Kerbal Space Program chronicle, part four — the Kerbal has landed

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 will be recording 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 , and part three .

The upcoming mission to the Mün requires a lot of planning. The lander is first. I add a series of radially mounted engines to a pair of fuel tanks, then bolt on a lander can big enough for two. The engines don't have a lot of thrust, but they'l be enough. I add four landing legs and a ladder, some lights, solar panels, batteries and scientific sensors. It's squat and ugly, but it will do the job.

The transport rocket is also pretty bare-bones: a three-Kerbal capsule with parachutes, large fuel tank and an engine. No frills, no funny business. I stack the lander behind the transport rocket for better aerodynamics and stability. When we dock with the Coconut Monkey Space Station to refuel, we can rearrange things for the flight to the Mün.

The downside: this thing is heavy. I consider designing a new lifter, but then I opt to reuse the lifter that got CMSS into orbit. It might be overkill, but not so much that it will matter. I double-check the staging and assign a crew. Bob, Sonford, and Newfry Kerman step up to the challenge, ready to get written into the history books.

The time has come and the ship, named Kerbal 11, sits ready. We pause while a Kerbal with spectacular hair and a strong chin takes the microphone. “This is not merely a race,” he says . “Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever Kerbalkind must undertake, free men must fully share.” I light the engines and Kerbal 11 rockets skyward into history.

A few minutes later, as I set up for the secondary burn to circularize orbit, I get the first hint that something's not quite right. I have fuel left over. A LOT of fuel. I circularize and wow, I have a ton of fuel leftover. Mission control goes into a huddle. Do we dare change the mission on the fly and head directly for the Mün?

It's reckless and crazy, but that's just how we roll in Kerbal Space Program. Flight plans for a meeting with CMSS are scrapped since we don't need supplies. I plan a maneuver module to head straight for the Mün. We line it up and start burning.

The excess fuel runs out on the way, as planned. I just switch to the transport rocket...


Oh, son of a Kerbal.

I forgot that I was supposed to rearrange the lander at CMSS, and now my main engine is blocked by the lander! Mission control goes into a huddle again.

We come up with only one solution: it's spacewalk time. I separate the stages to detach the useless rocket and call up Sonford Kerman because he's the most disposable courageous astronaut I have. He climbs out of the main capsule and pushes off.

He drifts slowly down the length of the ship until he reaches the crew hatch on the lander. He reaches out, grabs a ladder rung and climbs in. Sonford undocks the lander from Kerbal 11, and Bob and Newfry push away and start to spin it around. They turn and jet back toward the lander to safely reattach. With the Münshot rocket now unblocked, I ditch the protective casing and point back at the Mün.

Time has passed, but our trajectory is still good. Without wasting another second, I burn the engines and reach the speed necessary to meet the Mün in orbit. With that done, Sonford performs another spacewalk to reenter the main capsule. Crisis averted. Phew.

Hours later, Kerbal 11 is on course to swing past the Mün and fly into oblivion. I point the engines against my path and burn until I've slowed down enough for the Mün to grab hold.

Kerbal 11 orbits a few times, taking in the view. Soon, it's time for the big landing. Bob and Sonford each perform spacewalks to move over to the lander capsule, leaving Newfry alone in orbit. If things go wrong, he's been trained to fly back to Kerbin alone. We all hope it doesn't come to that.

Bob and Sonford undock from Kerbal 11 and push to a safe distance. As the small craft circles around to the sunny side of the Mün, they point against orbit, fire on the small radial engines, and start to slow down.

Their speed drops and drops until it reaches zero and slowly, almost peacefully, they begin to drop straight down like a rock. Pointing the engines down, I give it a tiny bit of gas, just enough to keep the freefall from becoming a plummet.

The heavily cratered surface of the Mün looms up at them as their altitude drops lower and lower. I twitch the craft side to side to help kill sideways movement and ensure a safe, vertical landing. The landing struts come down and the lights go on, and the ashy surface glows beneath them.

Ever so gently, the lander touches down on the surface of another world. All over the world, children are watching in their living rooms on tiny TV sets. Bob lowers the ladder and steps outside. He climbs down and hesitates just above the surface.

“PC gaming rules,” he says, and steps onto Münar dirt. It's not the speech we practiced, but it'll do.

Sonford turns on the onboard scientific instruments, and then it's his turn. He says something, too, but nobody records what the second guy says. Bob and Sonford frolic in low gravity for a moment, and then it's time for some pictures.

Bob, Sonford, and Newfry are heroes, but they're still far from home! Next week, I'll try to bring them all back.

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