Developing Duna - Part 6

Barsoom Base

When we left off, the Duna crew were expanding their explorations to new areas in Fido Canyon and Barsoom Canyon (the mouth of Barsoom Canyon, looking northwest, is pictured below). Emilynn Kerman had landed her DunaDog plane at Barsoom Base, and a fine party was had by all.

The next morning, it was time to refuel and refurbish. Emilynn repacked the parachutes of her DunaDog while Nelemy flew over to the Fuel Fido to handle the refueling.

Before getting down to work, Nelemy stopped off at the Fuel Station itself to say hello to the Goo and gather SCIENCE from the station's instruments. Each of the Fuel Stations has a complete set of science instruments to monitor conditions at their locations.

As usual, the fastest method of refueling a DunaDog was to use the Fuel Fido to link the plane to the Fuel Station. Happily, there have been no problems thus far in this mission with using the CLAW...just remember to dock using the CLAW on the active vessel, and not on the passive vessel, otherwise the world can vanish. Hopefully this bug will be fixed in version 1.0.

After refueling the liquid fuel/oxidizer tank and the Xenon tanks of the DunaDog, Nelemy backed the plane and Fuel Fido away from the Fuel Station, then disconnected the DunaDog and drove off to refuel the "Jessica" Duna Fido rover, which Kurt was prepping for an exploration mission.

Kurt: "The rover is packed and ready to roll, Hellou. Are you ready to go?"
Hellou: "Yes, Kurt. I coming over now. Can you please check that the data from Emilynn's DunaDog scans transferred over to the rover's computers properly?"
Kurt: "Indeed. That's a lot of data."

Hellou: "OK. I'll want you to drive East back along the path Emi scanned as she flew in from the highlands."
Kurt: "Roger. Do you want to ride on top for a better view of the ground?"
Hellou: "Well...I usually like to ride inside...Emi's driving scares me sometimes."
Kurt: "I promise I'll drive safely. I have a lot of experience driving. Plus, you're actually safer riding on top in case of an accident -- the cabin is pretty fragile, and also contains your explosives for geological experiments."
Hellou: "OK...I'll ride on top to start. I really do need to see the landscape better, anyway. OK, I'm in the seat. Let's go."
Kurt: "And we're off! Huh...I don't know why, but it always feels a little weird to me to head East instead of West."

So our intrepid explorers headed off toward the East, with Ike low in the sky in front of them.

Hellou: "Can we please stop at the boulder there?"
Kurt: "Sure thing. I'm surprised Hawk is able to drive too fast when you want to stop so often to play with rocks."
Hellou: "Hey, the rocks are the whole reason I'm here. Let me fly on over and get a sample. Ouch! Bad landing there."
Kurt: "Careful, Hellou."
Hellou: "I'm fine. Just a bit clumsy. Don't tell Emi...she gets disappointed with my flying."

At first the incline was gentle and the rover could head straight uphill. But eventually the slope steepened, and the rover needed to start doing some switchbacks back and forth to keep making headway. If the rover used the grippier tires, this would not be necessary -- but I also find that the grippier tires make a rover much more prone to flipping. Also, in Duna's weaker gravity, the turning traction from the wheels is not enough to overcome the torque of the cockpit/cabin when the SAS is activated, so it's necessary to hold down the "F" key to temporarily disable the SAS when making turns.

Hellou: "There's another outcrop of rock ahead. Please stop there."
Kurt: "Yes, Ma'am. Are you learning anything interesting?"
Hellou: "Sure. Down low I was seeing outcrops of sedimentary rocks that had been exposed by a lot of erosion. Higher up here I'm seeing igneous rocks, but they're also showing signs of water scouring. I think a huge flood of water must have come down Barsoom Canyon from that basin located northwest of here at some point."
Kurt: "So Barsoom Canyon is a river valley?"
Hellou: "No. I think it probably originally formed as a tectonic crack between the two parts of the highlands...but that allowed water in the northwest basin to cut loose and rush through here when some natural dam broke, digging out the canyon more. The wall of water would have been gigantic! I wish I could have seen it."
Kurt: "...from the safety of the highlands, I assume you mean."

