Long-term Laythe - Part 18

Vall Venture - Part 5


On Vall, Hellou continues to study the Vallhenge while Emilynn takes some R&R back in the crew module.

Hellou: "I'm setting some explosive charges, Emi. I'll need you suited before I can blow them. Regulations."
Emilynn: "Are you going to try blasting one of those monoliths? Cool."
Hellou: "No. These are small explosives for seismic imaging the area under the henge. I'm not allowed to do anything destructive to the Vallhenge. General Bob Kerman's orders were very specific on that. I think maybe he's some kind of henge worshiper."
Emilynn: "Whaat? Like some kind of space druid?"
Hellou: "I don't know. But I noticed he wears a weird medallion with a Vallhenge-looking symbol on it. But he wouldn't talk about it."
Emilynn: "Oh. Jebediah wears one of those. He said it was his 'curse'...and some kind of ancient artifact. He said there were only three like it. Of course, we had been drinking all night before that, so maybe he was talking nonsense."
Hellou: "Huh. Let me know when you are suited up."

Hellou: "Hey, Emi... did you do something to the high gain antenna?"
Emilynn: "The antenna? No. Hold on, I'm coming out. Is it broken?"
Hellou: "No... It looks...bigger. And...less umbrella-like."
Emilynn: "Let's see. No. It has always looked like that. A standard Communotron model 88-88."
Hellou: "Are you sure? It looks different to me."
Emilynn: "Different? No. It's always looked like that. This isn't going to be another one of those things like when you said the Mün suddenly had a lot more craters, is it? Because the psych-boys thought you were going a bit goofy with that claim. They almost pulled you from the mission."
Hellou: "Don't remind me. But, yeah...it's that same kind of feeling. Like...no. No. The antenna was always like this, you're right. OK...fire in the hole!"

After another day of studying the Vallhenge, our heroines prepare for the long drive back to their lander near the equator. Another epic drive, but just more of the same. So I decided to experiment with MechJeb's rover autopilot (or whatever it's called) that allows you to set a heading and speed that MechJeb will attempt to keep. But right away I ran into some problems because the route out of Hecate Basin toward the northeast has some slopes that the Fido can't take very fast going head on... so I had to keep manually adjusting the direction of the Fido to keep it moving around ridges.

Below, the Fido rover heads up the long slope out of Hecate Basin.

Hellou: "Hmmm. That's strange."
Emilynn: "What's up, Chickadee?"
Hellou: "You remember we measured the magnetic field strength around the Vallhenge a couple days ago, right?"
Emilynn: "Sure. Why ask?...don't you trust your memory?"
Hellou: "No... I have notes. But the magnetic field appears to have expanded over the last couple days. It's covering a much larger area in the basin now."
Emilynn: "Is that bad?"
Hellou: "No. It's just mysterious."
Emilynn: "This whole Vallhenge thing is mysterious. I can't say I'm unhappy to be leaving the place."

Below, Emilynn does some more wild driving down the slopes. Actually, the MechJeb autopilot doesn't seem to do very well at maintaining the set speed. The Fido would always pick up speed beyond the set limit going down slopes. Maybe MechJeb is trying to control the speed by only changing the forward throttle setting, and not using the brakes at all. So it turned out that I had to constantly monitor the rover anyway and apply brakes on the downslopes to keep from going too fast.

Another example of exciting driving is shown below. It's amazing how far this thing can 'fly' without smashing (as long as it an all downhill slope...don't try this if there are any sharp inclines immediately after flying over a downslope. I always brake to slow down before that kind of terrain.

Hellou got a bit tired of being bumped around by Emilynn's driving, so she took her turn at driving the Fido...and Emilynn sat on top.

MechJeb was more useful on the long relatively level stretch of driving back up along Eve Basin, but I still had to watch its speed and apply brakes if any 'interesting' terrain was coming up. Below, the Fido approaches the Vall Lander base area.

