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JNSQ: Flight of The Endeavour - Chapter 11

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This short mission report takes place in the same verse as To The Mün, Shuttle Launch System, and Commercial Space Ventures. It is set in the time between Commercial Space Ventures' Chapter 40 and its Epilogue. As a quick refresher, Nautilus (DSEV-01) is on her way back to Kerbin...



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11


Mod list


A mapping of months

Listed below are the names of the 12 months in my save, mapped to the Gregorian calendar months:

Acama                  January
Huitzil                    February
Chimal                  March
Itzcoatl                 April
Moctez                 May
Axaya                    June
Jool                        July
Tizoc                      August
Ahuit                     September
Cuitla                     October
Cuahoc                 November
Montezu             December

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To The Mün had been an expression among kerbals to describe something impossible until two nations, the Kerman States and the vonKerman Republic, landed on both of Kerbin’s müns. After that feat, nothing seemed impossible. The Kerman States- via their Kerbal Space Program- set their sights on a kermanned mission to Duna, but they knew it would be expensive, so they created the reusable Shuttle Launch System to replace their expendable rockets. Then they partnered with the mcKerman Kingdom’s Ministry of Space to build Starlab, their Kerbin Orbiting Station. With their reusable infrastructure in place, the two nations began planning for their trip to Duna. Then the Laythe Surveyor sent back some intriguing results about Jool’s innermost mün.






The space agencies immediately pivoted away from Duna and created Project Laythe. Due to the increased challenge and cost, the agencies invited the vonKerman Republic to participate, and the Kerman States seceded cisminmar space to various commercial space ventures. At great expense, the three spacefaring nations of Kerbin collaborated to build the First Jool Fleet. Among the many vessels in the Fleet, Nautilus, the first Deep Space Exploration Vessel, brought eight astronauts and kerbonauts to Jool’s innermost mün. After assembling Laythe Base from a collection of modules shipped with the Fleet, the crew spent sixty days on the surface conducting experiments before they had to spend another three years in cryostasis traveling home.


Landing on Laythe- and finding phytoplankton in its oceans- was a huge accomplishment! But the Ministry of Space never lost site of their dream of visiting the Rusty Planet. So, as the brave kerbals orbiting Jool began their journey home, the three space agencies brought their dreams to reality. They leveraged orbital construction methods that were unavailable when the First Jool Fleet launched to inexpensively build Kopernicus (DSEV-02) and the Third Duna Fleet. Then they sent eight kerbals to the Rusty Planet.

This is their story…

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Chapter 1



Several months ago, the Third Duna Fleet aimed for the Rusty Planet. The fleet consisted of Estonian 3- the lander, a Sandcaster 3D printer, a pair of Orbital Dynamics-supplied Buffalo rovers, and Kopernicus, the second Deep Space Exploration Vessel. With its crew of eight in cryogenic slumber, Kopernicus and the Third Duna Fleet made the months-long journey without incident.



Sandcaster arrived three months ahead of the Fleet and set down at Knights Landing, a site located in Gale Crater that was scouted by previous robotic expeditions to Duna. Like its predecessor that the Ministry of Space tested on Kerbin, Sandcaster built its entourage of automated workers before printing the base itself. By the time that Kopernicus and the remaining vessels arrived, Sandcaster completed the base, made it warm and cozy, and turned on the lights. It even began working on the base’s warehouse.




Not long after the crew woke up, Ribler mcKerman, the mission commander and captain of the Kopernicus, directed Estonian 3 to dock with the ship so that the crew could depart DSEV-02 and land. Everything went smoothly; Estonian 3 docked with Kopernicus, the crew transferred vital equipment to the lander, and they put DSEV-02 into hibernation mode. They departed the Deep Space Exploration Vessel with no issues. The deorbit burn completed on time, the deorbit motor was jettisoned as expected, and Estonian 3’s heat shield jettisoned the descent engine cap as expected. It even deployed its chutes right on time.

Everything went like clockwork-except when it didn’t.


Estonian 3 ignited its landing engine too late and the lander crashed into the desert floor. Everything from the landing gear to the descent stage crumpled and sheered away from the vehicle. But by some fortunate twist of fate, the crew cabin, and its occupants, survived the crash. They were marooned and suffered some injuries, but the crew of eight made the first crewed landing on Duna.


Estonian 3 crashed 2.2km away from Duna Base- easily within range of the Buffalo rovers- so Ribler directed them towards the crash site. After they arrived, the crew stepped outside for the obligatory photo op before piling into the rovers for the trip to the base.




They linked together before making their return trip. Shortly after arrival, Ribler directed the crew to set up the external science instruments. It didn’t take long, and the crew settled into their new home after completing their work.

That’s when Ribler collapsed to the ground.

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Chapter 2


The autopsy report concluded that Ribler suffered a severe concussion when Estonian 3 crashed, but he thought that he only had a minor head injury and kept going. The crew solemnly buried Ribler outside, said several kind words, and drank a lot of “hydrazine” in celebration of his life. When they sobered up, they continued with their mission. Ribler’s passing left Dudmon Kerman, formerly second in command, in charge of the expedition. Tobias vonKerman, the expedition’s lead engineer, expected the job, but he was too busy trying to keep things running.

Dudmon (Dude-mon) was one of Kerbal Space Program’s most experienced astronauts. He made a name for himself on his first flight into space when he commanded Münflight 3, the third Münflight mission and the second flight to the Mün. On that flight, the Lindor 5’s third stage decoupled from its second stage- while the second stage was still burning! Dudmon expertly balanced the third stage while the second depleted its propellants. His efforts saved the mission- and earned him the Medal of Heroism. Later in his career, Dudmon was the copilot of STS-1, the first space shuttle flight, and he made numerous flights in the shuttle. Eventually, he became Chief of The Astronaut Corps, and he commanded MBE-1, the first expedition to establish a permanent presence on Minmus via Minmus Base.

It bothered him to be passed up for the first kermanned mission to Laythe- Jeb and Val always got the best assignments- but he pulled rank and got himself assigned to the first kermanned mission to Duna. He would’ve overseen the expedition had the Ministry of Space not footed most of the bill. He wanted command of DBE-1, but not because of Ribler dying…


“How long will our supplies last,” Dudmon asked Ferwin Kerman, the most experienced scientist on the mission. Like Dudmon, Ferwin was aboard Münflight 3, and the two had been friends for many years. So, when he assigned himself to DBE-1, he made sure that Ferwin had the opportunity to go too- and he couldn't say no. Dudmon’s only regret was that he couldn’t get Jebman, the flight engineer from Münflight 3, on the mission as well. Unfortunately, Jebman retired from the Astronaut Corps before he could recruit him. As it was, both Dudmon and Ferwin knew that this was their last spaceflight- especially after the stunt that they pulled with the Kerbin flag. In fact, many of the old timers like Bill, Bob, Jeb, and Val, Tesen, Hensen, Samger, and several others were looking to retire. Sure, a few were jumping over to fly with Orbital Dynamics, but many were just getting older and wanted to move on.

“Well, Raald should be answering this question,” Ferwin said. Technically, she oversaw the science contingent, but both Raald mcKerman and Calbro mcKerman were rookie astronauts, so Ferwin became their de facto lead. “But anyway, between the Buffalo rovers and the supplies we scavenged from the lander’s wreckage, we’ve got about a year, maybe a bit more if we ration our uh, rations.”

“Hm,” Dudmon murmured.

“What’s up,” Ferwin said. He knew his friend was concerned.

“How long until the arboretum can support us,” Dudmon asked, referring to the Castillo’s large agriculture dome.

Ferwin immediately saw the problem. “Kerbin can’t send a rescue flight for another year or so, right? And it would take them six months to get here?”

“Yeah. And our transfer window back to Kerbin opens in just under a year.”

Ferwin nodded. “Yeah, that’s a problem,” he admitted. "The arboretum was designed to support crews for years, but it will take two years for its ecosystem to build up. We were supposed to live off of our supplies and get the arboretum started so that it would be ready to support DBE-2,” Ferwin reminded Dudmon.