The slope of the land started to level off above 5000 meters, but there were still locally steep ridges. I generally choose a driving angle that allows the rover to move at around 10 m/s (which usually allows it to make vertical headway of at least one m/s). The rover handles well at 2X or 3X time warp...but on steep slopes, the rover slides sideways down the gradient too much to make the high time warp useful.

Hellou: "Ah! Look at this big bowl feature ahead of us. Looks like a classic caldera feature. Pyroclastic flows from here were probably the source of those outcrops of tuff we found below. Let's stop so I can do some digging to see what's under the sand and dust here. If you help me dig, I'll make lunch afterward."
Kurt: "How could I resist such an enticing offer?"

Below, the yellow arrow indicates the location of the Jessica rover, topping the lip of the caldera at over 6000 meters.

The eastern slope of the ridge just to the east of the caldera was the steepest terrain yet encountered during the drive, so Kurt took that at a shallow cross-angle to keep the rover at a safe speed.

Hellou: "You really are a very careful driver, Kurt. Thank you."
Kurt: "I practice a lot."

The highlands to the east turned out to be mostly gently rolling or flattish stretches that were very easy to drive. And somewhat dull.

Kurt continued driving east over the mostly unexciting terrain...because the next phase of their planned trip was to head south down from the highlands into the large basin to visit the lowest-elevation spot on Duna (blue arrow path on the map below). By driving to 50° 30' W longitude, the rover would be straight north of the low-point -- and the slope down from the highlands also happened to be less steep at that location.

I was initially concerned about the drive downhill, because that's always more dangerous than driving uphill (it's too easy for your rover's speed to run away on you). But the drive went surprisingly well, and even on the steepest part (with a slope of about 30 degrees), the rover's speed was able to be kept in check with reverse throttle and occasional taps on the brakes. I guess Kurt really is an excellent driver.

The slope leveled out to a more gradual descent below 1600 meters as the Jessica rover entered the very large basin, which Hellou named Helium Planitia after something or other in the Karter Kerman, Warlord of Mars book.

The lowest point they found was at an elevation of 124 meters above the datum, located at 5° 55' 25" S latitude, 50° 33' 08" W longitude. The whole area was just red sand and dust, and even the power core sampler built into the rover failed to hit the layer of sedimentary rock Hellou expected to find below the sand.

Hellou: "I'll run over and sample that rock, since it's the lowest rock on Duna."
Kurt: "OK. Let me know if you have fun."
Hellou: "I always have fun sampling rocks. Huff, huff. Umm...I keep running, and it's not getting any bigger. I guess I still can't accurately judge distances in the thin air. Huff, huff. Ooof! Nearly tripped."
Kurt: "Careful, Hellou."
Hellou: "OK. Well. It's a big house-sized rock. Sneaky. And igneous. It must have been blasted here by some impact in the highlands. Could you please drive on over to pick me up?"
Kurt: "Certainly. Always a pleasure."

The original plan was to drive back to Barsoom Base at this point...but that changed with a radio call from Thompbles.

Thompbles: "Duna Base calling Jessica rover."
Kurt: "Hey there, Thompbles. Kurt here...what can I do for you?"
Thompbles: "We got lucky on a couple passes of the polar-orbiting BANT D6 and Fido 3. On two consecutive days they both picked up a pulse from an alien marker, so we were able to triangulate an accurate position. It's in the southeast corner of the basin you're exploring, down at thirty point three degrees south latitude and twenty-eight point eight degrees west longitude. That's quite a distance, but I wanted to give you the option of checking it out."
Kurt: "Ah. That's a drive...but doable. Maybe better to do it now since we're already partway there, rather than go back to base only to have to backtrack later."
Hellou: "I think we should go see. The terrain is easy in the basin, so I can do part of the driving, no problem."
Thompbles: "The brass hats at KSC are certainly interested in seeing what's there."
Kurt: "OK...We'll go. But I hope we get overtime pay for this."

Below: the path from Duna Low-point to the mysterious alien marker.

So Kurt and Hellou headed southeast for the long drive...


