KWP: Stories

A series of short stories following the shenanigans of Jeb, Val, and Bob as they struggle to adapt their science and piloting skills to Kerbin's weather.

A Daring Recovery: Staring Valentina Kerman

An unpowered drone, remotely controlled by pilot-extraordinaire Valentina Kerman, flies into a 20 m/s headwind. The drone soars gracefully above the KSC at a ground speed of 3 m/s.

Something strange happens when the glider ceases to move horizontally (ground speed = 0). The balance of forces goes haywire as the craft is tugged in multiple directions. Valentina pulls back on the stick in an attempt to recover the drone...


The drone begins to fly backward as the wind lifts the wing and pushes the craft in the retrograde direction! Valentina lowers the landing gear in a surely futile attempt to recover the vehicle.​ 

In the ground control station, Jebediah and Bill Kerman watch nervously as Valentina adroitly manipulates the controls of the drone, guiding it down toward the runway. "Steady... Steady... don't lose it now Val! You've almost got it down," said fellow pilot Jebediah Kerman. "She's got it Jeb," said Bill reassuringly.

"Yes! Yes!!! You did it Val!" said Jeb as he watched the drone touch down on terra firma. "Well done!" announced Bill Kerman. Val stood up from her seat and thanked her colleagues for their words of encouragement. After scanning the room, Valentina noticed Bob Kerman was nowhere to be seen. "Where's bob? He's in charge of weather forecasting. No wonder we weren't informed of the strong winds today!" said Val. "Oh, Bob's in the computer lab," said Jeb. "Last I saw he was playing Human Space Program," called out Bill. 

Windsurfing: From the Dessert to the KSC - Staring Jebediah (Jeb) Kerman

After Valentina's successful recovery of a remotely piloted drone during a wind storm, Jeb was determined to test the limits of Kerbal space flight. In pursuit of this goal, he decided to attempt a speed record by launching from the desert launch site (DLS) to the Kerbal space center (KSC) with a 100 m/s tailwind. Having more courage than brains Jeb set out to launch with no qualms. 

As the wind buffeted the rocket, held in place by two launch clamps, Jebediah initiated launch. Two solid rocket boosters came to life, lifting the rocket off the pad. Immediately after launch, the wind forced the rocket to tilt toward the horizon. 15 seconds later Jeb began to expresses dismay. At a mere 3-km AGL, he peered out the capsule window and saw the desert floor, the wind had forced the rocket into an aggressive and involuntary gravity turn. "Should I abort launch?" asked Jeb, as he carefully studied the altimeter and attitude indicator. A calm collected voice came over the radio. "You'll be fine Jeb, just go with the flow," said engineer Bill Kerman.

As the seconds on the mission clock ticked by, Jeb jettisoned the spent solid rocket boosters and maintained attitude. After passing through max Q Jeb let out a sigh of relief. "Looks like I'm gonna make it Bill," said Jeb as he continued making callouts to mission control. "Remember what comes up must come down," said Bill in a deadpan manner. "Well it looks like I'll be coming down over the KSC, I'll see you in a few minutes," said Jeb as he re-oriented the rocket to point prograde.

Just as planned Jeb released the second stage after reaching apoapsis. To prepare for re-entry he turned the capsule around to point retrograde. A minute later Jeb re-entered the atmosphere off the western coast of the KSC continent. The tailwind reduced drag and allowed the capsule to travel further east than it would have in the absence of wind. After crossing the mountain range to the west of the KSC, Jeb looked up. Peering out of the command pod window he saw the red-orange glow of hot plasma; generated by the compression of air ahead of the capsule.

After descending through 10-km and then 5-km ASL, Jeb pulled the cord in the command pod releasing two chutes. Suddenly, he heard two simultaneous pops then a sudden violent jolt. The chutes, caught by the ferocious 100 m/s wind, snapped the capsule upright and pulling it downwind. "Look I'm windsurfing!" said Jeb as he radioed mission control. Bill looked toward the south out the window and spotted a strange sight. A capsule sitting upright traveling horizontally across the sky above the KSC. "Looks like you're gonna land in the ocean. I'll send a ship out." said Bill."

Unfortunately, while he had planned for how to launch in 100 m/s winds Jeb had not planned for how to land in such conditions. As the capsule slowly fell back to Earth Jeb released one chute, and rotated the capsule in an effort to decrease the surface area exposed to the wind. Dismayed by the fact that the capsule was fast approaching the water at a high speed, Jeb braced for impact. The capsule skimmed the surface of the ocean, somersaulting to a halt but remaining intact. Although a little battered and bruised Jeb had no issues climbing out of the capsule. "Sure hope they haven't forgotten about me..." Jeb thought to himself as he contemplated swimming to shore. Fortunately, the water was a balmy 29°C so he could stay afloat with the capsule for a while.