“Can we speed up the process?”

“Not with the seeds we brought with us,” Ferwin admitted. “And sadly, we don’t have any potatoes handy that we could grow in our own soil.”

“That leaves us with one option,” Dudmon said.

“Which is?”

“We need a new lander.”

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Chapter 3

After speaking with Mission Control, their engineers worked the problem for a few days, during which time Sandcaster completed the base’s warehouse. With no more buildings or robots to produce, it went into hibernation mode. When Bobak contacted Duna Base during their regular check in, he had some encouraging news: Estonian 2 was still orbiting the Rusty Planet!


Launched as part of the Second Duna Fleet, Estonian 2 was the Ministry of Space’s second attempt to test their lander design at Duna. Their first attempt was Estonian 1- part of the First Duna Fleet- it failed to land softly when its main chutes proved incapable of deploying in the thin Dunan atmosphere. The drogue chutes deployed, but they proved unable to slow the lander long enough for its descent/ascent engine to soft-land the craft. As a result, it crashed into the ground and scattered debris everywhere.

The Ministry of Space went back to the drawing board, fitted Estonian 2 with all drogue chutes instead of a mix of drogue and main chutes, and made a few other minor adjustments. Once the other vessels in the Second Duna Fleet completed their objectives, MoS Mission Control began its test of the revised lander. This time, it landed successfully.


After performing some science experiments, Estonian 2 decoupled from its ascent stage and launched into orbit again. It even simulated a rendezvous with a Deep Space Exploration Vessel by flying to and linking up with the Duna Fuel Depot. With the design proven, the Ministry of Space felt comfortable placing kerbals in an Estonian Lander. But two weeks ago, of course, Estonian 3 proved them wrong…

Engineers back at Kerbin determined that the prototype lander had just enough propellant to land back on the surface. The ascent stage wasn’t designed to land again, and its parachutes were already deployed, but if it landed softly, it could rest on its aerospike engine long enough for the expedition to refit it and refuel it via modified converters in Duna Base’s factory dome. So, the teams got to work.


Mission Control uploaded new instructions to Estonian 2- it couldn’t be remotely flown from Duna Base- and they triple-checked the numbers to ensure that everything was accurate. When there were no other concerns, they commanded Estonian 2 to perform its deorbit burn.

On Ahuit 15, 2004, the ascent stage made a 239 m/s deorbit burn right on time- though a little off course.


Fifteen minutes later, it made a shallow reentry to reduce atmospheric heating on its exposed hull. The thin Dunan atmosphere produced plasma shock as the spacecraft slowed down, but it wasn’t enough to cause damage. Though off course, the lander fired its engine to kill its horizontal speed, and then shut it off to conserve propellant for the landing burn.


Less than 500 meters above the surface, Estonian 2 ignited its engine one last time- just a bit too late. Like its sister ship, Estonian 2 landed hard. In this case, the spacecraft crushed its aerospike engine and crumpled its ascent stage tank.


When they saw the impact, the crew of Duna Base Expedition 1’s hopes were as crushed as Estonian 2’s engine. They needed a new plan, and as Dudmon looked across the desert to the Sandcaster, he had one.

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Chapter 4


“Let me get this straight,” Dudmon began, “Sandcaster can print up resource seeds, mining rovers, storage rovers, and the entire base, but it can’t make us a replacement lander?”

“That’s right,” Tobias vonKerman, the expedition’s chief engineer, answered.


“Sandcaster was hardwired so that it could only create the robots that it needed to build Duna Base along with the base itself.”

“Why, exactly?”

“To avoid it becoming a Berserker.”

“A what?

“A Berserker,” Tobias repeated. He saw Dudmon’s confused look. “A Berserker is a malignant version of a Neumann vonKerman Probe.”

Dudmon’s confused expression remained unchanged.

“Ok, uh, Neumann vonKerman proved that the most effective way to conduct large scale mining of planets and asteroids is to send self-replicating machines. The machines would harvest local resources, replicate themselves, and their progeny would continue to self-replicate. With their exponential growth, the probes could quickly mine the resources for whatever purposes desired- such as building bases. These probes could even send copies of themselves to other planets and asteroids.

“A Berserker is a Neumann Probe designed to seek out and exterminate lifeforms. The term was named after killing machines depicted in Saberhagen Kerman’s fictional novels. Technically, the berserkers were the warships doing the exterminating, but they along with the automated, self-replicating harvesters and miners and shipyards collectively constituted a Neumann Probe.”

“Okay….” Dudmon said tentatively.

“Sandcaster’s design pattern core was hardwired to ensure that the 3D printer couldn’t be altered and allowed to self-replicate- or to be messed up by cosmic radiation, which might result in a runaway replication. The Ministry of Space was so paranoid, they only gave it the patterns that it needed to build the Seeds, the Worker-B, Worker-T, and Duna Base. To replace those patterns would destroy its core programming and render the automated printer useless.”

“But the base’s printers don’t work that way,” Dudmon pointed out, “we just upload a pattern and hit print.”

“Yeah, but we are in control of uploading,” Tobias countered. “We feed in the resources, and we hit the print button. The Sandcaster is completely automated. No kerbals needed…”

“Couldn’t we just wire up the base’s 3D printer brains to the Sandcaster,” Dudmon asked.

“Unfortunately,” Tobias lamented, “they’re a completely different design.”

“How convenient,” Dudmon replied sarcastically.

“It might be possible,” Tobias quickly added, “but we’d need to build an... electronic bridge between the base’s printers and the Sandcaster. That’s going to take help from Kerbin and likely take months to design.”

“Got it,” Dudmon said. “So, if we want to build a replacement lander, we’ll have to use the printers in the base.”

“Yeah, but there’s a problem.”

“Which is?”

“We don’t have doors big enough to fit critical components like fuel tanks and engines. We could print them, but they wouldn’t fit through the door.”

“Right,” Dudmon said. He sighed. “Wait… The First Duna Fleet.”

“What about it,” Tobias asked.


“They had a lot of trouble with their landers. All of them failed, including Estonian 1. They wanted a win. So, they deorbited an Arrow 5 Upper Stage. To their amazement, it landed fully intact.”

“How does that help us?”

“It isn’t far from here. If we can retrieve it,” Dudmon continued, “and it still works, then we can use it. If we can salvage one of the Estonian crew cabins, and repair it…”

“We can build a new rocket,” Tobias finished for him.

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Chapter 5


Dudmon radioed Mission Control with their intention to  conduct  a salvage survey, and they immediately agreed, having come to the same conclusions. The expedition’s first task was to assess the condition of Estonian 2 and 3, search other debris sites for salvageable equipment, and examine the Arrow 5 Upper Stage. Once they knew what they had to work with, they could figure out how to transport it back to base.




Dudmon and Tobias hopped into Rover 1, undocked from Rover 2, and set out to assess the various crash sites. Their first stop was Estonian 3, just a couple minutes’ drive from the base. When Dudmon and Tobias exited the rover, Tobias took the opportunity to unbolt and discard the payload mounting bolts that strutted the rover to its landing frame.


Then, as Dudmon went inside to double-check the inventory, Tobias planted the flag for each space agency participating of Duna Base Expedition 1. Originally, a representative of each nation was supposed to plant their flag, but given the circumstances of their arrival, they elected to just plant the Kerbin flag. Following the crew of Nautilus' example, they planted the Kerbin flag in protest against the three space agencies constantly jockeying to determine who was in charge of the mission. And like the Nautilus crew, they got in trouble for it, but there wasn't much that Mission Control could do about it. Once completed, he performed a walk-around to assess the condition of the spacecraft before joining Dudmon inside the vehicle.



“How’s it looking,” Dudmon asked.

Tobias shook his head. “Not good. Estonian 3 landed pretty hard and cracked the outer hull. Several of the RCS nozzles are broken as well, and the upper transfer tunnel is, how you say, ‘a lost cause.’ The electronics appear to be intact along with the control panels, and the life support systems are working as well. We can live in it if we patch the cracks but I wouldn’t want to risk flying it.”

