I recently discovered Kerbal Space Program, and seeing as I've sunk a dozen or so hours into that game already, I thought I might chronicle the stories of the Kerbals who've tried to get to the Mun, but before getting there, met their demise in a fiery fireball of poorly designed aeronautical bricks.
I'm terrible at this game. It's not even a game more than it is a giant sandbox for people who like space, rockets, or rockets flying through space.
There's a free version of Kerbal Space Program. After sinking three hours into it and getting into orbit and totally overshooting the Mun, I decided to buy it. The current big difference is that the paid version allows you to take off and land at an airstrip. "Land" is a lofty goal, actually. All of my successful attempts at returning to the surface were parachute-assisted.
So, to the game. This is the screen that greets you:
The hanger to the left lets you build aircraft. The one in the middle lets you build rockets. And the thing to the right lets you track all the poor souls you've sent into orbit around the sun.
I haven't hit the Mun yet. But I'm trying to get there using the most incredibly stupid contraptions ever designed, so this blog, if I decide to continue it, won't be about reaching the Mun using rockets. No. This will be about me designing a massive space plane to get there. In my head I have this glorious vision of a stupidly large, multi-stage vehicle where dozens of rockets launch each successive stage, each loaded with even more rockets, closer into orbit. And then, to the moon!
First step is getting off the ground.
Kerbal Space Program has a physics engine where every component has mass. And unless you use structural supports, components can actually disconnect from each other given enough force.
What I get for getting that degree in computer science instead of aeronautical engineering is that I have absolutely no idea how to design a plane. Wings generate lift. Components generate drag. Enough engines will get us off the ground. "More engines" is my guiding design philosophy.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Brick Mk. I:
The Brick Mk. I is a damn sexy plane. It has a cockpit! It has a fuselage! Two wings, two tail...wings? And a fin! It has four wheels touching the ground, like a car, and an engine! I even added control surfaces to the main wings and the fail fin. Better control!
Yeah, no. The Brick Mk. I didn't even get off the ground. What happened? Were my wings not generating enough lift? Was my plane too heavy to get off the ground? So, back to the drawing board I went. My approach? Add more engines.
The Brick Mk. I was equipped with one jet engine. I quickly modified it, and lengthened the fuselage to add another fuel container. Then I added two explosive pylons to the fuselage to mount two additional engines above the plane. Clearly, I should not be designing planes. If I did, there would be deformed 12-engine Boeings taking off and landing at airports all around the world.
I also added parachutes. Kerbal Space Program lets you design vehicles with stages. It lets you decide which engines get turned on during a stage, and which parts of the vehicle get disconnected. I made sure to attach the parachutes to the cockpit, and put in a decoupler right behind it so that, if things went terribly wrong, I might be able to disconnect the cockpit and parachute my Kerbals safely to the surface. I have accidentally attached parachutes to the wrong part of a rocket before. Imagine my rage as things do go terribly wrong, I launch my brave pilots away from the soon-to-be flaming wreckage, and watch the wreck safely parachute to the ground as three little green men plummet without one.
This is the Brick Mk. II. It's the Brick Mk. I, but with more engines! The little yellow lines let you distribute fuel to other parts of a vehicle. And, as you can see, I got off the ground this time! Unfortunately, the two additional engines actually sway up and down. They weren't very well connected to the rest of the plane, but they were connected well enough.
So, after about a minute of flight, I decided to land the thing. Problem numero uno: the new and improved Brick absolutely refuses to do a loop. It's actually too heavy in the rear. Clearly a flaw of my "more engines" design philosophy. Problem numero dos. After rolling to one side and pulling up, I went into a spin.
This was the point of no return. I mashed the spacebar. I jettisoned the two engines I hastily attached during a terrible design decision. I detached the cockpit from the Brick Mk. II. I watched the rest of the Brick Mk. II plummet toward the ocean. And I watched the cockpit fall with it.
Then I hit spacebar one last time, and watched Kerbin's finest pilots splash safely into the ocean.
What's next for the Brick Mk. III? Definitely more engines. Probably more wings. Maybe a few stages. Maybe even a two-dozen-rocket-powered sled that launches these Kerbals down the runway at brain-liquefying speeds. It will also probably not look like a plane.