The Kerbal Space Program, as the name suggests, is an indie simulator allowing players to create and command their own NASA-style space program. It’s a complex little physics engine that disguises itself cleverly as a flight-sim for rockets.
In theory it provides the opportunity for you to build a rocket, put a satellite or space station into orbit, and visit the Mun or other planets. In practice, it provides you the opportunity to light a rickety box made of jet fuel and too many engines, and fly it into your own control tower.
Having had a play with the tutorials, I now feel confident enough (read: delusional) to log my attempts to put a Kerbal on the Mun. What’s the worst that could happen?*
*(Disclaimer: I am not a rocket scientist, physicist or rational human being. The worst that could happen is a very, very bad thing indeed…)
Right, let’s build us a rocket!
Before I go blasting tiny man-things into space, I think we should try and kick off these training wheels. My first flights, then, will be trying to get an unmanned satellite into orbit around Kerbin, our home planet. The mighty chariot to pull us into the sky is built to my exacting standards, by which I mean I duct-taped a probe to some fuel tanks and put an engine on the bottom. It kinda looks like a rocket, if you squint.
And thus the majestic Going Upper Mk. 1 is rolled out onto the launch platform on a beautifully clear day, systems checked and engines primed, ready to go. T-minus three seconds to launch!
Three, two, one… ignition!
Oh. That could have gone better.
This seems like a good time to tell you about the more intricate systems of the KSP. You see, it’s not just about pointing your exhaust at the ground and screaming “TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!” which may or may not have happened, you can’t prove anything. A successful launch comes about through careful staging of your rocket’s parts, knowing what part will turn on in which order. Having failed to stage correctly, my secondary engine (positioned directly on top of the fuel tank for the primary) ignited first, causing the spectacular accident seen here. Back to the drawing board!
Flight One – Total altitude: 15 meters.
Having made some adjustments to my staging order (making ‘stage one’ go first, for example) I repositioned my craft on the launchpad, and tried again. This time, instead of a fireball of failure, my rocket begins a glorious ascendancy to the heavens. Fuel is burning nicely, and the altimeter is spinning upwards nicely. This is much better. By the time my primary engines run out of fuel, I’m out of the atmosphere and ready to position myself to attempt to create a stable orbit.
I change my vectors and initiate the burn. I watch my orbit map and see my flight computers slowly predict the perfect circle that indicates that my probe will not go crashing into the ground like the tonnes of metal that it actually is. I let the remaining fuel burn out, then detach the StayPutnik to float for eternity round Kerbin. Great success!
Now, let’s try and get some Kerbins up there!
Flight Two – orbit achieved!
Now this is it. Let’s make aeronautical history twice in the same day!
Swapping out the probe on the top for a command capsule contain three ‘willing volunteers’, I can’t help but admire the bravery on their little faces in the corner of the screen. Oh wait, that’s not bravery, it’s abject terror. Oh well, science waits for no man to change his mind!
The launch goes as smoothly as last time, our three intrepid cosmonauts boldly going where no Kerbin has gone before. All signs are green, all lights are point to success. I sit back and relax, waiting for the moment when I can align them for orbit.
Now there is fire everywhere, and the tiny faces of my Kerbonauts scream at me with wide eyes. Bits of plastic and metal shatter out in a cloud of broken mechanical parts and dreams. Panicking, I hit the staging button and accidentally deploy the command capsules parachute, which is immediately torn apart by the bits of rocket flying about. I try and figure out what has happened.
Then I remember. This is not a rocket simulator. It’s a space program simulator. All of your launches are mapped out in real time, everything you put into orbit stays there. And any bits of past rocket you’ve ejected on previous launches are left to fall back to Earth, creating a potentially deadly sky of metal and fire.
I watch my Kerbins fall back to Earth, the command capsule glowing bright orange as it re-enters the atmosphere. I watch them plummet to the ground at hundreds of meters per second, with no parachute to save them from. I see their eyes, staring at me in hopeless desperation. Except the guy on the left. He’s grinning like an idiot. Adrenaline junkie.
Flight Three – casualties: Three.
So, from colossal failure to resounding triumph to horrific, inescapable deaths. So far so good! The Mun shines in the sky above the crash site, laughing at my attempts to cross its void. Keep laughing, you stupid rock. I have infinite Kerbins and infinite rocket fuel, and we are coming for you…
The KSP alpha is available now. Find out more here.