Hellou: "I must admit, it's going to be nice to get back in the lander and be able to stretch out more. Help me get all the samples stowed, please, Emi."
Emilynn: "Sure. Say...does it look like the landing legs on the lander are sagging more than before?"
Hellou: "The legs? Hmmm. No. They look the same. Now who's imagining things?"
Emilynn: "Well...OK. I'll check the hydraulic system anyway after we transfer the samples."
Hellou: "Hmmmm..."
Emilynn: "Problem?"
Hellou: "No. Just looking at the high gain antenna on the lander. Never mind. It's always been that way. Just like the Mün has always been covered with craters. Let's not mention it again."


We left Aldner having a nice nap by Dragon Eye Lake on Thompbles Island (affectionately known as DracoDuck Island by some). He began another day of exploration by heading east.

Over the ridge, Aldner drove down to the seashore to check out its suitability as a potential base area. The southwest shore of the bay is not too bad -- a nice smooth area, but not very large. So Aldner drove the BirdDog around the north side of the bay, along the side of the high ridge seen in the bottom picture below.

There is a larger, if not flatter, area on the northeast corner of the small bay that is in the back of the dragon's head. Below is a map showing the location, and an overview image of the area looking from the northeast.

Aldner: "Yo, Cap'n Late-Sleeper! Are you awake yet?"
Thompbles: "I read you, Aldner. Just because the sun rises earlier for you does not mean we are sleeping in here."
Aldner: "Sure thing, Cap'n. I'm at the back of your head now. A fairly large and fairly flat base area."
Thompbles: "My head? I told you before, I'm not a dragon!"
Aldner: "Hey, no need to breathe fire about it. I'm going to do some surface sampling. Call you back later."

Below, the next stage of Aldner's drive is along the long, curving neck of the dragon. It's mostly a long, rounded ridge, but Aldner has lots of experience driving crosswise along slopes.

There turned out to be a wide flat area where the dragon' neck makes a sharp curve, so Aldner drove in there to check it out. A surprisingly nice area, well above sea level, broad and flat.

Aldner: "Yo, Cap'n T. Do you copy?"
Thompbles: "I hear you. What's up, Aldner?"
Aldner: "I'm at the big bend in your neck now. Nice higher base area. I'll get out and sample. I hope it won't tickle you, sir."
Thompbles: (scratching noises) "What is this, Aldner? Some kind of space voodoo?"
Aldner: "Just keeping in touch, sir, as per regulations."

Below, Aldner's travels so far today are shown by the thick dotted line. The thinner lines mark the previous and upcoming legs of the trip.

Heading down the neck, Aldner got as high as 1940 meters passing over the high point of the neck ridge.

Heading down from the high ridge, Aldner found a fairly nice area along the west coast of the lower neck. The overview shot below, looking from the south-southeast, shows that it is a large useful area -- not all smooth, but many smooth area separated by low sloping ridges...more promising than it looked from orbital photos, anyway.

Aldner headed down to the large lake at the base of the dragon's neck. There is a nice area on its north shore, and Aldner stopped to do a kerbal-hydrometer test. He floated very high in the water of the lake. What *is* the mystery of Laythe's lakes that makes Aldner float at different levels?

Below, the overview of the Lake area looking south. After exploring around the lake shore, Aldner headed east toward the Big Bay In The Belly Of The Beast to check out some promising-looking areas there.

At first Aldner planned to drive across the narrow isthmus connecting to the small island, but it didn't look nearly as promising as the flat areas he found to the south of the isthmus. Below is an overview of that area looking from the south. A quite nice area. Aldner decided he had done enough driving for the day and set up camp on the large "landing strip" area.


As you might recall, we left Kurt at the recently-landed Laythe Base 3 in the highland basin on Fredoly Island. His mission was to check out the equipment for use in future exploration. After determining that all the Base equipment was in good working order, he got out to check out the Compact Fido with a test drive.

Kurt drove the Fido the couple kilometers to the impact location of the debris from the heat shield that the Base dropped on its way in. Five large plates survived the impact, along with the fuel tank and decouplers. If he had Nelemy and Aldner here to help (and the cutting/bonding equipment), he could make another shed for the supplies that currently are filling most of the free space inside the Base modules and Fido cockpits. In any case, the Fido handles beautifully, and is quite stable despite its slightly shorter wheelbase (of course, having the torque of two cockpits and an ASAS unit help a lot with that). So Kurt headed back to Base 3.

