When I select a contract in Career Mode on Kerbal Space Program, it’s usually when it’s offering something new, challenging and hopefully fun to try out. Relatively early on in the game, a contract came up to build a surface outpost on the Mun, which I accepted. It was only later, as I learned more about my own capabilities in the game, that I wondered if maybe I should have waited for something less ambitious. To fulfil this contract, my base would need to have:
- An antenna, docking port, and the ability to generate its own power
- Three pilots onboard, and total space for seventeen Kerbals
- 6000 units of liquid fuel
- 7500 units of electrical charge
Even as my experience built up, I had no idea how I was going to manage this. The accommodation and liquid fuel were the most problematic; that was a lot of weight to get down to the Munar surface. It was also surely too much weight to launch from Kerbin in the first place, meaning the base would have to be launched and assembled in modules. But what method should I use? Should I construct the base through docking in Kerbin orbit, then send it to the Mun and land the whole giant structure? Would I be better off doing the assembly in Munar orbit before landing? Or should I land each module one at a time, and through the use of motorised wheels, link them together on the surface? What if I got them all that way and they didn’t line up properly? I watched several tutorial videos on YouTube, but there seemed to be no simple method.
Eventually, I decided to launch what I considered to be a flexible core stage, consisting of a Mobile Processing Lab with scientific instruments and two docking ports attached to the outside, and a Hitchhiker Storage Module. That alone would be enough for six Kerbals. I also gave the module wheels, so it would be able to drive about if that was the approach I went with. With a rookie scientist named Halmore Kerman onboard, the science lab of Moonbase 1 (I suppose I should have called it Munbase 1, but what does it matter) successfully lifted off and made it all the way to Munar orbit. At that point, however, it had only a sliver of fuel left, nowhere near enough for a safe landing; and the thrusters I had aided in the hopes of aiding the descent just caused uncontrollable spinning when I tested them out. With no clue where to go from there, I preoccupied myself with other missions, leaving Halmore floating around in Munar orbit for the better part of a Kerbin year.
Finally, I decided to sit down and sort out the contract once and for all. A logical approach was needed: Moonbase 1 had a docking port on either side, so I can add two identical modules to the core. If each of these modules had space for six Kerbals, 2400 units of electrical charge, and enough tank space for 2500 units of liquid fuel, I would fulfil the contract (provided I remembered to bring three pilots along too). These modules could have the same booster attached as the core, and with the three of them docked together in Munar orbit, they could share fuel and hopefully have enough to land. This would probably mean that Moonbase 1 would touch down at a vertical angle, so I added a little rocket at a right angle to each module, to soften the impact if necessary.
But what with needing plenty of fuel to land, Moonbase 1 probably wouldn’t have anywhere near 6000 units left by the time it reached the surface. Luckily, there was a solution to that: excavating ore. With the right equipment, it is possible to drill for ore, then convert it into liquid fuel or oxidiser. This not only requires a lot of power, but generates a lot of heat, so you need to include radiators along with everything else. After building an excavator and practicing with it on Kerbin, I felt confident enough to use the final setup for Moonbase 1. I also launched a small probe with a resource scanner, which told me there was a high quantity of ore in the Mun’s Northwest Crater, so that became the designated landing site.
So then the time came. First, the left module was launched, with pilot Josa Kerman onboard. Thanks to a bigger – though more expensive – booster, it arrived at the Mun with more fuel to spare than the core stage. Rendezvous was fairly simple, but then came the tricky part: the two modules would have to dock side to side. This would have been difficult enough with two small spacecraft, let alone two big, unwieldy ones. Things were made a little easier by selecting the ‘Control From Here’ option on the docking port itself, allowing me to control the spacecraft as though the docking port was the front end. It required some practice to re-learn the controls, but finally, thanks to their magnets, the two docking ports came together. It came as a great relief: now I knew that the same could be done for the right module, which – carrying Jebediah and Elliot Kerman – was launched and docked in just the same way.
Orbital manouvres weren’t quite over yet, though, as the modules were not parallel to each other, so their engines were not facing in the same direction and their wheels wouldn’t all be touching the ground on the surface. The only way to fix this was to undock the side modules, rotate them, and re-dock before they could drift too far away; it was fiddly, but I managed it. Now, the moment of truth: I lit up the engines and aimed for a descent into the Northwest Crater. Moonbase 1 slowed down and approached the surface all right, though as I had anticipated, it did so vertically. I turned off the engines and waited to see what would happen. After an agonising moment, it came to rest upside down, shattering the radiators and solar panels, and most certainly not going anywhere.
So I re-loaded and tried again. This time, Moonbase 1 came to rest inside a crater, on a slope facing in the opposite direction from last time – and it came down the right way up, in one piece, without me even having to use the backup rockets! I could hardly believe it. I was even more surprised when it was able to move under its own power and drive out of the crater onto flatter terrain. At that point, it could start drilling, and after some time warping, it had excavated enough ore to convert into 6000 units of liquid fuel, fulfilling the contract! Meanwhile, I allowed Halmore to get out first and plant the flag; he deserved it. He did accidentally fall on a solar panel and break it, but Moonbase 1 had three more, so he could be forgiven.
The final stage was to build an unmanned lander which could hold three Kerbals, and send it to pick up the three pilots. It had been a while since I had built a lander from scratch, however, and the first time I tried it, I neglected to put the landing legs lower than the engine, so the engine blew up upon touchdown. Once a better designed lander had made it to the Mun, I aimed for a pinpoint landing, and ended up coming down three kilometres from Moonbase 1. That would still be a long, slow walk – were it not for the fact that Moonbase 1 was mobile and could drive to the lander! While Jebediah, Josa and Elliot took off bound for home, Halmore remained behind to operate the laboratory and generate more science.
So I now have my own giant laboratory/rover/drilling platform on the Mun. It can go wherever it wants, and if it runs out of fuel, it can just dig up ore and make more! I feel very proud of it; it’s probably my best achievement in this game so far.
The next task is to figure out how to excavate 2350 units of ore from the Mun and bring it back to Kerbin. But I’m sure there must be a way…
This game looks really intriguing, yet complicated!