant. Appreciate you taking the weight off my back but I can lug my own litter thank you. Besides - wouldn't want anyone thinking you'd stolen my peace offering. Carrying alcohol on patrol or stealing it from an officer - either of those can land a kerbal up to his neck in trouble." Val kept her voice carefully neutral. "On the other hand, the regulations don't say a thing about a commissioned officer exercising his or her operational discretion; for example electing to share her valued personal stock of redfruit brandy with her fellow officers at an impromptu peace conference." 


Val sighed. "That's an order, Sergeant.” She held out her hand. 

Stuffing the pale red bottle into her own backpack, Val stared bleakly at the empty rings of impromptu seats around them. ““They came in peace for Kerm and kerbal,” she said. “What are we doing here, Sarge?”

“Making a difference, ma’am. Stopping things from getting worse,”

“And you believe that?”

“Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t ma’am. For sure I’m not here for the fresh air or scenery.” He adjusted a strap on his backpack. “Tell the truth, I was never all that impressed by the space program. Sure it takes djo… it takes confidence to strap yourself to the top of a rocket, but going in circles ‘round Kerbin just looked like sightseeing to me. Landing on the Mün though - now that was different. That was laying everything on the line. A lot of…stuff to go wrong and if it did go wrong?” He spread his hands. “Game over. Not coming home.”  He settled his pack into place and looked at his commander. “Think you could fly that Mün lander?”

Val shrugged. “I expect so. Can’t be that different to flying a chopper.” She sighed. “Got a tour of this Kerm-forsaken tundra to finish first and probably another one after that. You didn’t hear that from me though, Sarge.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about ma’am, on account of me not hearing a thing over this Blighted wind.” Although once we’re done with this tour, it might just be time to send little brother Al a letter. “We’d better be getting a move on before it gets any worse.”


Framed pictures of jet aircraft decorated the walls of an otherwise modestly appointed office. One soared above the clouds, two others flew in close formation, another dived dramatically whilst turning on a wingtip. Still more stood on the runway, bubble canopies open with a very much younger Al Kerman sitting in the cockpit, staring at the camera from behind mirrored sunglasses.

“… a Kerbal Space Program - tasked with nothing less than building us a new home amongst the stars.” Al stared at his radio, unsure whether to applaud or laugh out loud. Obrick’s voice turned suddenly serious. “Make no mistake my friends - this will not be easy…”

And that has to be the biggest understatement of all time. 

“…Engineers and agronomists, young and old, kerman and kermol. Volunteers to forge our new path and lead us to our new home on another world… Volunteers for Project Starseed.”

Well at least they picked a proper name for their madness. Al stared at a picture of himself sitting in a prototype Cloudrunner single seat racer, remembering newspaper photographs of the same jets on the runway at Humilisia, torpedoes slung under their fuselages. His gaze turned bleak at the other memories. At television footage of Kerm saplings in grotesquely oversized planters being hoisted off a ship whilst armed guards escorted sullen villagers and frightened kerblets down the gangplanks.

Although their madness beats that madness every which way. And its going to take a whole lot of flying to pull off - they’ll be looking for any pilots they can lay their hands on. Al picked up a pen and tapped it thoughtfully against his teeth. Hah. Maybe they’ll even need flight-qualified desk jockeys, even if they’re not going to stick me in a Munar lander anytime soon. He shook his head.  A thousand metres off the floor, barrelling in at Kerm knows what speed, radar crapping out and rocks all over the runway. Yeah, their flight director wasn’t messing. That was good flying.

Al put his pen down, pulled over his card index and began flipping through it. And the President got one thing dead right. They’re… no we’re going to need better spacecraft. We ain’t going to be lifting everyone to orbit three-by-three in a bunch of tin cans. He grunted. There it is. And I’ll just bet that Mr Lodan is gonna be interested in an air breathing rocket engine right now. He picked up his phone and dialled a number.

“Kerbin Space Agency. Director Lodan’s office. How can I help you?”


The bomb exploded with a sharp, firecracker retort. 

The torrent of flame pouring out of the SK2-G rocket engine flickered for a barely discernible instant before recovering. Thirty seconds later the engine shut down with a vast, sooty orange belch, leaving nothing but a dissipating cloud of steam and smoke and the pinking of slowly cooling metal. Hanbal turned to the engineers seated at the consoles beside him. “Damping time?”

“Less than point one seconds.”

Hanbal pursed his lips. “Consistent with the rest of the test series then?”


Hanbal nodded at Danfen, who was standing quietly by the door, then turned to face his test team. “In that case, I think we’ve got ourselves a new rocket engine.” He bowed his head in thought before straightening up with a smile. “Good kerbals, I give you the SK2-M ‘Mainsail’!” 