Kurt: "Kurt to Laythe Base. Come in, Thompbles."
Thompbles: "I read you, Kurt. All is well?"
Kurt: "All is great. I've completed the primary mission, and I packed a selection of supplies in my BirdDog to bring back. Now I'm going to drive on over and check out the east coast of this island to see if it's really as steep as it looked when I was flying in."
Thompbles: "Roger. Drive carefully."

Below, Kurt has driven up out of the basin (which was fairly steep in places, requiring some switchback turns). The large indicator in the basin are the base/rover, and the small indicator is the heat shield debris. As he topped a ridge at an elevation of over 5 kilometers, he could see Jool poking above the horizon.

Kurt bypassed the first peak and chose the second peak along the shore because it looked slightly higher, then began a winding drive around and up the peak.

Things got pretty steep along the southwest slope of the peak. The driving required constant attention to keep adjusting the direction a little upslope...and time warp couldn't be used, or the plane would slide sideways. There was a flat shelf high on the south side of the peak where Kurt was able to rest for a while (and grab some surface samples).

After coming around to the east side of the peak, the slope got even worse, steeper than 45 degrees at times. Even Aldner hasn't drive along anything this steep. After coming around a particularly heart-stoppingly steep turn, Kurt came to a less-steep area. Ahead it looked like it was going to get even steeper again... So even though he was still a couple hundred meters from the peak, he decided not to risk it further. So he carefully turned the BirdDog to face down the eastern slope of the mountain, fired up the engine, and did his take-off run.

Kurt dived the BirdDog down along the slope for about 2,000 meters, then pulled up and away from the mountainside, then gained altitude and headed back to Laythe Base at Fido Bay.

Below, Kurt approaches the west coast of Dansen Island. Flying at almost 10 kilometers, Jool was well above the horizon even though it's only half up at Laythe Base further east.

Kurt set the BirdDog down gently and drove over to GasStation 1 to refuel. He completely drained the jet fuel tanks of GasStation 1, then drove a little ways over to GasStation 2 to get another 30 units of fuel to top off his tanks. Then he drove over to Laythe Base and parked his BirdDog, and he and Thompbles had a supper that couldn't be beat.

This Part Did Not Happen

Because GasStation 1 was now out of jet fuel, I thought it might be nice if it could be removed from the Laythe Base area (just for purposes of reducing lag). It still had some fuel/oxidizer in the gold torroidal tanks on top (this is the fuel source used for its deorbit burn, and for hopping the station a little if its refueling ports are not at the right height for docking), and I wondered if it had enough fuel to fly it out of the area. So I made a Save and gave it a few tries. Unfortunately, it only had sufficient fuel to send it less than 2 km away. Plus, if you allow it to crash, it doesn't all get destroyed, and it leaves a large debris field. Crashing the station into Fido Bay results in more destruction of parts, but the girder segments and large plate survive the splashdown and come bouncing back up. So I guess that could reduce lag somewhat (fewer parts left, further away)... but it's not something the boys would do, so I'll just leave the empty GasStation 1 sitting there.


And what of Nelemy, sitting partway around Laythe on Aldner Island? His first exploration plan is shown on the map below. He'll fly south-southeast and explore the islands there (and possibly the ice island) until he runs low on fuel, then return to Aldner Island. After takeoff, he headed up at a steep angle at 2/3 throttle to get to 10 km as fast as possible for the cruise phase. I'm not sure if it's more fuel efficient to fly upward at a more leisurely pace at 1/3 throttle, or if the quicker boost at 2/3 throttle (then reduce to 1/3 throttle at 10K) is better. But Nelemy likes the quicker boost.

At the first island, Nelemy decided that the peninsula area he came to first looked like a good landing spot, and he put the BirdDog down with no problem.

Nelemy: "Calling Base. Yo, Thombles Dude!"
Thompbles: "I hear you, Nelemy. How is it going?"
Nelemy: "Great, Dude! I have landed on a new island, and I'd like to name it Nova. It means New!"
Thompbles: "Yes, I know. I'll file the name with KSC. What are you going to do next?"
Nelemy: "I'll drive over to a lake I saw coming in. Talk to you later, Dude!"
Thompbles: "Roger. Drive safely."

