Monday, January 28, 2013

Jeb's Journey

Where to begin?  I guess my acceptance into the "Space Program" would be as good a place as any.  I was originally a test pilot, flying experimental aircraft such as the Wyvern X and White Archer.  Neither aerospace vessel ever achieved more than suborbital flight.  More than once I had to get creative when touching down too.  But you know what they say...any landing you can walk away from...

After no less than a two dozen missions, I was eventually reassigned to the rocket division.  Some of the guys had already flown around the the Mün and back at that point.  Kerbonauts like Bill and Bob were household names.  But the powers-that-be weren't content to repeat past accomplishments, they wanted to do even more.  The next vehicle the engineering team came up with had a pair of nuclear engines attached to it.  The press dubbed it the Lunar Lion, but to me it was a more of a "Shitty Kitty" than anything else. For one thing the RCS fuel tanks were mounted such that the retractable docking port on top couldn't open. The next big problem was its top heavy design. The thing was nearly impossible to land (more on that later). But the worst aspect of the lander was the command pod. Someone got the bright idea of placing it upside-down so that the flight crew could see the ground and landing gear through the windows. That was all well and good except that the dummies forgot to flip the calibration on the navigation systems. We spent the entire flight having to do everything back-asswards; burning on the retrograde mark when we wanted to accelerate and so on.

Launching and orbiting over Kerbin were surprisingly easy, as was the trans-Müner injection.  After establishing a low (but stable orbit) over the Mün we started to survey for a suitable landing zone.  That's when Bill spotted them.  Around the southern and eastern edge of a particularly large crater were two distinct objects of interest.  We decided to land at the south target first.  And here is where the real problems started.  The nuclear engines ran out energy forcing us to ditch them mid-burn.  De-clawed, as it were, we overshot the landing zone and had to backtrack to the object using our piddly "tail" thruster.  This ended up costing us precious liquid fuel and oxidant.  By the time we reached the place we originally wanted to be the gas gauge was a lot closer to "E" than "F".  Then came the constant tipping.  Every time Bob tried to set the Lion down it started to tip over and he'd have to lift off again.  After more attempts that I can recall (honestly, I was completely focused on trying not to barf in my helmet) we eventually came to an upright rest with nothing but fumes left in the tank.

Disembarking was a pain since we had to drop out of the command pod upside-down   Both Bill and I banged our helmets on the extend landing legs.  after that it was a short twilight jaunt via RCS packs over to the object in question.  As it turned out the thing Bill had seen from orbit was a monument to some guy called Neil Armstrong.  I have no idea how it got there, but one thing I can say for sure, the lander he used looked a lot better designed than ours.

So, there we were.  Stuck on the surface of the Mün, waiting for Kerbin to send someone to come pick us up.  The rescue mission involved two vessels.  The first was called the Chancy Chariot.  It was a towing vessel designed to pull other craft to and from Kerbin.  In this case her cargo was an automated lander call-signed Big Kanga.  I heard there were a lot of problems getting the lander into orbit and docked with Chancy Chariot (something about backward fuel lines).  Regardless both vessels eventually made orbit over the Mün and Big Kanga started its decent.  Now, I should take a moment to point out that in order facilitate a rapid recovery of Bill, Bob and I, the engineering team had equipped Big Kanga with a Müner rover nicknamed Little Joey.  The plan was to drop Little Joey from the bottom of Big Kanga a few meters above the surface of the Mün.  That part went more or less okay.  The problem was the remote operating system stayed with the rover and not the lander after detachment.  Before control could be switched over, Big Kanga ended up splayed out like a beached space-whale.  Several attempts were made to get the lander off the ground and each time failed.  In desperation the remote operator tried using the main engines rater than a combination of RCS and landing legs.  The resulting explosion left only three small pieces of debris.

The rescue mission was a complete and total failure, but we did get one thing out of the unmitigated disaster, Little Joey.  The rover made the trip over to the Lion that night and it was decided that I would take the rover out for an excision.  Plenty of propellant was left in the rover and the other eastern object that Bill had spotted from orbit was still out there.  So, I mounted up at dawn and drove off clinging to the rover grip bars.

For what it's worth the rover performed decent enough up to 40kph.  Pushing it much faster than that though resulted in instability whenever the ground changed inclination.  Of course I figured this out the hard way.  Needless to say Little Joey was flipped more than once during the excursion.  Every twenty minutes or so I stopped the rover to take a break, and each time the words "quick saving" appeared in the upper right corner of my vision.  Another oddity I witnessed was the sentence "Cannot time warp while Kerbal is on the ladder" flashing briefly before my eyes once early on.  Overall it took me more than two hours to reach the eastern object.  At one point I crested a hill and got a direct view of it in the distance.  Unfortunately, I was so focused on the object I lost my grip on the bars and fell off.  Luckily the only thing injured was my pride.

As I got close the rover began to handle different than before so I transfer what propellant was left into the bottom-most tank to improve handling.  All told though Little Joey still had nearly half its original fuel supply when we reached our destination.  And what a sight it was!

So, here I am atop the Müner Arch writing the message you have just read.  Bill and Bob are still aboard the Lion waiting for my return.  The truth is I'd rather stay here though.  The view is nicer under the stars.  Even though my journey has been long, looking up at the sky I can't help but feel that this is just beginning.

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