Dudmon sighed, it wasn’t the news that he wanted to hear. “Let’s go check on Estonian 2,” he said simply.




The pair exited the wreck, hopped into the Buffalo, and drove about 6km to Estonian 2. It didn’t take long as the second Estonian was downhill from its sibling. Off in the distance, the pair spotted the downed craft along with wreckage from the Sandcaster’s lander. Minus the flag plantings, the two repeated the process they used at Estonian 3; Dudmon peered inside to check the status, and Tobias performed a walk-around.

“The crew capsule is intact,” Tobias began, “and didn’t suffer any major damage upon impact. The ascent tank took the brunt of the impact. It’s cracked and unusable. The RCS thrusters look good, and the crew tunnel isn’t warped like Estonian 3’s. But the interior…”

“Yeah,” Dudmon said. “Aside from the flight computers, there effectively isn’t an interior.”

“At least we’ve confirmed what the Ministry of Space told us,” Tobias responded. “We’ll need the interior panels, the seats, the control panels, and the life support from Estonian 3. At least the two hulls are essentially the same. Oh, and we’ll need to remove the probe core that’s blocking the docking port.”

“We need to install the guts of 3 into 2, and then lop off 2’s ascent tank,” Dudmon summarized.

“And clean off the uh, barnacles,” Tobias added.


Tobias pointed to the externally mounted science instruments.

“Ah,” Dudmon said and nodded. “Getting the capsules back to Duna Base is going to be fun,” he added.

“Mission Control is already working the problem…”



The two explorers boarded the Buffalo once more and drove to the Sandcaster's wrecked lander since it was a little over a kilometer away. When they approached it, the lander was embedded in the dirt at an odd angle.

“That’s not something you see every day,” Dudmon remarked. He stopped the rover a few meters away, which was a good thing. Apparently, the vibrations of the rover approaching was enough to upset the delicate balance of the lander, and it began to tumble. It flopped around like a hog in the mud for a few minutes until it finally settled down onto its two remaining landing gear. The explorers waited a few moments to ensure that it wasn’t going to suddenly explode or wander off before approaching it.


“Well, the fuel tanks aren't waffled,” Tobias said.

Dudmon looked confused, then understood. “Toast,” he corrected.

“Ah. Yes. Toast,” Tobias answered. “They might be usable with some repairs and reinforcements. The structural girders bore the brunt of the impact. They are sturdy and show just a few scrapes and dents here and there, and the saddle trusses are in a similar shape. Obviously, the lander lost its back legs- and it looks like one of the chutes failed to deploy. But there’s some good news: there are three Fulcrum engines still intact! We could probably get them working again with a few repairs.”

“Great,” Dudmon said. “Looks like we’ll have engines to salvage. Let’s go check out that geology probe.”



The Sandcaster Lander crashed near DGL-4, one of the Duna Geology Landers sent to the Rusty Planet with the Second Duna Fleet. It took just a few moments to reach the probe. The explorers stayed long enough to visually inspect it, which had been resting on the surface for a couple of years, and then returned to the rover. They knew that it was intact thanks to MoS Mission Control contacting the probe recently and running diagnostics. Tobias made a note of its working 48-7s Spark engine.




The last two items on their list were going to take awhile to reach. DGL-2 landed 27 km away from their present location, but they needed to assess its condition nonetheless. The road trip reminded Dudmon of Münflight 5, where Bill and Jeb landed on the Mün to set up Billstown and then set the record for the longest off-world road trip in their Münar Ground Module Rover (169 km). Dudmon and Tobias were going to travel about a third of that distance as they assessed various spacecraft. He wondered how long it would take to break their longstanding record…



The explorers drove for about an hour, and the rover had no trouble scaling the crater walls. That bode well for future rovers attempting to drive out of Gale Crater to go explore more of the planet. Finally, they found the probe where it had crash-landed onto Duna two years ago. It lost its primary science instrument and one of its solar panels, and it had punctures in its fuel tanks, but its Spark engine looked serviceable after moderate repairs. The landing legs also looked functional, though one of them appeared stuck. Tobias gave the probe a salute, and the two got back into the rover for the last stop on their tour.


It was a long 51 km trip, and the explorers found some interesting rock formations that they’d want to investigate once their ride back into orbit was settled. Despite the growing dust storm, the explorers located the landed Arrow 5 Upper Stage standing on its engine bell approximately 26 km away from Duna Base. Sent to Duna over 4 years ago, the upper stage delivered the Duna Basecamp, an experimental space station, into orbit around the Rusty Planet. Given the worsening conditions, the astronauts stepped outside quickly and got to work making a visual inspection of the landed stage.

“It sure is big,” Dudmon noted aloud.



“Yes, it is,” Tobias agreed. He took note on the still working navigation lights. That was a good sign that despite weathering years of dust storms, the electronics still operated. He had to check out the top of the stage, so he went back to the rover and grabbed the jetpack for a brief hop. After setting the pack to full throttle, he leaped into the air and jetted over to the top of the stage. It took a few minutes, but he was satisfied.

“How’s it look,” Dudmon asked.

“Working lights, some dust in the instrument unit but nothing we can’t clean out. The payload fairing mounts are in good condition. The antenna connections are sandblasted but they can be repaired… I think it might work.”

“What’ll work?”

“If we can somehow bring this stage back to base along with the two Estonians,” Tobias answered, “and we can rig up a refueling plant, then we can refit Estonian 2 with 3’s interior, and then mount it to the upper stage. It’ll take some work, but I think we can build ourselves a new rocket.”

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Chapter 6


While the Duna Base Expedition 1 crew waited out the dust storm, engineers both on and off the planet poured over the images and notes taken by DBE-1’s salvage survey team. After some deliberations, the consensus was that DBE-1 should salvage as much as possible from all the wrecks, bring them all to Duna Base, and then assemble the new rocket. Since the Arrow 5 Upper Stage was the largest item to salvage, engineering teams focused on creating a vehicle that could haul it back to base.

Meanwhile, another engineering team began designing a propellant refinery that could either be made from parts printed at Duna Base and/or created by modifying the Seeds or the Worker robots produced by the Sandcaster. Given the instability of the Seeds- they weren’t designed for long-term use- engineers focused on the Worker robots instead. They were confident that they could produce a refinery from them; it was only a matter of time to figure it out.

The salvage engineers examined their options for building trailers and or self-propelled flatbed cranes, and to their delight, they discovered that the Buffalo rover system built by Orbital Dynamics was highly modular and capable of being assembled from components printed by Duna Base’s 3D printers. Even better, the parts could fit through the doors and assembled outside. It wasn’t ideal, but it was possible. To that end, the Ministry of Space negotiated with Orbital Dynamics to send very encrypted plans for their Buffalo rover system to Duna Base. The company would receive royalties for any Buffalo rover part printed up by the base...


Meanwhile, the Public Relations teams from the Kerman States, the mcKerman Kingdom, and the vonKerman Republic worked overtime to quell rumors that the crews of Nautilus and Kopernicus had mutinied when they planted a flag of Kerbin ahead of the three participating space agencies. The official response was that “the Kerbin flag is the interim symbol of a new international partnership currently being formalized.” That response was the result of KSP spokeskerb Walt Kerman (known for his antics of wearing a hazmat suit during press briefings) panicking when reporters pressed him for an answer to the Kerbin flag, and despite attempts to retract the response, the idea stuck.

MoS Mission Control- the designated control center for the mission- reprimanded the astronauts and kerbonauts on Duna. Although there wasn’t much that they could do while the crew were away on mission, their respective space agencies quietly made it clear that the crew of Kopernicus would never fly again. For some on the crew, that suited them just fine, and when they woke up from their cryo-nap, the crew of the Nautilus probably wouldn't care either.