Nelemy drove over to the lake and got out to look around and have a snack. He didn't find much that interested him, and he managed to drop his Fruity Oaty Bar in the sand. So he climbed back on board and flew off to the south-southwest.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles Dude! I'm heading off to the next island!"
Thompbles: "Already? Did you remember to get soil samples?"
Nelemy: "Umm... Sure, Dude! No problemo!"
*Nelemy stops eating the dirt-encrusted Fruity Oaty Bar and sticks it into a sample bag* Thompbles: "Did the island look promising?"
Nelemy: "Umm... Not too great, Dude. Well, it's actually all not too rough. I'm passing over another smaller lake now."
Thompbles: "OK, Nelemy. Remember to do a good survey of each island."

The next island was only a short hop away (since Nova is part of a group of three islands). Nelemy likes the technique of landing on the shore of a lake, so he used that here.

Nelemy: "Thompbles Dude! I'm safe on the next island! I'd like to name it after my Uncle Silisko Kerman! He's a famous computer programmer, so it should be fine! And there is a nice flat area near this lake. Best spot on the island!"
Thompbles: "Another relative? OK...I'll send it in."

After a brief examination of the site (long enough to finish a snack), Nelemy headed south-southwest again, ignoring the small third island in the group (since it didn't look too interesting).

The next island had a peninsula off to the right that looked like a good landing spot, so Nelemy made a seashore approach. He pulled his turnn too tight and ended up pitching up the plane fairly low and had to kick it up to full throttle to recover, then come back around...and made a safe landing.

Nelemy: "Thompbles Dude! Do you read me?"
Thompbles: "Five by five, Nelemy. Safe on the next island?"
Nelemy: "Sure am, Dude. I'd like to name it Chad Island after my famous Uncle Chad C. 7. Kerman!"
Thompbles: "Your Uncle Chad has both a middle initial AND a middle number? Wait...Is this the Chad Kerman whose company developed our stability augmentation system software?"
Nelemy: "That's him!"
Thompbles: "You really do have famous relatives."
Nelemy: "So do they! The spot I landed wasn't that good of an area, so I drove to a little bay on the south shore of the island that looks like a good place."

Not one to stay in place much longer than it takes to have a good meal, Nelemy once again took off and headed south-southwest. At the next island, he originally was aiming to land on a peninsula jutting out to the right, but once it got closer it looked rougher than he liked, so he flew just beyond it and landed just south of where that peninsula connects to the island.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles Dude! I'm on another island, down here at almost 64 degrees south latitude! I'd like to name this island after Felipe Kerman, the patron saint of spaceflight."
Thompbles: "Good choice."
Nelemy: "Dude, they say that when he touched the monolith at the present site of Kerbal Space Center, all sorts of knowledge appeared in his head about how to make explosives and rockets. And he started the great cause of sending kerbalkind into space!"
Thompbles: "Some say that he only uncovered a chest full of scrolls and mysterious artifacts under the monolith that contained that information."
Nelemy: "Dude, that's heresy. I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."

After a thoroughly cursory examination of Felipe Island, which looked too rough to Nelemy, he fired up the jet engine again and headed south.

Nelemy: "Thompbles! I'm on my way to check out the next island!"
Thompbles: "That next island is probably just an ice sheet."
Nelemy: "We'll see, Dude. Whoa! Something weird is on the horizon!"
Thompbles: "Say again? Something weird? Is it the island?"
Nelemy: "No, Dude! It's like a smooth bump."
Thompbles: "Umm...Is it green?"
Nelemy: "Yeah! Dude, it's kind of green!"
Thompbles: "Is it Jool?"
Nelemy: "What? Oh. Dude...yeah, now that it's a little higher up...yeah, it's Jool. But what's Jool doing here, Dude? It's supposed to be over on your side of the planet."
Thompbles: "Nelemy...you're so far south now that you can see Jool over the South Pole."
Nelemy: "Whoa. South Pole."