There was a brief patter of applause and more than a few sighs of relief. Groups of serious looking kerbals nodded in satisfaction at a job well done, before congregating around the test consoles to study the data. Later, Hanbal knew, there would be time to celebrate, but for the moment, there were reports to fill in and numbers to double check before any kerbal in the room would declare him or herself satisfied. No quibbles about the name though. He walked over to join Danfen. “We did it,” he said softly. “Over twice the thrust of a Skipper and only a little less efficient in atmosphere.”

Danfen was a picture of barely contained excitement. “The thrust assembly and tankage for the KDSS test flights are on schedule. We’re recruiting heavily for the surface exploration teams - Bob’s crew are busy with the landers for Pioneers 5 and 6 but we’ll finally have the resources to build the Mark 2 - and rover - in parallel!” His eyes shone. “KDSS will be plenty for the new Endurance modules too. We’re finally getting there, Han - bigger and better!”

Hanbal looked around and then shot Danfen a quick grin. “About that,” he said. “Step into my office for a minute?” Danfen nodded eagerly and followed him inside. Hanbal closed the door behind them and turned to find Danfen already staring open mouthed at the diagrams pinned to the wall. “They other two are just rough obviously,” he said. “but based on the numbers for the KDS and KDS Stretch, I think we can make them work.” 

He gestured at the wall. “The KDS Stretch. Extended tankage, bulked up thrust frame and central Mainsail engine but otherwise similar to the KDS. Four Skippers on lateral boosters, Poodle for the second stage.” He spotted Danfen’s raised eyebrows. “Sorry - team joke. But compared to the SK2-M, the 1G is a bit of a poodle.” He cleared his throat. “Anyhow - the Stretch got me thinking - what if we replaced all five Skippers with Mainsails? We’d only need a pair of lateral Mainsails rather than four Skippers, which should make the thing simpler and lighter. Roncott actuators should be able to handle the extra weight on the decouplers.”

Hanbal gestured at the third diagram. “But then I wondered if we should bother with lateral decouplers at all? Why not go back to an inline design and put all the engines on a single thrust frame. Simpler and stronger, although a five Mainsail first stage would be massively overpowered for a Poodle upper stage. So I figured we could go with a three stage design. Five Mainsails on the first stage, four, maybe five Skippers on the second stage and Kerm knows what on the third stage. Same expanded nozzle Poodle as the KDS most likely - it makes a decent enough vacuum engine.”

“With the rest of the Mark 2 Pioneer stack on top,” said Danfen, “Lander, rover, CSM - the lot.” He shook his head. “Kerm - we could probably strap one of Ademone’s habitation modules on there too and fire the whole lot off to Minmus!”

Hanbal chuckled. “It might struggle with the CSM but actually, I think it could handle the rest.”


Geneney gestured at the door. “Anyway, the rest of the team should be waiting in my office.” He turned to Jondun. “I expect you’ll get all this from Ademone in a couple of days but you’re welcome to join us anyway.”

Jondun nodded. “I’d appreciate that, Gene.”

Outside, it was beginning to get dark. Small, low-set lamps glowed in the dusk, marking the paths between the warehouses. Geneney led the way over to the old vehicle assembly building, ushering them inside and locking the door behind them. Jondun fell into step beside Malmy as they crossed the factory floor, both letting Jeb go on ahead by unspoken agreement. Light spilled out of Geneney’s office windows and Jondun saw a group of kerbals inside, sitting around a table.

Bob and Wernher leapt to their feet, closely followed by Richlin and Ornie and for a moment, Jeb was mobbed by eager friends. Bill and Lucan stayed in their seats, Lucan beaming happily at everyone and, Jondun noticed, even Bill seeming to forget his normal reserve. Ribory and Seelan came over to congratulate her, Ribory’s eyes shining brightly and a huge grin splitting Seelan’s face. 

For a long time, the conversation soared thousands of kilometres from Kerbin. The veteran kerbonauts in the room listened intently to details of the flight, occasionally nodding in agreement. Those that had yet to fly a Pioneer capsule paid particularly close attention, Lucan pulling out a notebook for a minute before grinning sheepishly and putting it back in his pocket. Bob and Geneney were most interested in the lander and how it handled, whilst Bill’s questions were all about the radar and computer systems. But whatever their speciality, they all sat spellbound at Jeb and Jondun’s pilots-eye description of the descent to the surface and the first Münwalk.

At last, Geneney tapped on the table for attention. “Much as I hate to break up the party,” he said, “I have some news from closer to home.” He paused. “Sort of. Depends if you count the Koluclaw mountains as close to home.”