But KSP Administrator Gene Kerman had to admit that the two crews had a point: having to answer to three different space agencies, each vying for control at various points in the mission, was causing strife amongst the crews in the field. And with more Deep Space Exploration Vessels in planning, the situation was only going to get worse. As annoyed as he was with Walt Kerman’s panicked response, Gene thought that the idea had merit. So, while the PR teams got to work, behind the scenes, representatives from Kerbal Space Program, the Ministry of Space, and the vonKerman Space Agency gathered to find an acceptable way forward…



Fifteen days of hunkering down later, the dust storm finally cleared, and Tobias, Jonas, and Emma were ready. The vonKermans took the time to print some test parts and practiced assembling them so that when the storm cleared, they could step outside and try to build a rig capable of retrieving the Arrow 5 Upper stage. Initial assembly went well; the jack lift made it easy to bolt the chassis components on top, lift it up, and place other components like the wheels. After reloading KSP to fix the EVA constructed wheels adjusting the wheels, the team repeated the process of attaching new chassis segments, mounting a jack lift underneath and extending it, and attaching more wheels. Six days later, they completed the Arrow Upper Stage Trailer. Tobias also welded a trailer hitch to Rover 1.


The trailer was self-propelled thanks to its Auxiliary Electronic Navigator- the same design used on the Buffalo rovers- but for now it was relegated to deploying its solar array, moving forward and backward, and pivoting its alligator hinge. For now, the trailer simply backed away from Duna Base to give enough room for the Buffalo rover to hook up to the trailer. With that task completed, Tobias and Emma waited a day for the latest dust storm to dissipate before they hopped into the rover and set out to collect the AUS.





After driving at unsafe velocities for half an hour, Rover 1 arrived at the AUS. The engineers carefully backed the trailer up until it was right next to one of the AUS’s refueling ports. Then they commanded the stage to retract its solar panels and antenna. Tobias and Emma hoped out of the rover to ensure that everything was lined up properly. Then, after adjusting the trailer’s docking port, they docked to the stage. Carefully, they abused the stage's refueling port when they lowered the stage onto the trailer for the trip back to Duna Base. The port shrieked, protesting that it had to perform a function that it wasn't designed for, and it would never again accept propellant transfers. But, it worked- though they blew out one of the wheels in the process. Tobias decided to leave it for now; the weight of the stage now rested on the front trailer wheels. Instead, he added a pair of struts to support the weight of the stage, and then got back into the rover. Once they settled some control issues by shutting down the stage’s reaction wheels, they began the 26 km journey back to Duna Base.



They had a mishap on the way back to the base- one of the jack lifts scraped too close to the ground and sheared off- and yet another dust storm overtook them. Then, the rover kept jackknifing, so Tobias stopped the rig, got out, and replaced the broken wheel with one from the back of the trailer. Between that and adjusting the shock absorbers, they finally got the rig under control. It took about two hours to drive the rover and AUS back to Duna Base...


“Well done, you two,” Dudmon said to Tobias and Emma as he looked at the AUS on the trailer. “Well done!”




After setting the AUS back upright, the engineering team worked tirelessly to install decouplers and makeshift pylons- modular girder segments, truthfully- to mount the landing legs on. They also supplemented the RCS thrusters with ones fueled by liquid fuel and oxidizer. It was an ungainly solution, but it worked. The Arrow 5 Upper Stage was no longer condemned to rest on its engine bell, and it finally had a set of legs.

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Chapter 7


Scott Kerman, majority shareholder, chairman of the board, CEO emeritus, and Chief Test Pilot of the company that he founded, Orbital Dynamics, sat in the Kondor- the first new orbital-class vehicle that the company had produced since introducing the Mk33 almost five years ago. Revolutionary for its time, the Mk33 was the world’s first SSTO that had also put his company on the map. It was instrumental in creating several world’s firsts including sending the first space tourist into orbit, building the first space hotel, and building the first orbital shipyard. But as revolutionary as the Mk33 was, it paled in comparison to the Kondor and the technology that it possessed.

While the Mk33 was built to carry cargo and crew into orbit like the retired Shuttle Launch System, the Kondor could only carry a pilot and up to three passengers- though larger models were also being considered. Kondor was perfect for those times when you just needed to ferry passengers into orbit and didn't need the payload capacity of a cargo plane. It was the size of a Buffalo rover like the ones on Duna; in fact, it shared the same body construction. It could easily fit inside a Mk33 payload bay and yet it too was an SSTO. It accomplished this amazing feat thanks to new propulsion technology that would forever change the nature of spaceflight.

Kondor was powered by a gravitic engine.

Developed as an application of graviolium- the exotic matter first discovered when his company captured an asteroid, dubbed “Magic Boulder” by the media, the gravitic engine worked by zapping graviolium with an electric charge, which in turn distorted a small, localized volume of space-time to form a mini gravity well. When electric charge is no longer applied, the distortion field dissipates quickly, and space-time reverts to its natural state. The field is projected a fixed distance in front of the ship- or above it or behind it- and the ship “falls” towards the artificial gravity well if the field’s strength is greater than the local gravity field. Gravitic engines aren’t powerful enough to continually apply electric charge and constantly warp space-time, but by rapidly blinking the distortion field- also known as a virtual singularity- on and off like how brakes are applied in an anti-lock braking system, the ship will fall in the desired direction of travel. Best yet, the occupants won’t feel the acceleration.

Graviolium had numerous applications, and the gravitic engine was just one of them. Frolie Kerman, the company’s Chief Technology Officer/Chief Engineer, and “The Father of Gravitics”, kept thinking up new ways to harness the stuff. Just the other day, for instance, he proposed a ground-based training facility that would simulate weightlessness and make zero-g trainer aircraft obsolete. Today though, he set aside his inventor hat to be the flight engineer on Kondor’s last test flight before it was put into production.

“Where are we going today, boss,” Frolie asked his friend.

“Up to the Yard,” Scott answered, referring to the Orbital Dynamics Shipyard.

“Not to Magic Boulder?”

“We can if you want,” Scott said.

“Yup, definitely want,” Frolie answered excitedly. “They just finished the new construction. Why the Yard though?”

Scott searched for words to answer his friend. “I’ve got an idea… but… there are parts of it that I need context? Inspiration? for. It’s… hard to put into words… It’s right on the tip of my tongue but I can’t quite… articulate it… I think sitting in the Finch will help.”

“Missing a sense of adventure, are we,” Frolie chided.

“Heh. Something like that,” Scott admitted.




Scott powered up the Kondor’s gravitic engine, extended its wings, and got permission to take off from the control tower. The spacecraft, dubbed a “shuttlepod” by its creators, lifted off vertically and hovered a few meters off the ground while the last system checks were performed. Scott selected a projection angle that let the Kondor both float in the air like one of the old hexium-gas airships and accelerate forward, and the craft rapidly gained speed. When it was flying fast enough to generate lift, Scott set the projection angle forward and raised the nose, and they began to fly into space…


Three hours later, Kondor arrived at the Orbital Dynamics Shipyard, and the little craft docked at the forward port along its spine. After shutting down the engine and putting Kondor into hibernation mode, Scott and Frolie greeted the station crew before making their way over to the Finch. Scott and Frolie took their familiar places inside the vehicle, switched some systems online, and turned on the lights.


During the Shuttle era, Kerbal Space Program requested proposals for a Münar Shuttle Module that would transport crews from the Kerbin Orbiting Station to the Mün and Minmus. The @RocketologyDesign Group (RDG) proposed the KSOI-1 Hermes Cycler, a vessel capable of traveling anywhere within the Kerbin Sphere of Influence.


Budget constraints and technical limitations (Hermes was designed for stock scale, but I play in JNSQ scale, but it's one of my favorite ships by Rocketology) evolved the nuclear-powered design into the Magellan, a smaller, cheaper design that could be fitted with a conventional cryogenic propulsion system. KSP added a Münar Excursion Module-derived Münar Surface Access Module into the mix, and the pair visited both of Kerbin’s müns.




Orbital Dynamics licensed the design from RDG and created the Finch-class Multipurpose Space Vehicle. Named after the first MEM, the Finch-class had a command module that could be fitted with a variety of different accessories that enabled it to become the first spacecraft to orbit and land on the Mün and Minmus. It took several iterations of the propulsion system to accomplish those feats, though… After landing on Minmus, Orbital Dynamics retired the Finch and stored her at the Shipyard. Scott wasn’t ready to send it to the Boneyard, he had many an adventure in the well-traveled spacecraft, and he felt like there was still some life left in it.