Nelemy: "Thompbles Dude! I'm over that next island. Yeah...it's just ice. Boring, Dude."
Thompbles: "I copy you, Nelemy. Are you going to land on it or just head back?"
Nelemy: "Neither, Dude! I'm going to the South Pole! You were right. It's not too far from here!"
Thompbles: "What's your fuel status?"
Nelemy: "Dude, no problem...I'm a long way from Bingo! And the Pole would be cool! Aldner went to the North Pole, but nobody has been to the South Pole!"
Thompbles: "OK, Nelemy. Watch your fuel. Remember, it's easy to drive on the polar cap, so you can land anytime and drive to save fuel."

So Nelemy flew on to the south until he thought he could glide the rest of the way to the Pole from 10,000 meters, at which point he cut his engine. It turned out that he couldn't stretch the glide far enough, and he landed about a degree and a half north of the Pole, then drove the rest of the way.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles! Polar Explorer Nelemy Kerman here, Dude! I am at the South Pole!"
Thompbles: "Good job, Nelemy. Be careful walking around the pole. Aldner said there were strange effects that made him fall down at the North Pole."
Nelemy: "Dude, maybe Aldner is just not as graceful as heWHOAH! Ow."
Thompbles: "Nelemy? Are you OK?"
Nelemy: "Dude...yeah, I'm fine. That was weird. I just just walking, and suddenly I ended up sideways. I don't thiWHOAH! Ow! OK. Ow. OK...I'll just stand back a bit and plant a flag, Dude."

The drive back was easy, but dull. Because of the low angle of the sunlight, it was necessary to stop a few times to let the batteries recharge. Also, Nelemy did not drive back in the direction that he came down from...he set the GasStation on Aldner Island as his target and drove straight north toward that to minimize the distance he'd have to fly once he got to the edge of the ice sheet. Below, Nelemy approached the edge of the ice cap, but stayed clear of the slippery slanted ice that Aldner reported was found there. After a snack and a quick nap, Nelemy took off and headed north.

Nelemy: "Yo, Thompbles Dude! Nelemy calling Laythe Base. Yo! Dude? Hello?"
Thompbles: "Yeah, Nelemy, I hear you. It's the middle of the night here."
Nelemy: "Oh, sorry, Dude. I've left the polar ice cap and I'm heading back to Aldner Island."
Thompbles: "Nelemy, do you know what time it is on Aldner Island?"
Nelemy: "Um... Well, I guess it's late, Dude?"
Thompbles: "It's about sunset there now. By the time you get there, it will be dark."
Nelemy: "Oh. Yeah...I wasn't thinking of that. The sun was doing weird things on the polar cap. But no problemo, Dude! I can land in the dark!

So Nelemy continued north, and it got dark, and I found it was not as easy to fly when you can't see the plane. Thank Felipe for the NavBall. But Nelemy made good time, flying at almost 12,000 meters, following the pink target marker on the NavBall. Finally the marker for the GasStation 4 showed up, and based on the distance readouts from that, Nelemy cut engines at about 20 km out and glided down. He was trying to land short of the GasStation (where he knew the landing area was good), but he overflew it and came down higher up the slope...and went airborne again as he bumped over the top of a ridge...but settle back down OK about 4 km beyond the GasStation, with 68 units of fuel left (out of the 300 he started with). He drove back down to the GasStation, but decided to put off refueling until morning. Dude.


Back on Vall, after a day of rest and relaxation at their lander, Emilynn and Hellou headed off north for a relatively short (compared to driving to Vallhenge, anyway) expedition to the next basin to the north. Hellou wanted to gather samples from the lowest point on the surface of Vall, which is located in that basin. A substantial mountain range separates the two basins, but there is a pass through the mountains.

Hellou: "Emi, I'd like to name this Aldner Pass. He named an island after me on Laythe, so I'd like to return the favor."
Emilynn: "Sounds good! Even I have been the recipient of one of Aldner's passes."
Hellou: "So has every other female kerbal in a 50 mile radius of KSC."

Hellou got out to take surface and core samples at the high point of Aldner Pass. The view below is looking toward the west. The elevation of the pass is 3,035 meters where they crossed.

