Kerbal Space Program Chronicle, part five—the journey home

Ian Birnbaum

Kerbal Space Program is an open-world universe simulator that specializes in modeling orbits, atmosphere, gravity and rocket physics. With nothing but your wits and an array of space vehicle parts, your task is to explore. In this chronicle, I have recorded the first missions of the PCGSA, PC Gamer's ambitious new space program.

If you want to get caught up, here are part one , part two , part three and part four .

Kerbin is still celebrating the successful Münar landing of its two heroes, Bob and Sanford Kerman. Their work is not done, however. After spending some time hopping around in the low gravity and filming enough tape so that Mün landing deniers won't have a leg to stand on, it's time to head home.

Getting safely back to Kerbin will be complicated, but at this point it's just different flavors of the complicated process that we've already experienced, so Mission Control is feeling confident.

The base of the lander will stay behind as a monument to history and as a somewhat short-lived science station. Someone in engineering (I won't name any names) totally forgot to add solar panels to the base station, but the on-board batteries will last for a little while. There's also some leftover fuel in the base that I'll be needing for my ascent back to orbit. I transfer fuel between tanks until the base is a hollow metal can with legs and instruments, and all the good stuff is in the section that will be leaving.

I decouple the link between the two sections and fire on the radial engines. In the low gravity of the Mün, the lander shoots off of its makeshift launchpad and flies upward. Barely thirty seconds later, I shut down the engines and let momentum take us the rest of the way into orbit.

Once at my apoapsis, I turn and circularize. Again thanks to the low gravity, this takes a fraction of the time and effort it does back at Kerbin. Soon I'm in a stable orbit a few kilometers above Newfry Kerman and Kerbal 11, so I orbit a few times until we're lined up for a close intersection. Burning to intercept takes me to within an easy three kilometers of the ticket home.

I get Bob and Sonford close, zero out their velocities, and move over to Newfry's ship to do the real work. Newfry has the more stable craft, so once the lander is relatively motionless, I guide Kerbal 11 in to dock.

Again I'm struck by how easy everything is when I'm not fighting Kerbin for every scrap of energy. I try not to get cocky, but after docking two unwieldy halves of Coconut Monkey Space Station together in Low Kerbal Orbit, this is a walk in the park.

Safely docked together, I retract all of the solar panels and send Bob and Sonford out for their final spacewalks of the mission, crossing back over to Kerbal 11. The upper shell of the lander will stay behind, a museum piece orbiting alone in the frozen dark.

After siphoning any extra fuel out of the lander and undocking with all three Kerbonauts aboard, we circle the Mün one last time and burn for home. We've barely got a third of our original fuel load left, but it's plenty. Like I said: easy.

We come flying home to our comfortable blue dot, slowly growing bigger in the windows. It's a sight for tired Kerbal eyes. I turn the ship and burn to circularize, and once again we're back in the Kerbin gravity neighborhood.

Now, for one last trick: we're going to land back on the launchpad—or very close to it. I circle the planet and plot a maneuver node, adjusting the orbit line to point directly at the PCG Space Center. The high-rollers and politicians are going to be beside themselves when they see the heroic three parachute gently down outside their office windows.

As the atmosphere starts to kick up and flames lick around the ship, though, I see the estimated arrival line keep slipping further and further away from the space center. I'm confused. What's going on?

A flight engineer coughs nervously and glances down at my clipboard. I look down at my checklist: Line up burn? Check. Reduce orbital velocity? Check. Factor in increased atmospheric drag? Crap.

In a vacuum, our orbit would take us straight to the PCG Space Center grounds. With the thick cushion of air slowing down the ship, though, our new landing has moved across the continental peninsula and directly onto the opposite coastline. With nothing left to do but strap in and come down safely, though, I separate the final stage and watch as the capsule heads for a splashdown.

The parachutes deploy and the capsule comes down softly into the ocean. Bob, Sonford and Newfry climb out and swim around, enjoying the sunshine and breathable air. A ship is dispatched to bring the capsule and returning heroes home, and then it's time for pictures, parades, and history books.

And with that, the mission to the Mün has been completed safely! Thank you, everyone, for reading along as I explored Kerbal Space Program . It's a fantastic game, and I hope I inspired you to give it a try. Though KSP is still in alpha development, it's available now on Steam Early Access .

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