Fido Canyon Flight

Over at Fido Canyon Base, it was time to test the effectiveness of the DunaDog at making a surface-scanning run. So far the planes have mainly been used for long, mostly straight-line flights. But their main job is supposed to be performing surface scans with their belly instruments in support of surface exploration.

Kelby mapped out a flight plan for Aldner to basically scan the perimeter of the end part of Fido Canyon where the base is located. Of particular interest is getting scans of the walls of the canyon (since the bottom appears to be mainly full of sediments) and some of the highland areas around the canyon. So Aldner headed out in the Aragorn toward the northeast. He'd start by rovering over to the base of the canyon wall, the make his flight around the canyon's perimeter.

Below: Located about 22 km northwest of base at an elevation of 1000 meters (before the wall starts getting steep), Aldner pointed the Aragorn northwest, mostly uphill, to start his flight. During this flight, Aldner would try to primarily use the liquid fuel engine, and not use the ion engine too much, because Xenon is in shorter supply than liquid fuel and oxidizer.

Aldner: "OK, I'm ready to go. And, yes, before anybody asks, the science instruments are all running."
Kelby: "Good. Get me some good data."
Aldner: "Brakes off, rear rocket engine activated, throttle one hundred percent. Slow. Slow. Come on. Forty meters per second. Fifty...the bird is up! Raising gear."
Kelby: "Be sure to overfly different elevations of the wall."
Aldner: "Climbing nicely. Lots of interesting looking rock outcroppings. Nice layered effect in these lower ones."

Aldner: "Approaching 6000 meters. Cutting back throttle to 25%...that's about the same thrust as the four ion engines give."
Kelby: "Data feed looks good. Angle back more to the south."
Aldner: "Hmmm...I can't seem to hold altitude on a quarter thrust. Probably because I'm banking. I'm going to have to raise the throttle to fifty percent."

Aldner: "Heading southwest. Fuel down to fifty-five percent."
Kelby: "A sharper turn south, if you please."
Aldner: "The DunaDog flies like a cow at 6000 meters. I can't turn as fast as I'd like. I'm going to switch over to ion engines for a while as long as I still have a good sun angle here."

Aldner: "Heading one ninety. The terrain ahead is higher, so I'm trying to gain altitude."

Aldner: "Nope...the terrain to the south is getting too close. I'm switching on the rocket engine as well as the ions to gain more altitude."
Kelby: "It's a good idea to stay above the rocks."
Aldner: "Doing my best. And I'm starting to lose the sunlight on the solar cells. Maybe I should have done this later in the day."
Kelby: "But the shadows help in the visual mapping."
Aldner: "OK...ions are off...batteries got too low. I'm at 7700 meters...and the plane really does not want to turn fast. I don't think I'm going to be able to keep following the wall."
Kelby: "OK. You can head over the highlands to the south and scan those."

Aldner: "I'm having to keep full throttle to maintain altitude with the bank angle. Turning is still very slow. How high are the hills here?"
Kelby: "Sixty-eight hundred."
Aldner: "OK...I think I'll clear them. Fuel at forty-two percent."
Kelby: "And you're over three quarters of the way around. Looking good."

Aldner: "...And the friendly radar altimeter is showing a lot more space below me now. I'm over the tall stuff and heading back into the canyon. Fuel at thirty-four percent. I'm going to cut the engines and drop to a lower altitude where I can turn sharper to head back toward base."

Aldner: "Fuel at twenty-six percent. Hey, I've got a nice sun angle again. I'm switching off the rocket engine and activating the ions again. Lining up for landing."

Aldner: "Oops. Looks like I didn't need that extra ion boost...I'm going to overshoot the base"
Adly: "Better than landing on us."
Aldner: "Pulling up to lose speed. Deploying the chutes..."

Aldner landed 5 km from the Fuel Station, with 18.6% of his rocket fuel and 94.4% of his Xenon remaining. He repacked the Aragorn's parachutes, then drove back for refueling at the Fuel Station, and then back to the Lander to have some lunch and an afternoon nap...two of Aldner's favorite things to do on alien worlds.

