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Monday, November 17, 2014

Retrieving Ancient Stranded Probes

Nearly 83 years ago Kerbals first left their planet for the harsh unknowns of space. As the manager of their space program, I soon decided there was no need to risk Kerbals on dangerous missions to explore their solar system. This was, after all, only fact-finding in preparation for greater things. Automated probes could easily handle such missions, preserving the finest of Kerbaldom for more important missions like colonizing Duna, Eve or even Mun.

That decision saved lives. Early in the space program, before the nuances of orbital mechanics were completely understood, and due to a mathematician who confused Mun with Minmus, we left a probe stranded on Mun without enough fuel to escape its gravity well. It sat on the surface of Mun for 82 years; its science safely stored in state of the art mass core memory. Fortunately it was in a location that saw plenty of light from Kerbol to keep the primitive batteries charged.

Not long after that, we sent a probe to Minmus to conduct an orbit and return. Proper gravity calculations triple checked, we nevertheless discovered ground crews had forgotten to install parachutes on the first ever Minmus probe. They argued Minmus had no atmosphere so parachutes were unnecessary. There was plenty of egg all over everyone's face for that foobar. Mission Control parked the probe in a 400 kilometer orbit for nearly 82 years along with the science collected while in orbit of Minmus.

But those failures have gnawed on the Kerbals ever since. So over the weekend, we launched two recovery operations. As the stranded Mun mission had a parachute for reentry, all we need to do was get it into a Kerbin intercept trajectory. It had just enough fuel left to climb into a 15 kilometer orbit making a retrieval attempt possible. As the Minmus probe had no parachute, one would have to be provided for it. Actually, it ended up being four parachutes. And as neither probe had docking ports (they hadn't been invented when the probes were launched,) it was necessary to use the new asteroid Advanced Grabbing Unit to secure them. Here's the historical photo archive of the missions gathered from several space based and ground based systems. Click on the first picture to see them in order and read the full details of these historic missions.

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  1. I do love KSP! I just wish I had the patience to lose Minmus landers for 82 years. Thanks for sharing.

  2. You're welcome! It helps to have lots of other missions to finish to keep your mind off those that didn't go so well. LOL.


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