Jeb’s mouth snapped shut. Ornie looked over at Geneney. “Ahh,” he said, “Got a plan for us have they?”

“Us and Rockomax both,” said Geneney. Eventually to be called the Kerballed Spaceflight Division, he added silently, but I don’t think you’re quite ready for that old friend. Nor me for that matter. “Probably easiest to think of it as Pioneer Plus. We’re both getting a significant injection of funds to ramp up our manufacturing capabilities. He glanced at Wernher. “I gather we’ll be getting a second VAB in time but for now the money is primarily to upgrade and expand our facilities here. That includes the machine shop, Assembly and Fitting, Propulsion and Testing, Kerbonaut training - everything. Rockomax are to focus on expanding their heavy lift capabilities, starting with more KDS boosters and moving onwards and upwards from there.”

Jeb narrowed his eyes. "Upwards?" he said. "What exactly does Lodan have in mind?"

"If you'd give me a minute," said Geneney patiently. "Basically a complete Mün - and Minmus," he paused to let the words sink in, "prospecting programme. Enhanced satellite networks around both muns for remote sensing and communications. Extended surface expeditions for geological surveys. Trips to the Munar poles to search for usable ice deposits. In short, we're going to be the exploration and survey teams for Project Starseed.”

Bob's eyes lit up. "Minmus," he said softly.

"That's going to take more than a Pioneer capsule," said Ornie. “‘Less you want the crew to get a bad case of cabin fever on the way?”

Geneney shook his head. "Ademone suggested adding an Endurance sized habitation module to the Pioneer stack," he said. "I'm not sure I like the idea of juggling four modules around but it should work in principle. Anyhow, it's not tonight's problem."

"Why though?" asked Jondun. "I thought we were going to Duna? Why so much effort on the muns?"

"Partly for practice," said Geneney. "We're gonna need a lot of trained kerbonauts for the Duna flights and munar flights are as good as it gets for that. Then there's hardware development - Minmus isn't much more than a short hop away compared to Duna but it's a sight further out than the Mün and gives us somewhere to figure out the details of interplanetary flights." He stopped at the look on Jondun's face. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine, Gene," said Jondun slowly. "Just the way you're suddenly talking about interplanetary flights when we've only just been to the Mün. It's going to take some getting used to."

"Tell me about it, " said Geneney dryly. "Anyhow - the main reason we're going to be putting so much time into the Mün and Minmus is for resources. Fuel at first but maybe metals and the basics of off-world industry later on. Sounds far-fetched I know but the KSA have been studying this for a while." He grinned at Jeb. "According to Lodan, after Moho 1, the Twelve Pillars were worried about the damage to Kerbin's environment caused by hordes of kerbals following your example."

Jeb blinked. "And their solution was 'go big or go home?' he asked incredulously. 

"Apparently so, " said Geneney. "I believe the exact phrase involved gronneks and bags but either way, they realised that if we could do it then other groups were probably going to try too - whether they liked it or not."

"So they decided to try for damage limitation rather than excess legislation," said Ribory. "That was...unusually enlightened."

"Not to mention lucky," agreed Geneney. "But on a serious note, Starseed is going to need a lot of propellant one way or another. The less of it we have to haul all the way up from Kerbin the better.

"It's going to mean getting a lot of kerbals to orbit too," Jeb pointed out. "Which is going to take a lot of rockets anyway - a couple of fuel haulers won't make a lot of difference."

"That's what Ademone and I thought," said Geneney, "but Lodan seemed almost cheerful about that part - for Lodan. He didn't say anything but we got the distinct impression that he has a plan in mind.”

“He might even tell us about it one day,” muttered Jeb.

Ornie coughed. “I’m wondering,” he said, “what we’re actually going to use as fuel? Ice’ll be useful for plenty other things but it doesn’t burn very well.”

“Electrolyse it into hydrogen and oxygen.” said Malmy. “Hydrogen is about the best fuel we could ask for.”

“If we can keep it cold enough,” said Ornie. “Which won’t be easy.”

“No,” said Wernher slowly. “Better if we could just use the water. Which I think we can do but… Kerm. It’s going to need Council permission at the very least.” He looked at Jeb. “And even then, a nuclear engine is going to be a tough sell.”

Malmy choked. “Nuclear engines?” he spluttered. Jondun and Lucan stared at Wernher in disbelief and even Ornie looked taken aback. Jeb however, burst out laughing.

“Go big, go home or go nuclear! I can’t wait to see the look on our dear Director’s face when we tell hime about this!”

