To the Mün and back

I got into Kerbal Space Program last weekend. I’ve known of it for a good while, but I wasn’t doing anything else so I grabbed the demo. A few hours later (after making it to the Mun having only done the rocket building and flying tutorials) I bought the full game and built some absurdly large rockets (there are some bigger tanks/engines in the full game) that didn’t exactly fly well. I also tried to dock two ships together and ended up spending all my fuel and leaving two pods of Kerbals stranded in orbit.

On Monday I figured I should probably start from scratch and build up to doing fancy stuff, so I: orbited a satellite, did a couple suborbital manned flights to test my abort mode (trying not to kill and Kerbals this time), then orbited some Kerbals in two capsules to try docking. It turns out that if you understand the docking interface and orbital mechanics it’s really not hard, though I did accidentally jettison my service module from one capsule before docking so I had to switch control to the other one and rescue them.

Having proved I could dock I decided to build a space station to use for refueling rockets after getting to orbit. Orbiting the space station core was easy. Orbiting a full tank of fuel required actually building a decent rocket, not just strapping boosters on till it got to orbit. I did eventually get some fuel modules up to the station, but I used the second largest tank instead of the largest.

The next task was to map the Mun (the closest moon to planet Kerbin), so I downloaded the mapsat plugin and built a munar satellite. That worked so well that I went ahead and put a satellite around Minmus (the tiny second moon of Kerbin) too.

Great, I could get to the Mun but could I land safely? I built a rover. It got to the Mun, but landed on the dark side and I’d forgotten to inclue either headlights or solar panels, so I had limited time before my power ran out. I ended up just pretending it was flat and trying to drive to an anomaly the mapsat had picked up. Didn’t go so well: I ramped off the side of a crater, spun end over end a few times, then scattered rover bits across a large area.

Having learned a few things that are good to have on a rover, I redesigned it a bit and tried again. I then had to learn to drive the thing safely. By the time I got where I was going I’d lost seven of my eight extra fuel tanks to crashes, and I’d broken off all four of my floodlights. This was the first anomaly I explored to (illuminated by my headlights):

That showed I could land on the Mun, next challenge: getting Kerbals there safely. I swapped the rover with a capsule (no lander) and I could orbit it around the Mun just fine, time to add a lander. Except sticking a lander in the middle of my stack made the rocket payload much heavier and taller, so tweaking my rocket till I could actualy get it into orbit took hours. Even worse, I had to separate from the lander and dock with it before I could use my transfer stage, and because my rocket only almost got me into orbit I had to frantically do that so I could quickly use my transfer stage to achieve low Kerbin orbit. Once I finally managed to do that in time, I discovered that I’d messed up my transfer stage and had to do some redesign and fly it again. This is what I finally ended up with at launch (the stats panel is Kerbal Engineer, the only addon I have besides the mapsat):

By this point, it was like 4 am, but I had my rocket and I was going to try it. Turns out I’d overdone my transfer stage by a bit, so I had absolutely no trouble getting to the Mun. Also, my lander had many times as much power as it needed. Since I’d (yet again) forgotten to check the sun position before burning to land I ended up on the dark side of the Mun, but I landed safely. I was ten degrees west of the anomaly I’d wanted to land at, but I still had plenty of fuel so I waited for daylight and flew east. Unfortunately, I didn’t judge how much fuel it would take to land and I ran out a bit off the ground. I’d stopped my horizontal movement and I was level, but the crash took out both landing fuel tanks on one side, thankfully without harming the ascent stage. I also was close enough to the anomaly (a Mun arch) that a Kerbal in a jetpack could make it there:

My lander is in the distance, and there’s little white dot on top of the arch that’s Jebediah Kerman.

As it turned out, my ascent stage also had far more power than I actually needed, but it had no RCS thrusters so using it as the active ship for docking didn’t quite work out. After bumping the command module at a very low relative velocity, I switched ships, docked, and transferred the two Kerbals from the lander back into the command module. I even still had plenty of fuel in the transfer stage to get home safely (only Jebediah is out of the capsule because it was 5:45 am and I was feeling lazy):

I did lose two capsules worth of Kerbals (6 Kerbals total) in launch mishaps when the rocket stack collapsed due to excessive thrust (the capsule doesn’t do well when a rocket engine at full thrust collides with it), but in all other failure modes my abort rockets were able to separate the capsule safely.

Overall, I’m enjoying this game and am very much looking forward to seeing what it’s like when they finish it. In the mean time, I’ve got another moon to visit then a round trip to Duma (Mars) to plan.