After Kelby analyzed the DunaDog data for a couple days, the boys planned for the "boots on the ground" part of the mission. Aldner would take the old Fido KD (which still seemed to be in perfect working order) and head West back along the path his DunaDog followed when it originally flew into Fido Canyon, while Kelby and Adly would take the Dune Buggy (Duna Fido 2) on an expedition to check out the surface below Aldner's more recent flight path.

Below, Aldner heads West in the Fido KD.

When the Fido KD made its unmanned circumnavigation of Duna, it had driven along Fido Canyon to the northeast, and eventually came back around to enter the western end of the canyon when returning to its initial landing site. At that time the canyon floor was perfectly flat, and the western wall of the canyon was a very steep I was interested to see how things look on the revamped Duna.

The canyon floor is now rolling sand dunes, and the rise at the west end of the canyon is much more gradual. The Fido KD was able to head straight west up the slope without the need for any switchback driving. At an elevation of 4000 meters, the Fido Canyon Base vehicles dipped below the horizon for the last time.

By the time Aldner approached 5000 meters of elevation, the terrain had leveled off into rolling dunes, and Aldner was able to "catch some air" zipping over bumps at 20 m/s. The ancient rover was perfectly stable. Of course, Aldner was a good boy and stopped regularly to take surface samples.

Kelby and Adly in the newer, less stable, Dune Buggy headed northeast along Aldner's path from a few days before, then turned to head back westward, slowly working their way up the canyon's north wall along the swath of land scanned during Aldner's flight.

Adly handled the driving while Kelby rode on top in the Granny Klampett chair where his geologist's eyes could spot places where interesting outcroppings of rock poked up through Duna's ubiquitous red sand and dust (which I assure you are there, even if they don't show up in the pictures). They stopped a lot more often than Aldner did for surface samples.

We'll leave the boys to their explorations (map below shows their current locations), so we can return to check on Hellou and Kurt's progress to the southeast corner of Helium Planitia.


Curiouser and Curiouser

Kurt and Hellou's drive southeast across Helium Planetia was uneventful. The rover was stable enough that it could be pointed in the correct direction and left to do its thing with the throttle locked on full (which was accomplished with the help of MechJeb's Rover Autopilot). I'm sure Hellou stopped often to sample the dirt...but I just let it run.

Once the Jessica got close enough, the waypoint marker that I had set for the target loomed over the horizon (the waypoint auto guidance was not active). Drives like this won't be so simple if Squad ever implements collision meshes for the ground scatter, of course.

The anomaly is located in a finger of the Helium basin that projects off to the southeast, and as the rover got closer, highlands began to show up on either side of the rover's path.

Below is a nighttime camping stop. Kurt and Hellou traded off each night who got to sleep in the comfy rear cabin and who had to sleep in the cockpit. I think maybe they need a little pressurized pup tent. They were far enough south that the sun was no longer eclipsed by Ike during the day.

Below: With the waypoint guidance activated, MechJeb draws a yellow (maybe it's yellow...colorblind me isn't sure) line projecting to the target point, which is cool. But most anything seems cool after a long, boring drive.

Hellou: "OK. We have arrived at the target coordinates. Do you see anything?"
Kurt: "Red sand. Rocks. Low hills in the distance. Anything on the radio?"
Hellou: "I have the frequency scanner working. Nothing on any of the bands so far. Any idea what were looking for? I was kind of hoping for something obvious like Vallhenge."
Kurt: "Hmm. How about running your core sampler into the dirt to see if we hit an underground chamber?"
Hellou: "I can do that. I can also put a sonic sensor down the hole to see if it detects anything."

Hellou: "Well, we aren't finding anything."
Kurt: "Indeed. I guess we should start driving outward in a spiral pattern around this point to see if we can locate anything."
Hellou: "We should stop and check every boulder. Maybe they have something written on them."
Kurt: "You just want to sample them all."
Hellou: "Oops...I've been found out."

It actually took me a while to find the target. After not seeing anything immediately, I explored around a different set of coordinate two degrees away based on numbers in the Easter Egg Stocktake thread in the KSP no avail. So I went back to the original location and turned off surface scatter. Ah ha!