“Well, it makes sense,” said Wernher defensively, “Depending how hot we can run the reactor, it should be more efficient than the LV-T30 or the SK1-G, even if we’re only using water for the propellant. If we do work out a way of using hydrogen, a nuclear engine should be about twice as efficient as anything else that we have right now.

“Saving the world with steam powered rockets!” said Bob cheerfully. “Joking apart though, I think you’re right, Wernher. Being able to use water as fuel would be a huge advantage - if we can find any water to use.”

“Like I said,” said Geneney, “that’s why we’ve been given our next job.” He looked at Wernher thoughtfully. “If you can give me the rough numbers - and outline designs if you have them - I’ll have a word with Lodan and Ademone about using nuclear engines. We’re very definitely going to need Council permission to work on fissiles though.”


A rack of beaten-bronze watering cans stood by the open cemetery gate, next to a square stone pillar carved with sweetblossom vines. The taps jutting from each face of the pillar and the drain grates set into the simple stone trough around its base were also cast from bronze. Head bowed, Lodan filled his can and walked down into the grassy hollow.

Neatly trimmed, living sweetblossom vines swathed the memorial poles, anchored securely to the, now hidden, trelliswork underneath. Lodan sprinkled water around the base of the nearest pole, before stepping back to contemplate the plainly carved Kerm wood plaque, standing in front of the grave marker on its slender pedestal. He sighed and walked over to the next pole.

Al watched him from the gate. The other markers received their sprinkling of water and a suitably respectful pause by their name plaques, but weren’t given the lengthier contemplation accorded to the first grave. Poor fool - no kerbal’s got shoulders broad enough for that load. Enley’s death wasn’t his fault - and there’ll be more than one Kerm wood marker standing in for absent friends by the time we’re through with this. He looked up at the sudden clink of a watering can being put back on its rack. “Director.”

Lodan checked his watch. “Director. I trust I’m not too early?”

“Not at all. Security were a little surprised but that’s what we pay them for. You’re looking well, Director - surprisingly so in view of your recently expanded responsibilities.”

Lodan looked at him. “To the general public perhaps. In practice, President Obrick’s - dramatic - lifting of the secrecy surrounding Part 3 has made the KSA’s task considerably easier.” He smiled faintly. “I much prefer Project Starseed as a name too. Far more evocative than ‘Part 3’.”

Al frowned. “You knew about the President’s announcement?” He stopped. “Of course you did. “We have mapped our world from orbit and taken the measure of the Kerm challenge in full.””

“Indeed,” said Lodan.  “And not just Kerbin. We have adequate maps of Duna and intend to map Laythe too, assuming the probes arrive safely.”

“The Hope probes?” said Al. “An appropriate choice of… Oh, great Kerm.” He gave Lodan a look of grudging respect. “How long have you been quietly planning this under everyone’s nose?”

“Well before we first met,” said Lodan. “and I believe the Council have been making plans for even longer, although I’m not sure precisely how long. The KSA was originally tasked with understanding the obstacles to expanded kerballed spaceflight in any case, so our new instructions were easily accommodated. The Kerbin mapping project was the first obvious departure from the KSA’s goals at the time and at that point the Council didn’t really have any choice but to give me the full story.”

Al snorted. “Hard to get somebody to make a map for you if they don’t understand what the map’s for. But you mentioned an adequate map of Duna, Director. Is that where we’re going - Duna?”

Lodan nodded. “It’s closer than most of the alternatives and certainly closer than any of the reasonable alternatives. The atmosphere isn’t as thick as we’d hoped for and the soil isn’t much more than mineral dust but the Berelgan team think it has potential for supporting plants and eventually crops. It’s not ideal,” he added dryly, “but under the circumstances, we’ll take what we can get. Then of course we need to get everyone there -  but I presume you have some news for me on that topic?”

“I do,” said Al. “We’ve made a substantial amount of progress since you were here last. No flight hardware yet but I think you’ll be interested in what we do have.” He led the way up the shallow rise leading out of the graveyard. “Infrastructure mainly and that was a headache all by itself. I didn’t think our head of engineering even knew how to swear but faced with using liquid hydrogen as a fuel, he soon became remarkably proficient. Not that I blame him. Just making enough of the damn stuff was, to use his phrase, a non-trivial challenge. Finding alloys that could handle it without leaking or shattering was another one. Then we had to building moving parts that stayed moving after they’d been soaked in it.” The corner of Al’s mouth twitched upwards. “His language got creative at that point.”

Lodan followed him towards C7’s main hanger. “Hydrogen for your heat exchanger too I presume?” he said. “I remember that you were using cryogenics for that and I’m struggling to think of another fuel that would be cold enough.”