Living the High Life: Staring Bob Kerman

As a scientist, Bob Kerman liked to take a hands-on approach to data collection. While satellites and remote sensing provide good data, in-situ (direct) measurements remain the gold-standard of scientific measurement. In the past, Bob recruited Jeb and Val to fly research flights around Kerbin to collect in-situ measurements of atmospheric temperature and pressure. Unfortunately, the high speed of aircraft, especially at high-altitude, limited the usefulness of the data. Bob needed a slower more stable platform for collecting atmospheric data.

This is when Bob had an epiphany. Bob realized that he could attach a package of scientific instruments to a balloon. On the first attempt, Bob decided he would ride with the instruments in a cargo container beneath the balloon. This brilliant plan ensured that any problems arising from prolonged exposure to bone-chilling temperatures and suffocatingly low air pressure could be remedied. It also allowed for the recovery of the atmospheric data as no plan had been developed for the retrieval of science data once a balloon popped.

Excited to begin his journey aloft, Bob stood beside his magnificent creation, at the Woomerang Launch Site (WLS), for one last photo on terra firma before strapping into his seat and inflating the balloon.

As the balloon slowly ascended and drifted away from the WLS Bob gripped his seat, putting on a nervous look as he suddenly came to the realization that there would be no turning back. With the atmosphere as his pilot, Bob drifted off to the west-northwest away from the mountainous terrain to the south and east of the WLS. As the balloon climbed higher the winds continued to shift sending Bob and his capsule back toward the mountains. Bob sat anxiously as he gazed out of the capsule at the fast-approaching mountains, unsure if he would clear them.

As the balloon passed through 500 hPa it reached the crest of the mountains. To Bob's delight, the balloon had provided enough lift to clear the peaks by a few hundred meters. At this time, Bob recalled the purpose of this mission: science! He checked the thermometer and barometer on each side of him, recording their measurements in a log. Surprisingly, the 2HOT thermometer indicated a temperature warmer than the ambient air temperature. This difference can be attributed to the many factors that influence temperature measurements in KSP such as convection with the atmosphere, radiative area, area exposed to the sun, conduction with nearby parts, etc. Nevertheless, at 500 hPa temperatures were quite chilly hovering around -40°C or -40°F.

Kerbal Space Program Screenshot 2020.12.

30-minutes into the flight Bob and his burgeoning balloon reached 10-km. Well into the mid-latitude jet stream, at this altitude the balloon traveled eastward at a steady clip of ~55 m/s (~123 mph). Bob once again noted the temperature and pressure finding that the temperature continued to decrease with height. This indicated to him that he remained in the troposphere and had yet to reach the stratosphere.

As the capsule continued to climb the balloon expanded in response to the decreasing air pressure. At 22-km ASL the air pressure was around ~35 hPa. Bob was now above 96.5% of the atmosphere, by mass. At this altitude, Bob could easily see the curvature of Kerbin. He snapped a quick selfie for the flat Kerbin society, donning his visor for style points and to protect himself from high-energy solar rays. Now well into the stratosphere, Bob continued to take measurements of air pressure and temperature. He noted that between 12-16 km the temperature was relatively constant. This he determined was the tropopause layer. Above 16-km the temperature gradually increased with height. 

Just above 25-km ASL, the balloon burst as the ambient pressure approached 20 hPa. With his parachute pack securely fastened on his back, Bob left his external command seat and lept out of the cargo container. Releasing his parachute around 5-km ASL, Bob skillfully maneuvered his chute downwind so he would cover more ground and have a better chance of making it to one of two islands in the distance.

With the help of the wind, Bob made it to the easternmost island. He steered his chute into the wind to reduce his ground speed and land gracefully on a sandy beach. After landing, Bob removed his helmet and checked to ensure all of the scientific data from the balloon launch had been recovered. Next, he radioed mission control. "Hey, Bob here. I'm on the other side of the planet around 140-km southeast of the WLS. Do you think you could send Jeb or Val to come to pick me up? I've got a day's worth of snacks." After a few seconds of radio silence, Bill Kerman responded: "Sure thing Bob. Jeb's a little bruised from a recent rough water landing, I'll send Val."