Below, we see the Fido heading away from Aldner Pass (in the background) into the smooth bottom of Artemis Basin. Driving in Artemis Basin was a breeze (other than watching to keep the speed from getting too high). The drive was uneventful until...

Emilynn: "Whoah! What the hell?"
Hellou: "Emi? Is there a problem?"
Emilynn: "It suddenly got completely dark outside. I'm stopping the rover."
Hellou: "Dark? Is there an eclipse?"
Emilynn: "No. This is weird as hell. No...I can see Kerbol and Jool in the sky...and the stars, too. But the surface is dark."
Hellou: "Did we drive over a dark area of the surface?"
Emilynn: "No, no. Even the distant mountains have vanished. The rover's lights are lighting up the surface, but it's like the sunlight has no effect on the surface."
Hellou: "Hold on... I'm getting my helmet on. I have to see what you're talking about."

Indeed. Very weird stuff happened soon after the Fido drove below zero elevation. Suddenly, the surface went black, and the rover was no longer illuminated (except by its own lights), and my view got shifted to looking down over the rover (see below). I tried changing the camera angles and dragging the view around with all combinations of mouse buttons pressed, but to no effect. I could switch to the IVA of the cockpit and see that Jool and Kerbol were in the sky...they just weren't lighting anything up.

Hellou: "OK, I'm outside. .....You're right. This is weird as hell. My helmet lamps illuminate the Fido and the surface, but I'm not seeing anything near here by reflected sunlight."
Emilynn: "Is there some sort of mysterious force field blocking the sunlight?"
Hellou: "Umm... No. We can see Kerbol. We just can't see anything by reflected sunlight. Well...except for Jool, I guess. But we can't see anything here on Vall by reflected sunlight."
Emilynn: "Umm... A force field that keeps sunlight from reflecting off of the surface?"
Hellou: "No! We can see this area from space. And you could see the surface ahead until you drove into the area, right?"
Emilynn: "Yes. So...a force field that keeps our eyes from sensing sunlight reflected from anything on Vall...while we are inside the field?"
Hellou: "Um. Maybe. This is making my brain hurt. I'm walking around in front of the rover. Let me know if you can see me."
Emilynn: "Yes, I see you fine by the rovers lamps. *click* *click* And when the lights are turned off I can't see you at all. Wow...and I thought Vallhenge was freaky. Wait! I have an idea. I'm coming out."

Emilynn exited the rover and used her rocket pack to fly straight up. At about 70 meters above the Fido (which was sitting at about 60 meters below zero elevation...although the altimeter shows no negative sign...just the absolute value of the elevation), the view of the ground and rover reappeared. (In fact, I found out that if I zoomed my view out far enough that the "camera view point" was up above zero elevation, I could see the surface. So...yeah. Whenever the view point is below zero elevation, you can't see any sunlight reflected from Vall or anything on Vall. Now MY brain hurts.

Hellou: "OK, let's continue on."
Emilynn: "Driving in the dark? Do you want to get eaten by a Grue?"
Hellou: "There are no Grues on Vall. Besides, you have your rover lights. And we know the surface is smooth up ahead. And I want samples from the low point."
Emilynn: "OK. We drive."

So our heroines bravely continued on into the dark and made it to the lowest elevation point on Vall (minus 392.6 meters) so that Hellou could get her surface and core samples. Let this be a lesson to you: never get between a geek-girl and the object of her desire -- she will not be thwarted!

After that bit of weirdness, the trip back was uneventful...even the part where the light suddenly returned when their elevation passed zero meters was just as expected. The part about Emilynn jumping the Fido over the summit of Aldner Pass like a freaking Duke of Hazzard was a bit exciting, but not unexpected. The view below is looking toward the east.

Below, Emilynn and Hellou roll up to the Vall Lander at the end of their successful trip.

In fact, this concludes the first phase of the Vall Expedition, with all of the objectives accomplished (long distance rover test; study of Vallhenge; samples from the lowest point on Vall). For the next phase of Vall exploration, our plucky heroines will be shifting their base to a new location on the other side of Vall, with a new rover to use for exploration.