Once again, the sun rose over the Kerbal Space Center, causing the buildings to cast long shadows across the grounds. Standing alone on the pad, the Mark Three vehicle seemed to be eager to prove to all of Kerbin what it could do. A test bed for numerous new technologies, it was clear that this day would witness a number of firsts.
Jebediah Kerman (no relation) had prepared himself for the journey ahead. A veteran of both the Mark One and Two flights, he had done this part of the routine countless times in training, and twice he had strapped into the capsule before it’s booster was ignited casting him skyward. This time would be different, however- if things went according to plan, he would go faster and higher than any Kerbal had ever done before, actually reaching a point where there was no more air at all. Then it would return back to Kerbin, bringing with it a valuable payload of science.
Pad technicians assisted Jebediah in strapping into the capsule, and in coordination with Mission Control began the last few checks before the pad would be cleared of all but our lone Kerbonaut. However, shortly thereafter a hold was called on the countdown due to a minor communications glitch. This was rectified within the hour, and the countdown resumed.
With only five minutes to go in the countdown, once again the call of “Hold!” rang through Mission Control. A fault had been discovered in the staging system of the Mark Three (see our articles on the Mark Three and it’s advanced technologies here and here). For the next while, tension rose as furious discussion between Mission Control technicians and the Pad team occurred. It was clear that no-one wanted a repeat of the mistakes of the Mark One launch.
After three hours, it was decided to pull Jeremiah out of the capsule, so that he could relax, take his helmet off and have a snack. The investigation continued, and it was not until late in the afternoon that the issue was found. The safety pins in the TR-18A Stack Decouplers had not been removed, so when the craft attempted to stage it would have remained attached. It is not known what would have happened if the craft had launched in this configuration, it was decided to remain with the original plan of removing the pins and following the original mission plan.
Shortly thereafter, Jebediah was returned to the capsule, the crew cleared and the countdown resumed.
This time it went smoothly. As the sun lowered in the western sky, the countdown quickly approached zero, and suddenly the relative quiet of the Kerbal Space Center was broken by the mighty roar of the RT-10 “Hammer” Solid Rocket Booster, it’s more than two tons of fuel burning with ferocity. The Mark Three zoomed skyward, always gaining speed as the booster burned. The first flight of the RT-10 booster went well, with thrust lasting just over twenty seconds.
When the huge first stage burned out, Jebediah activated the first experimental TR-18A Stack Decoupler. The explosive charge contained in the decoupler then fired, sheering the second stage free. The force of the explosion, which turned out to be precisely the correct amount of boom, and air drag soon pulled the now disassembled pieces away from one another. Once a few moments passed for safety, Jebediah ignited the second stage.
This stage, consisting of the trusted RT-5 “Flea” Solid Rocket booster, ignited smoothly and began speeding the rocket even faster. This was the first time the RT-5 had ever been ignited while in the air, another first for this mission.
Once the second stage had given all it could and had burned out, time came for the second decoupler. This freed the advanced liquid fueled LV-T45 engine from it’s aerodynamic fairing. This engine was possibly the greatest experiment of the entire flight. It had been prone to exploding rather than working during development, so there was much interest from Mission Control at this point.
“O.K., I’m engaging the third stage,” came the voice from the capsule. The LV-T45 lit up with an intense blue-white flame, very different from the angry yellow orange of the solid rocket boosters. “It’s very smooth. No explosions,” reported Jebediah. The engine ran for another twenty seconds, propelling the Mark Three to the almost unbelievable speed of 4,300 km/h. Once the fuel tanks had run dry, the craft began coasting up to it’s peak altitude.
The Mark Three mission objectives stated a goal of an altitude of seventy kilometers. The actual flight recorded an astounding and record setting altitude of one hundred and seven kilometers, easily achieving the goal of reaching outer space.
“What a view!” Jebediah called out once he reached maximum altitude. It was at this time he activated the external science payload, collecting a wealth of information about Mystery Goo and temperature readings from the craft. Soon the relentless pull of gravity began to reclaim the capsule, bringing it back down to the inland hills over the Kerbal Space Center.
Soon the capsule had plunged down back into the thicker atmosphere, and the drag soon slowed the craft considerably. Then the Mk16 Parachute was deployed, but the mass of the LV-T45 and it’s fuel tanks proved to be excessive, and so the contingency of deploying the last TR-18A decoupler, shedding the engine and tanks and lowering the vehicle weight enough that the Mk16 could provide impact mitigation. It had been had been hoped to recover the engine for study, but the engineers reported that the engine wreckage was recovered, and that it was pretty neat anyways.
The Mk1 Capsule set down seven minutes and ten seconds after lifting off, achieving or exceeding all of it’s mission objectives. Jebediah and the capsule were both recovered safely, and returned to the space center.