Scott and Frolie sat in silence for a few minutes, remembering their previous adventures and resisting the urge to play like kids sitting in a cardboard spaceship. Finally, Scott spoke up. “The Kerbal Space Program, the Ministry of Space, and the vonKerman Space agency are teaming up again. We got a Request for Proposals from them as part of their DSEV(X) Program. That’s uh, the Deep Space Exploration Vessels-Experimental. Before they commit to the next iteration of DSEV, they are asking for two teams to create a prototype vessel within 60 days of selection. They’ll evaluate each design for 30 days before selecting the winner. The winning team will have just under 200 days to build the next DSEV and have it ready for the upcoming transfer window to Jool, and they'll build the next two DSEVs after that as well.”

Scott paused to let Frolie absorb the information. "What are they evaluating that requires a prototype," Frolie asked.

"Good question! A number of items, but chief among them is that they want to pit our gravitic engine against Kerbodyne's new graviolium-catalyzed fusion engine," Scott answered.

"The KF-1 Supernova? I read about that," Frolie said. "It's a pretty clever way to drastically reduce the energy requirements needed to achieve ignition. I thought it was just a paper study. No wonder why they want a prototype..."

“Yeah, makes sense," Scott responded. He looked around and then snapped his fingers. "I'm glad  we’re here, I’ve finally figured out the questions that I wanted to ask.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Okay, so, we made Finch to be modular, right?”


“The DSX- uh, Deep Space eXperimental prototype that they want has a bunch of requirements. And each ship has a limited budget- but we can contribute our own funds too if we want to. I want us to have a ship that’ll meet all the requirements, and I think the Finch is a good starting point. But, I wonder if there’s a way to build a ship like Finch- only bigger, more modular, like, uh, like having an extended cabin, one or two of the vonKerman cryo-modules built in, an airlock- that sort of thing.”

“Oh, and dock them together like Finch,” Frolie asked.

“No, DSX wants more capabilities in the command hull. I was thinking that we'd meet the requirements, but like Finch, it can add additional modules like extra habitat areas, maybe a uh, cargo rack, modular engines, and so on. We could add modules to, say, have enough space to rescue the crew at Duna if their plan fails. If that happens, we’d have just under a year to prepare. We’ll need a shuttlepod to land, unless we use gravitics to land the ship…”

“Yeah, ok,” Frolie said, already thinking about potential designs. “To move fast, we’d need several gravitic engines to move a larger ship- unless we build a bigger one… hm, maybe for a new Mk33… but yeah, I think we can do it… let me think on it…”



After their layover at the Orbital Dynamics Shipyard, Scott and Frolie boarded Kondor once more for their trip to Magic Boulder. A couple of hours later, they arrived at the asteroid. Formally known as VDP-762, Magic Boulder became so named for unusual glowing striations of graviolium ore. In fact, it had high concentrations of the stuff. The handful of other asteroids visited had nowhere near as much graviolium, but that wasn’t stopping various companies that had sprung up from proposing missions to go hunting for more.

Thanks to rock-powered mass drivers generously provided by Drax Aerospace as a gesture of goodwill- and as part of the reparations for their industrial espionage- the company finally moved Magic Boulder into low orbit. Then, with Orbital Dynamics Shipyard’s help, they recently completed a newer, larger shipyard. The company wasn’t quite ready to decommission its predecessor, but it was only a matter of time.



Frolie gasped. He was momentarily mesmerized as he watched the new shipyard’s centrifuge spinning off in the distance. “I know the yard was impressive on paper,” he said finally, “but seeing it in person… wow…”

“Kinda takes your breath away,” Scott said.

“I’ll say! Direct access to Magic Boulder’s resources, two docks to build Nautilus-sized Deep Space Exploration Vessels or supertankers, the largest orbital habitat in Kerbin’s SOI…”


Scott got clearance to dock at Ventral Yard’s docking pier. The pier would have to be relocated to enable the construction manipulator to do its job, but for now it provided a handy location for shuttles with construction crews to dock. Once they shut down Kondor, the two commercial astronauts headed for the command deck to greet the skeleton crew and check out the new facilities. Scott could see that there wasn’t much to do aboard yet- he knew that the permanent staff wouldn’t arrive until next week, and they were still working out issues with the upgraded Payload Maneuvering Vehicle, but the station really was impressive to see in person. If his company could get the DSX-01 contract along with its production model, they could be built here too…



After touring the station, Scott and Frolie boarded Kondor once more and departed the station. An hour later, they landed back at Orbital Dynamics’ headquarters.

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Chapter 8




After the latest dust storm passed, the engineering team got to work again. This time, they repaired the trailer and built a tall crane using a series of modular girders and winches. “Girders assemble,” Jonas vonKerman yelled. Nobody got the movie reference. It took them a week, but by the time they were done, they had a 20-meter-tall crane to perform their next tasks with.




Tobias and Jonas hopped into the Buffalo rover and drove out to the Estonian 2 crash site. The player engineers appreciated that it was just a short drive away- only 4km. Once they arrived, the kerbals attached some cable attachment points to the space frame, extended the crane’s cables, hooked up the capsule to them, and lifted it into the air. As another dust storm rolled in, the engineers drove the capsule back to base…






It didn’t take long to drop off Estonian 2, so the engineers took their rig and drove the 2.2km to Estonian 3- and promptly forgot that they needed to bring more cable connectors! Despite their embarrassment, Emma calmly grabbed the connectors that she’d printed, stuffed them into Rover 2, and drove out to the recovery site. Since she had the connectors, Emma attached them to the capsule- and slapped the “pirate” Kerbin flag onto its sides as well for good measure. She even took the time to clean the landing frame mounting bolts from Rover 2. With her work completed, Emma returned to base.




After having lunch, Tobias and Jonas got to work again and hooked up the cables to Estonian 3. Once they hoisted the capsule into the air and secured it, they drove back to Duna Base and plopped it down next to its sister capsule. Then they went back inside to help print up the next set of components…


It took a frustrating evening some doing, but Tobias finally managed to install a set of ladders up the side of the rocket stage and, after barely fitting it through the door, he rolled the docking port over to the AUS and installed it on top as well. After adding the keep-alive solar panels, Tobias grabbed Jonas and Emma for the next construction phase…

The team re-positioned the Buffalo crane rig, and then Emma cleaned the “barnacles” from Estonian 2. Unfortunately , the dust storm was getting worse, so they went back inside to print up some containers to temporarily store Estonian 3’s interior and to begin working on a new project for the scientists…




The next day, Jonas stepped outside to assess the remains of the two Seeds created by the Sandcaster to see what could be salvaged. MoS MC wanted to see if anything was useful for their fuel production plant. He took several pictures and then assessed the condition of the Worker-T and Worker-B rovers before he joined the other engineers working on Estonian 2 and 3.




The team stepped outside and assembled a mobile storage shed to hold Estonian 3’s interior components while they worked on Estonian 2. While Jonas and Emma worked on disassembling 3’s interior, Tobias removed 2’s docking port assembly with the probe core that was plugging up the crew tube. With that completed, it was clear that there were some design differences between Estonian 2 and Estonian 3. They’d need to build a new docking port for the craft. For now, he simply covered up the hole and went back inside to build a new port. A short while later, he had the new docking port installed…




By late afternoon a couple days later, the team had moved the interior parts from Estonian 3 over to Estonian 2. The flight controls and displays would need extensive testing, but they were in place. Then, with Jonas operating the crane’s winches, Tobias and Emma cut Estonian 2’s ascent tank away from the crew capsule. Next, they welded a Buffalo docking port to the underside of the capsule. Finally, they tried to back the trailer up next to the AUS and lift the capsule up top, but they quickly realized that the trailer wasn’t wide enough to fit around the stage’s new landing legs. The engineers sat the capsule down to rethink the problem...




