Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Wings of Mercy

Getting stranded in space is never fun.  Low Kerbin orbit might not sound that far from home but if you don't have any engines or fuel it might as well be the far side of Eeloo.  How did end up there?  Well, lets just say being a Kosmonaut for the Arstotzka Space Program isn't all it's cracked up to be.  In defense of my former country though they did offer to add 50,000 in funds to the Kerbal Space Agency provided they could get me back down in one piece.  The thing is though the timing couldn't have been worse.

You see...after the success of the Forager 1 and 2 automated probes, along with crewed missions to Kerbin's moons, the mission planning department over at KSP had been going through some restructuring in preparation for more ambitious ventures.  Namely, the administration department had scraped a lot of older vessels in order to reduce operating expenses.  In fact, the only vehicle they had on hand at the time capable of of performing a rescue mission was the two-seat aerospace plane Sparrow.  It wasn't a great design (in all honesty) considering the thrust wash from the Sparrow's twin "thud" engines had a bad habit of melting the tail off during sharp turns.  The engineering team eventually figured out a way to get around this particular problem though by removing the thrusters altogether and replacing them with a single "swivel" rocket motor.  They also planned to launch it just like a rocket, vertically on the launch pad.  This Sparrowhawk, as the designers re-designated it, had a fat cluster of boosters strapped to it before being rolled out of the VAB.  All they needed at that point was a pilot crazy enough to fly it.  Valentina was already out on assignment in the Sun Chaser performing aerial surveys of Kerbin, and Bill'n'Bob had been earmarked for the upcoming asteroid redirect mission.  That left only one qualified Kerbonaut for the job - Jebediah.

Jeb was a household name, even back then, for his exploits on the Mün (not to mention being the first Kerbal to set foot on Minmus).  True to his reputation, no sooner had he blasted off than he had to manually adjust the thrust limiter on the "mainsail" in mid-flight in order to keep the whole thing from flipping end-over-end.  By the time Jeb made rendezvous with me a couple of hours later (and 80,000 meters up), he had shedded everything except for the Sparrowhawk spaceplane itself.  I still remember the big wide-eyed grin on Jeb's face from the front cockpit as he coasted up to my dead command module.

"Hey, you coming over, or what?" was the first thing he said to me via the com.  Eager to be free of my orbital prison, I threw open the hatch and floated the 50 or so meters to the Sparrowhawk.  For a brief moment I felt ecstatic, but that feeling quickly changed to dread once I had climbed in the rear cockpit and glanced over the gauges.  Sparrowhawk was running on fumes.

Jeb didn't waste any time though, as soon as I was strapped in he used a combination of RCS and what little fuel left in the tanks to bring us down in a high altitude re-entry fireball over the Kerbal Space Center.

"How we doing?" Jeb asked me, too focused on the controls to take note of the temperature readouts.

"Uh...fine," I answered.  "Except the front landing gear is glowing red hot.  Who's idea was it to use a fixed landing gear instead of a retractable wheel?"

"I don't know," Jeb replied as flames roared around us, "but you can tell them all about it after we've landed."

By then we had overshot the Space Center and Jeb was bringing us around over the ocean.  I could tell by our airspeed and altitude that we weren't going to make it back to the coast.  My heart sank, but Jeb just kept on grinning.

"Hope you packed a T-shirt and sandles," he yelled as he banked the Sparrowhawk into a shallow glide toward one of the nearby islands.  I watched in awe as Jeb bled the RCS tanks dry maintaining our velocity.  We made directly for an old abandoned runway nestled near an island beach.  Like a pro, Jeb pulled up just as we made landfall and after killing off the last of our remaining momentum set us down on the edge of the runway.  Despite the smooth landing, I heard Jeb curse as he hit the wheel brakes, bringing us to a gentle stop.

"Hey," Jeb called as he looked back over his shoulder at me.  His face was serious for the first time the entire mission.  "Can you hoof it on over to that control tower and see if they got a working radio to call in a pickup?  I spilled my drink all over the communications equipment when we touched down."

Now years later, I'm piloting the Clydesdale, an Orbital Utility Tug (O.U.T.) as we started construction work on Kerbin's first asteroid space station.  It's not the most glamorous job, but at least I'm back in the saddle...and besides...I'm no Jebediah Kerman. 

No comments:

Post a Comment