“Indirectly,” said Al. “We use a helium loop between the hydrogen lines, the intake cooler and the compressor. High temperature helium from the preburner… never mind, you’ll see it all for yourself in a moment.” He unclipped his name card from his jacket and unlocked the hanger door. 

Lodan remembered the heavy security door and the harshly lit, stripped concrete corridor inside. The test yard through the second security door however, looked very different. The cryogenic apparatus was gone, heavily insulated pipes emerged directly from the thick concrete wall and disappeared into various access ports in the… apparatus, mounted on the test stand. He stared. From the front, the thing did look like a high performance jet engine, with a shock cone intake leading smoothly into a streamlined nacelle. At the back, two rocket engine bells sat side by side, surrounded by a shroud that itself appeared to consist of four curved exhaust nozzles arranged around the rockets. And in the middle, jet engine met rocket engine in a bewildering tangle of turbines and plumbing. He tried his best to follow Al’s explanation.

“…secondary hydrogen lines here supply the pre-burner, which drives the compressor, hydrogen pump and LOX pump via the helium loop. Exhaust from the pre-burner is vented through the four bypass ramjet nozzles here. They’re more of a safety measure than anything else for the test unit but…”

A foolish grin spread across Lodan’s face. “Bypass ramjets?” 

“Yep. The intake cooler can only deal with so much volume - the rest is just bypass, like in a normal turbofan. The intake also needs more hydrogen for cooling than the rockets can burn off in atmospheric flight. So we put ‘em both to good use. We figure it should help lift the service ceiling we can reach before switching over to internal oxidiser. 

Dear Kerm above. If they can get this thing into the air without it exploding, they might just be able to build a spaceplane around it after all. Lodan fought to keep the eagerness out of his voice. “It certainly looks the part. Would it be possible to see it working before I leave?”

Al offered him a rare grin. “Naturally. I wouldn’t expect the famously skeptical KSA Director to be satisfied with anything less. The test team should be here in a moment to set up. We’ll be watching the whole thing from the observation room.”


The last technician gave the camera a quick thumbs up before shutting the heavy test bay door behind him. Lodan saw a pair of red flashing lights came on over the door frame, before the camera switched to a view across the test stand, zooming in on the back of the engine. To their left, the two stand operators sat in front of a bank of monitors displaying telemetry readouts and close up views of different parts of the engine. Al conferred with them briefly before turning to Lodan. “Okay. We’ll run the MACE through a standard test routine. Startup, throttle up to take-off thrust and shutdown.”

Privately, Lodan rolled his eyes. What is it with engineers and acronyms? “MACE?” he asked neutrally.

“Multi-aspect combination engine,” replied Al. “Although in truth, we’re still working on the multi-aspect part. Getting a smooth handover from external to internal oxidiser with the engine running is turning out to be yet another non-trivial challenge, but we can show you the MACE running in air-breathing mode.” He nodded to the stand operators. “Could we get some sound please?”

The room suddenly filled with the scream of a high volume compressor, making Lodan jump. Al winced and made a sharp chopping gesture with one hand. One of the stand operators hastily twisted a dial, bringing the noise down to a level where Lodan could hear himself think. 

Al raised his voice. “…standard start-cart  Once we have a steady airflow through the cooler we open the secondary hydrogen valves to the pre-burner and coolant loop!” A brief gust of flame spurted from the ramjets, which swiftly faded to a hazy shimmer around the exhaust nozzles. “Pre-burner ignition opens the helium feed to the intake cooler. As soon as the coolant loop is stable, the turbine spins up, the start-cart disconnects and the the primary hydrogen valves open…”

Fire exploded from the main engine bells, glowing baleful orange and then settling into a watery, blue-white flame that seemed to start in front of the engines and taper to a brilliantly sharp point. The camera shook violently and even with the sound turned down, the roar of burning hydrogen sent thrills racing along Lodan’s spine. The glare from the screen sparkled off his eyes and he found himself grinning fiercely at Al.

The MACE shut off in a cloud of superheated steam and a final judder from the camera. Al pretended not to notice the KSA director shake his head and retreat behind his usual impassive mask.  

“You mentioned something about problems with the transition from air-breathing mode?” Lodan said at last. “What do you need to get through that problem?” He lifted a finger warningly. “Your honest evaluation please. The KSA is still answerable to the Council and its budget needs to cover a great deal more than transport to orbit, however vital that transport is.” He raised an eyebrow at Al. “Besides - any funds that you spend on engine development are funds that you can’t then spend on airframe integration and flight testing.”


<< Chapter 57:     Chapter 59>>

Edited by KSK
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