Emma vonKerman had to point out the obvious. “Why not just widen the trailer,” she asked. So, they did. Emma ran the printers in Duna Base to print up more chassis parts, and then she welded them to the sides of the trailer. After repositioning the other pieces, she greatly expanded the trailer/crane’s width to easily accommodate the AUS’ legs. A short drive later, Jonas positioned the capsule directly over the AUS and slowly lowered it into place.


With the heavy lifting literally completed, Tobias climbed the ladders that he installed and unhooked the cables from the capsule. Next, he used the control box that he brought to command the Buffalo docking ports to snap their alignment and then rotate to the proper orientation. Satisfied with their work, Tobias climbed back down so that Emma could go up and add struts between the capsule and the AUS to improve the connection between the two.

At last, they had a new rocket! All they needed to do is refuel it. But after sitting on the ground for over four years, would the engine still work?

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Chapter 9



The Deep Space Exploration Vessel- eXperimental Program team took one last review of the three Deep Space eXperimental (DSX) proposals. One team was led by the Arrow Space Corporation, another was led by Drax Aerospace, and a third was led by Orbital Dynamics. Given their recent industrial espionage scandal and a “suggestion” from the heads of all three space agencies to downselect the Drax proposal, the DSEV(X) Selection Committee settled on the proposals from Arrow Space and Orbital Dynamics. They flipped a couple of coins to assign the DSX-01 registry number to Orbital Dynamics’ Newton, and DSX-02 to Arrow Space’s Halley.

Both designs met the minimum requirements for the DSX prototype- and then some. Both could support a crew of eight on active duty for a minimum of 200 days or a crew of eight in cryostasis for ten years. Both had a small 3D printer lab for spare parts and, if needed, new construction. Both had a Nautilus-derived habitat ring and had a pilothouse based on a cupola. But that’s where the similarities ended.

Halley (DSX-02) consisted of a single hull with interchangeable sensor masts while Newton (DSX-01) had a far more modular hull to meet changing mission requirements. Additionally, Newton’s command hull had a greenhouse that Halley’s lacked, but Halley’s command hull had twice the 3D printing capacity of Newton, an integrated mobile processing lab, a hangar bay for a Compact Payload Maneuvering Vehicle, and a sickbay, none of which Newton possessed. Plus, it had eight docking ports for various accessories or cargo modules versus Newton’s three, and designers considered adding one or two more to the command hull’s spine. In terms of the command hull, it also cost more than Newton’s.

The biggest difference between Newton and Halley were in their propulsion systems. Halley favored a revolutionary graviolium-catalyzed fusion engine from Kerbodyne, while Orbital Dynamics’ Newton had an equally revolutionary gravitc engine. The Kerbodyne KF-1 Supernova needed a small amount of graviolium as a catalyst to achieve fusion ignition. After charging the capacitors to start the engine’s fusion reactor, it became self-sustaining. Once started, the Supernova performed like a “standard” nuclear thermal rocket; it heated propellium and expelled it to produce thrust. The difference is that the Supernova heated propellium into a plasma with an unbelievable specific impulse of 16,000 seconds! With Halley’s propellium tanks, DSX-02 had a whopping 35,000 m/sec delta-v.

By contrast, Newton’s four GND-00 “Baryon” Gravitic Engines consumed graviolium to warp space and “fall” towards the localized artificial singularity that it created. Though it used more graviolium than the Supernova, a ship equipped with gravitic engines and a sizeable store of graviolium had the potential to produce hundreds of thousands of meters per second of delta-v. Ships could potentially travel for years without the need to refuel, much like the nuclear submarines that the nations used to pit against each other. Plus, with such a vast delta-v reserve, gravitic ships could potentially perform interplanetary travel in a fraction of the time of a traditional Hohmann transfer orbit.

The two competing designs had much to offer the DSEV(X) program, and the Selection Committee looked forward to testing their capabilities. Both proposals offered more than the minimum requirements that the Committee would have to take into consideration. With the two teams selected, and both receiving written notification by next-day courier, they each had 30 days to produce their spacecraft…



Emma and Jonas took the Buffalo crane rig out to the Sandcaster Lander’s crash site to raid it for parts. They were particularly interested in acquiring the Fulcrum engines and part of the lander for use as an engine test stand. If for some reason the RE-J10 didn’t work, they didn’t want to make another trip to fetch the Fulcrums.




The two vonKerman engineers made quick work of detaching the Fulcrum engines from the lander frame and temporarily mounted them to the crane’s rig. Salvaging what would become the makeshift engine test stand proved slightly more difficult. The engineers had to dismantle the back half of the landing frame to get what they needed: an engine plate and a fuel tank. They also transferred all the propellants out of the aft tank- enough to fully refuel the front half of the landing frame. They’d have to find a way to scavenge the propellants, but that would take another trip…



The engineers drove back to Duna Base with their prize in tow- in the middle of yet another dust storm. At this point, the engineers were used to it and just kept working. Once they parked their rig and lowered the makeshift test stand, Emma hopped out to weld some additional parts to it: a battery and probe core that Tobias had printed, and a solar panel scavenged from Estonian 3. Then, after Jonas moved the rig out of the way, Emma connected a fuel pipe from Duna Base to the test stand. They still didn’t have a working fuel processing plant, but they were ready for when they had one. In the meantime, they had a plan to scavenge the remaining propellant from the landing frame.




Emma walked over to one of the Worker-T rovers and unceremoniously dumped its contents onto the desert floor. Then she re-positioned the grabbing unit and reconfigured the tanks to store propellant. Finally, she commanded the robot to grab onto the back of Rover 2. Then, Jonas rigged up a propellant transfer hose to the back of the Worker-T, and then joined Emma in the rover’s control cab.





A short drive later, the rover and tanker trailer stopped next to the landing frame’s remains, drained its remaining propellants, and returned to Duna Base. After disconnecting from the Worker-T, Emma parked Rover 2 and then got to work hooking up the Worker to their new test stand. Then, Jonas and Tobias stepped outside to lend a hand as she dismounted the RE-J10 Wolfhound engine from the bottom of the Arrow Upper Stage. Then the team moved it over to the test stand and mounted it to the engine plate.


Normally, when rocket engines are tested, their nozzles point downward, but this wasn’t possible on Duna. There simply was no way to provide a proper anchor for the test stand, so the team flipped the Wolfhound upside down. Once they wired up the pipes and electrical connectors, they commanded the test stand’s probe core to start the engine- it failed. The team rechecked their connections and tried again with the same result. Jonas even attached an external fuel line to the engine, and that too failed. No matter what they did, the Wolfhound simply would not ignite…



Saddened but undeterred, the team dismounted the Wolfhound from the test stand and grabbed one of the Fulcrum engines. Once again, they connected the fuel line and electrical connections, and then stood back as the test stand’s probe core went through its firing sequence. This time, the replacement engine worked!



The last thing that they had to do was mount the replacement Fulcrum to the underside of the Arrow 5 Upper Stage. They had no issues doing so, save for one: the engine plate won’t route fuel to the new engine after being attached in the field stage’s plumbing wasn’t designed to handle the Fulcrum. Fortunately, they had a plan. Tobias cut a small opening into the engine plate, mounted a sump tank, and routed a fuel line from the tank to the engine. After a quick check aboard the rocket, the flight systems registered the new engine and noted its proper fuel flow status. Once again, the vonKermans proved that they were the undisputed masters of in-flight field modifications, repairs, and Jerry-rigging parts…


The entire expedition team stepped outside to admire the engineering team’s handiwork- and their new ride into orbit. They just needed to wait for Mission Control to radio them a process to produce new fuel for their new rocket.

“That is a marvelous piece of work,” Dudmon praised. “You guys did an outstanding job. And since you built her, you get to name her. Anything come to mind?”

“Thanks,” Tobias vonKerman, the engineering team lead said. “It was quite an endeavour.”

The name stuck.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 10


Due to an unfortunate accident, the engine test stand exploded from a kraken strike spilled its propellants onto the desert floor and became a hazard. The spill had to be cleaned up and the test stand dismantled before something worse happened. And while they were at it, the engineers also cleaned up the refuse from the defunct Seeds. They took all the garbage and recycled it, printing up new components and assembling them outside. When they were done, Duna Base had a new vehicle in its fleet: the Buffabus!


