Kerbal, We Have A Problem

Well, the first two beta readers have reported in, I breathed a huge sigh of relief; they both liked it. Two down, four to go, but even so...I'm pretty pleased. Obviously there is a little shopping list of revisions I'm going to need to make, everything from simply typos to points that need stating a little more clearly, and a couple of character suggestions I think will really enhance the work – but in general, I'm satisfied thus far. The plan is – aside from a couple of bits and pieces – to basically put it on one side for a week at least. Then I'll spend a few hours putting all the changes into one document, and have a good long ponder and poke at the manuscript. Then the proof-reading (and thanks very much to me former job for giving me that skill – I used to be a demon) and then...I upload it onto Amazon. And see what happens next.

I must admit that I have felt very peculiar today, an odd sensation of feeling like I have forgotten something, like there is something I should be doing, but didn't. What I did do, however, was enact my own little version of Apollo 13, using the 'Kerbal Space Program'. This is a great little simulation that has become one of my greatest time-sinks – where effectively you build your own rockets and launch them on a variety of missions to moons, planets, or simply to orbit. It is possible to build space stations, probes – quite possible to operate your own complete space program. I've landed on several of the planets before, and trips to 'Mun' have become almost routine...but still some rather interesting things happen.

Today I decided to try an 'Apollo-style' mission, building a lunar lander and an orbiter, both launched on separate boosters, Ultimately, combined with refuelling tankers, my goal was to build a reusable interplanetary exploration vehicle that I could simply park in orbit when I wasn't using it, shuttling crews back and forth at will. The orbiter I named 'Daedalus', the lander 'Icarus'. By the time the mission was over I would have two more ship designs, neither of which I had planned. The first launches went very well – indeed, everything went completely according to plan. I found a couple of bugs in the Icarus design to change for future missions, but none of them were game-breakers, so I pushed on to a first Munar landing. Total success, and I returned to orbit, docking with the mothership. Pushing my luck a little, I then tried for a second landing, and it too was successful, one of the two crewmen getting out onto the surface for a spacewalk.

Then it went wrong. The automatic pilot fired, and with one man on the surface, started to launch. I got it back under control and brought the lander back down just half a kilometre away from the primary landing site, but this still presented a problem. There was now very little fuel left for the return...not enough as it happened. I barely scraped into orbit, a perigee of just twenty-nine kilometres. Fortunately the Mun has neither atmosphere nor high mountains. The orbiter, up at almost two hundred kilometres, didn't have the fuel for a rendezvous that far down. So two Kerbalnauts were stranded.

The solution – launch another ship! A rescue tug on the 'Daedalus' design, that I could pretty much use as is. The plan was to link up with 'Icarus', boost it to the correct orbit, and then transfer the two kerbalnauts across. Both ships could go home with their full crew complement. No problem. Daedalus II launched, made it to Munar orbit, closed for docking...and crashed into the lander. Both ships were fine, except that Daedalus II's rocket was destroyed. Now I had a real problem; I had to rescue six Kerbalnauts from Munar orbit. I contemplated building a capsule that could carry nine men, and dismissed it as impossibly heavy. The solution? Styx. An unmanned variant of the Daedalus that could fly itself to the remains of Daedalus II, pick up that crew, which could then complete the previous mission. Fortunately, this worked, though both ships were worryingly low on fuel by the time they got home.

This left another problem – a lot of space junk in odd orbits. This can actually cause difficulties with navigation, so I actually built a one-man capsule, 'Hermes', designed simply to deal with the trash. Surprisingly quite a lot of intricate maneovuering required to pull that off – it took two launches to complete the mission. Now, of course, I intend to have another go with the Daedalus vessels – there is another moon to reach yet, Minmus, and beyond that, the outer planets beckon...

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