Hellou: "Hey! I see something off the the right ahead."
Kurt: "An interesting rock?"
Hellou: "No...something odd. Not very big."
Kurt: "OK...let's go see."

Kurt: "Well...that's certainly not natural. A box on a pole."
Hellou: "Let's take a closer look."
Kurt: "First I'm going to plant a flag so the flag's beacon can be used to locate this beastie in the future. There we go. So what do you think?"

Kurt: "No markings."
Hellou: "I can't hear anything with the microphone pickup pressed against it."
Kurt: "Hey...this black dial on the front twists. Doesn't seem to do anything. May it pulls out or pushes in...Oops."
Hellou: "You broke it."
Kurt: " was a cap. There's a lens under it. Ummm...I can't see anything inside. The lens housing twists."

An hour later...

Kurt: "OK...I give up. Maybe there's more of it underground and we need to dig it out."
Hellou: "Hmm. I can place my subsurface sensors in holes around it, then set off a small charge to image what's down there before we dig."
Kurt: "Sounds good. But it's getting too late in the day for that. We can try that tomorrow."
Hellou: "OK. It's my turn in the comfy cabin tonight."
Kurt: "...and sitting in the cockpit for me. But first...supper!"

Below: Map View showing the location of the anomaly. (I have removed the other icons from the surface of Duna in this image, since they are all around on the other side and just confuse things.)

So Hellou and Kurt settled in for the night, with Kurt in the less-comfy rover cockpit. But he did have a nice view of the stars and Ike.

Kurt: "What the... Hey, Hellou. Are you awake?"
Hellou: "Mffph? Uh..I am now. Is something wrong?"
Kurt: "A light just came on in the mystery box over there. I'm going out to have a look."
Hellou: "A light? OK...hold on...I've got to get suited up, then I'll come out."

Below: Kurt examines the image being projected by the alien marker.

Kurt: "Hey there, sleepyhead. The box is projecting images on the ground."
Hellou: "Wow. Hey, it changed!"
Kurt: "Yeah. It's cycling through a set of three images, about once a minute. Some sort of alien writing and diagrams. It's hard to make out on the ground."
Hellou: "Wait...stand over here."
Kurt: "Bright light!"
Hellou: "No...face the other way. Hmm...the image is fuzzy."
Kurt: "The lens housing twists. Maybe that focuses it."
Hellou: "Ah ha! You're right. Let me get some pictures. Too bad the image is distorted on the curve of your helmet. Do we have anything big and flat?"
Kurt: "Ummm...I can remove the fold-down work table from the wall of the cabin."
Hellou: "Good idea! Go!"

Hellou: "Good. Back up a little. Let me focus it. OK! Let me get some pictures."
Kurt: "I feel like I'm missing out on all the fun back here. Can you make out what the images mean."
Hellou: "Well, this one looks like they are explaining their mathematical notation. Move it left two centimeters. The boys at KSC are going to love these."

Below, for your amusement, are the three best pictures Hellou got of the projected images:

So, after a successful night's gathering of data, Hellou and Kurt slept late the next day. Hellou's experiment with subsurface imaging showed that the mast of the device went down at least 100 meters into the ground, with no large subsurface object showing up. Before they left, Kurt wanted a picture of him standing on top of the device. He also put the lens cap back on to protect the lens from damage by dust storms.

Our intrepid explorers headed back to the northwest for the long drive back to Barsoom Base.

I didn't have any interest in driving the rover back to base, so I set up a waypoint in MechJeb's Rover Autopilot and let it do its thing. When I came back a couple hours later, the rover was sitting motionless at the waypoint that I had set up in the mouth of Barsoom Canyon.

Then I manually drove the rover the remaining ten kilometers to Barsoom Base, where Kurt and Hellou were greeted by Emilynn and Nelemy (who had been gathering samples from the area around Barsoom Base in the meantime). Hellou was a bit grumpy until she got to take a proper shower in the Lander, but then they had a celebration party that couldn't be beat.

That's it for this episode! Apparently next week we get to see if this adventure has any chance of continuing in KSP version 1.0.

Oh... And, no, the Curiosity Cam anomaly doesn't actually project images at night, sorry. But you can enjoy my pictures if you like.