The Buffalo rovers sent to Duna were equipped with a scanning arm as well as a small exploration lab that doubled as a small sleeping cabin. They were fine for day trips around Gale Crater, but like any SUV or minivan, they quickly became inadequate for extended trips. The Buffabus solved those issues.

Engineers took the standard Buffalo rover design and stretched it to add a habitat module and a mini mobile processing lab while retaining the exploration module, its docking ports, and its aft ramp. Then they worked with Ferwin and the science team to devise new scientific instruments and covered the back of the bus with them. Finally, they installed a new fuel cell that Orbital Dynamics developed for their Buffalo Rover System. It ran on liquid fuel and oxidizer and allowed the bus to operate at night. Once the inspections were complete, the engineers decided to attach additional solar panels on the bus’s flanks to catch sunlight when it was low on the horizon.





With the Buffabus completed, Emma vonKerman, Calbro mcKerman, and Frewin Kerman boarded their new ride and set out for Zone 7MF-SP, a location that had a sensor anomaly according to the Duna Surveyor orbiting the Rusty Planet. The location was 137km away- which meant that Emma, Calbro, and Ferwin would break Bill and Jeb’s off-world road trip record. With Emma in the driver’s seat and Calbro and Ferwin staffing the exploration module, the Buffabus set out on its long journey…


Eighty-three kilometers into their trip, the Buffabus’s autopilot drove straight into a pile of rocks and took a tumble. It lost one of its antennas as well as its low-altitude surface scanner and its scanning arm. That’s also around the time that the crew realized that they forgot to pack repair kits. Fortunately, Emma managed to get the bus back onto its wheels and continue onward despite the setback. Nonetheless, the engineering team had some repair work to do when they got back to base- and some upgrades. If they were going to investigate the anomaly readings further out, Buffabus needed additional tanks for the fuel cell and some improved solar arrays...

After driving for half the day, the Buffabus arrived on site, but found nothing. With some closeups of the area, Ferwin suggested another location, Sector S-0F, that was 21 km away, and off they went.


“Wait, stop,” Ferwin yelled from the exploration cabin. By accident he bumped the BTDT scanner resolution an unusual rock formation that was clearly a different color than the surrounding landscape. With some back tracking, they drive right next to it. Sadly, it was just a sand dune.

“And us without our scanning arm,” Calbro quipped.

“I blame Tobias for not packing repair kits,” Emma added.

“At least we know that the BTDT works,” Ferwin countered. “Ok, let’s check out Sector S-0F.”



Another half-hour of driving later, the explorers found the anomaly about a kilometer away from Sector S-0F. It was another discolored sand dune- except for one odd thing…


Sitting atop the sand dune was a small rover with six wheels and powered by solar panels.

Calbro gasped. “Is it- is it… aliens?”


Emma walked around the robotic rover. “No markings,” she noticed. “The wheels look like one of the old vonKerman rover designs… Aha! Sorry, Calbro, but this was made by Kerbals. I know this battery pack. It’s a Zaltonic Z-100 rechargeable battery pack. It’s an old design, though, at least forty years old. Maybe older… But it was definitely built before the post-war Restock, when the various parts companies redesigned their stuff. And look at these individual solar cells. I haven’t seen anything like that in decades.”

“Emma,” Ferwin began, “did the vonKerman Republic have a space program before the Last War ended?”

Emma shrugged. “I don’t honestly know,” she answered. “But from what we’re seeing, it sure looks like it...”

By the time that the Buffabus returned from its first expedition, the news media hailed the explorers for beating Bill and Jeb’s long-standing record for the longest off-world road trip. And the World’s First Organization commended them for their discovery of the remains of a previous scientific endeavor on Duna.

But who sent the rover, and when?



The crew of Starlab transmitted the final science results from the Newton lab, shut down the core module’s experiment stations, and deactivated the few recyclers that still ran. Well over a decade and a half old, Starlab’s systems slowly died as they failed and couldn’t be repaired. As sad as it was, it was time to decommission the old station.


The crew boarded their Phoenix Aerospace Firebird- derived from the old K-24 Kerbal Return Vehicle, itself derived from the OG K-20 KerbalSoar- refueled it from the station’s propellant reserves and undocked for the last time. As the winged craft departed, flight computers aboard Starlab switched off the lights. And a little at a time, the station’s computers switched off its air circulation fans, leaving the interior mostly silent.



Three hours later, Firebird arrived at the former Starlab station crew’s new home: Sky Reef. An Oasis-class commercial space station, Sky Reef was almost entirely built and assembled on orbit by Orbital Dynamics out of the same modular components that comprised Oasis and Refuge, orbiting the Mün and Minmas, respectively. Only its Nautilus-derived centrifuge was ground-launched into orbit. Sky Reef’s first crew shutdown their taxi and began setting up shop in the new station…


Starlab was assembled piece by piece via the Shuttle Launch System- retired before its time- and served as a world-class station to study the effects of microgravity on the kerbal body. It was instrumental in testing the cryostasis technology that’s now regularly used aboard deep space exploration vessels. It served as a waystation for the Magellan Münar Shuttle Module and her expeditions to both of Kerbin’s müns. And it hosted countless station crews- including a delegation from the vonKerman Republic. Starlab earned its place in history, but rather than deorbit the large complex, KSP filed an exemption to the Kerbin Orbital Transportation Services portion of KOMETS and commissioned Orbital Dynamics to move the retired station into a higher orbit. The commercial space company used their new Gravitic Payload Maneuvering Vehicle to latch onto the station and haul it into its retirement orbit. There it would stay, preserved for future generations to visit and to see how early space explorers lived and worked.

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  • 2 months later...

Chapter 11


Bolstered with the success of their first outing, Dudmon authorized another outing- after repairing and upgrading the Buffabus. While the Buffabus crew rested, Tobias handled repairs to the rover as well as stocking up its repair kits. He also attached additional propellant tanks to the outside of the factory building for storage of liquid fuel and oxidizer. Once Emma got some rest, all three engineers worked on the additions to Buffabus.


To investigate the anomalies further away from Duna Base, Buffabus needed to be more self-sufficient. That required additional facilities to handle contingencies. To expand its capabilities, the vonKerman engineers planned to dock support rovers to the sides of the bus and drive them as a single unit- much like how the two Buffalo rovers joined together during DBE-1’s landfall.

Both support rovers had the same basic design with a standardized chassis, sloped front, a docking module, a set of retractable solar arrays, and an aft-mounted large-scale fuel cell array and drill. But that’s where the similarities ended. The port support rover had a small 3D print shop and a galley, while the starboard rover had a sickbay and a gym. Together, the three linked rovers essentially formed a mobile base to conduct extensive research with. By the time they were done, the Buffabus was fully stocked with resources, ample repair kits, work lights, exo skeletons, and science experiments.

“I wish I could go with you,” Dudmon lamented, but he knew that he couldn’t. As the only pilot, he had to remain behind to fly the Endeavour into orbit and bring DSEV-02 back to Kerbin. Instead, Ferwin, Calbro, and Emma set out once again into the vast rusty desert to see what other sensor anomalies would reveal…



Their first anomly site was a whopping 387km away from Duna Base and it took a day to reach. On the trip over, Emma vonKerman took the time to take her engineering exam, and she passed. “Congratulations, you’ve earned your 3-star rating,” Tobias radioed.


The explorers finally located the anomaly- a pair of discolored sand dunes out in the Midlands. The larger of the two had what appeared to be a camera mast sticking out of it. From the looks of it, the team had discovered a second rover. Emma carefully examined the mast and compared it to pictures of the one from the old rover that they’d found a week ago. The two designs were very similar. “I wonder what caused this one to become buried in sandstone,” she asked. Neither scientist had an answer.



After taking detailed pictures of the site, Calbro decided that they would stop for the night and set up a science station in the morning. As Calbro prepared a meal in the galley, Ferwin got some exercise time in the gym while Emma did some work in the exploration module. After dinner, Calbro and Ferwin insisted that Emma sleep in the hab module, while they stretched out in the two support rover’s airlock modules. There wasn’t a lot of space in the Buffabus even with the additional support rovers, but there was enough for each crewmember to have their own sleeping quarters.


