How Heroes are Made: a Kerbal Space Program Story

Orbital flight. Missions to the mountains. Experiments in the water. The Kerbal Science Centre had done everything they could think of short of producing a Kerbal-rated mission to the Mun. To land a Kerbal on the surface of the Mun and to return him safely to Kerbin — that was the goal, said the director, before we leave the office on Friday.

Once the engineers picked their jaws up off the floor, they got to work. Progress was slow, mostly because Jebediah was so excited that he wouldn’t get out of the capsule. Finally, they came up with a rocket that would let him at least ORBIT the Mun, just to get him out of the Vehicle Assembly Building long enough so they could build the actual lander.

The Munar orbit was so successful that the moment Jeb got back, they packed him back into the freshly-painted Munar Lander Mk 3 and fired him off. Carrying a cargo of scientific experiments and snacks, Jeb piloted the Mk 3 into a beautiful orbit.

Jebediah casts off a mess of liquid-fuel boosters.

Jebediah casts off a mess of liquid-fuel boosters.

Jeb aimed the ship for the Mun and burned. But on the ground, back at the KSC, Kerbals were panicking.

Jeb's course for the Mun. Is this a good transfer? What is a good transfer? What does that even mean?

Jeb’s course for the Mun. Is this a good transfer? What is a good transfer? What does that even mean?

Somebody with a slide rule and not enough responsibilities had re-run the math on the fuel consumption. And the numbers were not promising.

Jeb approaches the dark side of the Mun. He seriously considers writing an album.

Jeb approaches the dark side of the Mun. He seriously considers writing an album.

As Jebediah rocked his way to the Mun, the KSC scrambled to find a solution. Meetings were called, workshops were convened, press conferences were written and rewritten, pubs were closed down, Bonsai trees were pruned. It was decided that Jeb would have to abort.

Unfortunately, nobody thought to tell Jeb.

Landing lights on the Dark Side of the Mun. Kind of pretty, except that the "empty" light on the fuel tank was also illuminated.

Landing lights on the Dark Side of the Mun. Kind of pretty, except that the “empty” light on the fuel tank was also illuminated.

As soon as Jeb touched down, he knew something was wrong.

 A quick aside from the story, which will continue in future posts. I love love love Kerbal Space Program, and part of my daily routine has become flipping through the posts on /r/kerbalspaceprogram and seeing the crazy things that people have made. The reason this story is kind of important (and the reason that I can’t leave Jeb stranded on the Mun, other than IT’S JEB) is that this was a mission I ran with my girls. At 4 and 6, they’re super insightful and are totally into space and the sciences. The mechanics of the game are a little over their heads still (and hand-eye coordination for flying the rockets isn’t quite there yet) but they delight in figuring out objectives and goals and making sure that the rockets are designed to achieve their goals. It’s one of my favourite low-key activities with them and I play KSP only partially because I love the game but mostly so that I can figure out something else cool to do with them next time we cuddle up in the office and play.

– paddle your own canoe, folks.

Trevor

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