The next morning, while Calbro made breakfast, Emma and Ferwin set out the first set of science instruments to study midlands biome. It didn’t take long for them to complete their task; they set up the basic infrastructure along with instruments like the seismic sensors, graviolium detector, and the cosmic ray detector.


Once that was completed, Emma attempted to diagnose the problem with the retractable solar arrays on the support rovers. They would extend ok, but for some reason they kept retracting, and nothing in the control software appeared to command them to do that. Frustrated, she entered the print shop and printed up a set of non-retracting solar arrays and attached them to the sides. Finally, she deployed the drills and started the converters to replenish their liquid fuel and oxidizer reserves before sitting down to breakfast.


After their morning meal, the explorers tapped in the coordinates to their next anomaly, a site known as FRN-3G- the rock cropping that Duna Copter 1 discovered over 4 years ago. At just under 400km away, it would be a hard day of driving for the rover autopilot, but they’d break their previous record for the longest off-world road trip. Before they set out, Buffabus drove over to the nearby “Duna Blueberries” and the sand dune to scan them with their scanning arm. With the results of the scans stored in the B2 Laboratory Module for analysis, the Buffabus set out for its next destination…





Along the way, Emma finally sorted out the software issues preventing the retractable solar arrays from staying deployed. It took them the better part of a day to drive the long distance, but by sundown, they arrived at the strange rock outcropping. After the team stepped outside to take a quick look at the anomaly- and the mangled remains of the Duna Copter that crashed years ago- Emma took a moment to install a core sampling drill before they went back inside for dinner.

“I just heard back from Wernher,” Emma said while working out in the gym, “some of the vonKerman Rocketry Corps ballistic missiles from the Last War were technically capable of launching a probe towards Duna if they were modified. But he hadn’t heard of any space program from back then. If they did launch probes, they were very quiet about it. He thinks it’s the most likely explanation though.”


The next morning, Emma and Ferwin set up another science station- the map said that they were in some notable mountains- before Emma programmed the Buffabus to auto-drive to the next anomaly a “mere” 687km away…

As the Buffabus drove itself, the team took core samples at various locations, and in the highlands, they discovered 33,838 units of graviolium! It was the first source of graviolium discovered on another planet, and the largest concentration of graviolium outside of the Magic Boulder. The team carefully noted the location and continued towards their destination…

Two days later, they arrived at the next site after sundown. In the glow of the rover’s lights, they found it- but what they found was astonishing. The explorers deployed the drills and then stepped outside for a look before bedding down for the night.


“Why- how- is there a Kermantian monolith on Duna,” Ferwin asked.



Back in Kerbin orbit, yard workers at the Ministry of Space’s Space Operations Center just finished docking Halley (DSX-02) to the airlock module’s ventral docking port and unfolded its habitat ring. The command hull and habitat ring needed a lot of interior work to finish, its sensors needed to be wired to the ship’s flight computers, volumes of code needed to be written, and its revolutionary graviolium-catalyzed fusion engine had yet to be tested, but the shipwrights celebrated nonetheless; they completed the hull of the Halley ahead of schedule- and more importantly, before Orbital Dynamics and their team completed the Newton. The construction crew held a brief celebration before immediately getting back to work.



The next morning, Emma installed a pair of radiators to handle some heat issues with the drills. “We’re lucky that the drills didn’t explode,” Emma noted. The radiators made quick work of the heat buildup threatening to cook the occupants alive.

Then, Ferwin and Emma got to work setting up a new science station specifically to study the “Dunalith” as Calbro dubbed it. By the time that they finished, Mission Control informed them that they were working on locating Adsii Kerman, the foremost expert on the Kermantian Empire. According to Orbital Dynamics, he was currently on sabbatical, and they didn’t know his current whereabouts. In the meantime, the Buffabus’ spectral analysis showed that the “Dunalith” was made of granite- just like the one at KSC. The only difference was that the one on Duna had a green tint due to some feldspars such as Amazonite. There didn’t appear to be any variable densities like the one at KSC, nor were there any magnets nearby to enable the stone slab to levitate. The monolith also had some writing on it that appeared to be different from the one at KSC.

With nothing more to gain from staying at the site, the team double-checked the cameras that they set up and verified that the data links were solid before programming the rover autopilot for their next destination, known as Zone 6-HML. It was “only” 445.6 km away…



Two days later, the team arrived at the next anomaly after navigating some treacherous mountains. The anomaly turned out to be another rock formation like the one that Duna Copter 1 found several years ago. Strangely, it appeared to have the same arrangement of rocks, suggesting that the formation was deliberately constructed. Given the previous anomaly suggested that somehow, Kermantians landed on Duna despite not having the technology to do so, it’s possible that they assembled the rock formations.

The team took the time to set up a small research station by the monument before plugging in the coordinates to the next anomaly on their list and heading out. They had a 146 km dogleg maneuver to get around the mountains before they could reach their next target, known as Sector R6-V…


After three days of driving, the Buffabus finally arrived at Sector R6-V. The crew was tired- Ferwin was already snoring in the lab- since they arrived at local midnight. Emma and Calbro looked at the anomaly through the Buffabus’s cockpit windows.

“Should we wake Ferwin,” Emma asked.

“Nah,” Calbro answered. “It’s just a large boulder. It can wait until morning. Let’s get some rest…”



Arrow Space Corporation’s completion of the Halley inspired the Orbital Dynamics- led team to step up the pace and as a result, a week after Halley slipped free of the Space Operations Center’s construction dock, shipwrights at Magic Boulder docked the Gravitic Propulsion Module to the Newton. As with the Halley, the Newton’s engineering team still had a lot of work to do to outfit the ship’s interior, but they were proud of their handiwork.


The ship’s design remained virtually unchanged from the initial proposal with the only difference being the addition of a docking ring on the front of the cockpit cupola. Though it sacrificed a small amount of forward visibility, the docking ring provided an additional location to dock other modules to the vessel.


Newton also gained an experimental version of the Buffalo Shuttlepod, docked to its ventral docking port. Unlike the standard shuttlepod, “Pod 1,” as it was called, had the ability to separate its cockpit and engine section from the passenger cabin. Chassis couplers mounted to the roofs of the engine section and cockpit enabled Pod 1 to dock to a cargo frame. In theory, that would enable the shuttlepod to deliver various cargo modules to the surface of a planet or moon. Designers weren’t sure if the modular approach was better than having a dedicated cargo shuttle for a DSEV, but that’s why test projects existed.

At any rate, with the main hull completed, both DSX teams had just over a month to complete their respective spacecraft and basic systems testing before the three space agencies evaluated the craft and chose the winner.



The team slept for what felt like weeks, but the next morning, the intrepid explorers of the Buffabus stepped outside to look at the seemingly non-descript boulder.

“Huh,” Ferwin said, adjusting his helmet. He tilted his head. “Almost looks like a pair of eyes…”

“What,” Emma asked.

“The outcroppings at the top of the boulder. They look like- eyes.”


The trio walked towards the large boulder to get a closer look. Calbro examined the rock’s surface. “Those look like chisel marks,” he said.

“Yeah,” Ferwin said, lost in thought. “Emma, can I borrow your jetpack?”

“Sure,” she responded, “It’s in the port storage compartment.”

A few minutes later, Ferwin returned to the rock face after rummaging around in the storage compartment to find Emma’s jetpack. “Found it in the starboard compartment, he said.”

“Oh, sorry,” Emma apologized, “I thought I left it in the port one. Anyway, the jets aren’t powerful enough to lift you off the ground, so you’ll need to jump and hit the jets at the same time.”



Ferwin did as he was told- though it took a couple of tries- and was rewarded with an amazing sight. “Incredible,” he exclaimed.

“What, is,” Calbro asked.

“If we had any doubts that the ‘Dunalith’ was made by kerbals before, there should be no doubt now. This entire rock is a carving of a kerbal’s head.

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