• Published 20th Feb 2014
  • 2,492 Views, 37 Comments

On A Falling Star - Ash19256

On a night unlike any other, the stars seem to fall, and reveal something amazing: Ponykind is not alone in the universe. And the neighbors have just come calling.

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(Pre-Rewrite) Chapter 5: Starfall

“Commander, you are clear for undocking from the Falling Star.” The voice of Second Lieutenant Kirlak Verici crackled over the intercom. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, Kirlak. I’ll make sure update you when we’re on the ground,” Jeb replied. He undocked the modified shuttlecraft that housed the habitation and resource processing module from the Falling Star’s habitation module, and slowly began to back the shuttle away using its numerous hydrazine thrusters. The distance between the two spacecraft slowly began to increase. Jeb adjusted the controls to cause the aircraft to yaw around, its nose beginning to rotate towards retro-grade. Once the craft was clear of the Falling Star and pointed retro-grade, the OMS engine in the tail fired, pushing the craft into a descent trajectory.

“Trajectory confirmed. Beginning re-orientation for atmospheric entry,” Jeb called out as he spun the spacecraft back towards pro-grade, angling the nose of the craft up 35 degrees and activating its bi-propellant rotational thrusters. “Now, we wait,” he said, locking the heading into B9k’s flight computer.

More specifically, wait for over half an hour until they reached the lower atmosphere. Until then, he was stuck with little to do. His eyes repeatedly roved over the various indicators before him, checking the LEDs for affirmations he had already reciprocated. ‘Good lord, this is almost as boring as re-entry during Apollo 11,’(1) Jeb thought to himself.

Busying himself with watching stars, he decided that there was nothing better to do than sleep. He’d had a square meal before he was called upon to begin the operation, and when it was time to initiate entry it would not do to be wanting for sleep. Even with his experience, spaceflight was dangerous, as was entry into foreign atmospheres. Deciding he’d rather not tempt fate, he reclined in his seat, absently setting an alarm on the multi-function display in front of him. Confident that everything was in place, he let himself drift off to sleep before entry.

25 minutes later....

There was an obnoxiously abrasive beeping noise as Jeb’s alarm went off. Jeb quickly awoke, taking stock of the situation. He could see the beginnings of what, to the uneducated, would have been described as flame snaking about, licking off the nose of the craft. He checked the instruments, finding that the shuttle was still on a trajectory to reach the landing site by the time they reached the point where they could open the intakes on the twin F200 low-bypass turbofan engines mounted to the top side of the trailing edge of the wing, fire them up, and use them to fine tune the approach. He still was unhappy about having to land the module this way, for several different reasons.

Far from the least of those being the skids that he would have to land the module on. Due to the fact that there were no runways already on the planet that they could land at, they were being forced to land the module on rough terrain, and the sites that they had managed to find that would allow for the completion of their objectives with minimal travel had open landing areas no larger than a kilometer in length before they ran into obstacles that would be nigh impossible to land upon safely, if they didn’t tear the craft apart(2).

Jeb watched as the ionized plasma that was barely visible outside the forward windscreen began to die down, around 12 minutes after entry. Once the sensors confirmed it was safe, Jeb activated the autopilot program that would perform the S-turns needed. Here, Jeb switched his seat from its more passive launch mode to active control mode, moving the seat forward and leaning the seat more upright to assist with control. He gripped the control stick and throttle levers, taking comfort in that familiarity he had with the controls. He liked the Draco Mk. IV SSTO spacecraft that had been used as a base template. Although the more recent Mk. V promised state-of-the-art features, such as a neurological interface and a highly advanced suite of flight computers, he preferred the good old fashioned MK. IV for its borderline ridiculous number of redundant systems, with triple redundancy in most systems, and double redundancy in the systems that weren’t triple redundant.

Jeb checked the cameras that were keeping an eye on the landing site.

“What the flippin’ heck?!” Jeb all but shouted when he saw the site. Unlike what the radar altimetry systems on the satellites had led them to believe, the site was not flat grassland surrounded within a kilometer by a circle of hills. It was a lake, extensively covered by seaweed - which he could not land upon for fear of sinking the craft(3). He checked the list of sites, and found that the only other site near enough to be used as a backup was one that was fairly far away from a native settlement, appeared derelict, with plenty of cover from the nearby hamlet. However, it was a flat clearing with about 650 meters of usable landing space, assuming he got the landing path right, ringed by trees on all sides. If he screwed up, they were dead.

With a very large number of family unfriendly words muttered under his breath(4), Jeb opened the intakes.....

*PA-CLUNK* A very loud alarm came on, informing Jeb of a critical system fault in the recently installed turbofan engines. A display to his right diagrammed the problem. One of the intake covers had failed to open correctly, and had broken off, shredding the engine behind it(5). Jeb shut down the alarm, only for another alarm to come on, indicating that the aircraft was leaking fuel and had shut down the ability to activate any of the engines other than the monopropellant maneuvering thrusters, and had activated all aerodynamic control surfaces.

“Oh of all the things that could go wrong, it just had to be those, didn’t it?” Jeb all but snarled, turning towards the only possible site that he could get to by gliding, turning on the sensors that he had requested be installed to allow for more accurate control during unpowered flight. He slowly began gliding from thermal to thermal, secretly glad that the landing was taking place shortly after nightfall, allowing the thermals that formed during the day to still linger. He knew that it was going to be hard to make it the site, due to the fact that the shuttlecraft’s delta wing was designed for relatively high-speed flight, not the slow speeds that gliding mandated. He also knew it was going to be slow going, taking well over an hour to get to within a practical approach distance of the first site, which had been put out of consideration for the site of the base by its proximity to a native settlement. He hated this kind of flying, but he supposed that in this particular situation there wasn’t much he could do.

Jeb looked out the window in front of him, seeing the small forested area surrounding the landing site. The site itself was almost perfectly flat, and just over a kilometer wide. It sat atop an aquifer, and had all the signs of having the minerals beneath it to support their operations for nearly a decade. The only major disadvantage was the proximity to the town, and frankly, at this point Jeb would have been willing to land in the town square if it had a better chance of being a safe landing site. His spacecraft’s hydrazine levels were so close to depletion that a low APU fuel alarm had come on, and couldn’t be turned off. There was no fuel for the jets, and the bi-propellant thrusters couldn’t be fired to accelerate or increase lift. To make it all worse, they had lost contact with the Falling Star when it had gone over the horizon relative to the shuttlecraft, also shutting down the ability to receive support from B9k due to the incompatibility of the shuttlecraft’s hardware with B9k’s software add ons.

“At least Bill isn’t up here, panicking because of all the anomalies,” Jeb said to himself, determined to make an attempt at looking on the bright side. To be honest, he was just glad he had thought to practice flying gliders and other aircraft before the mission left Kerbin. It had been recommended to him by the Chief Mission Control Officer, Jeb forgot his name, shortly after Jeb had been chosen for the mission. His thoughts wandered back to the others, who had elected to take sleep medications that would ensure that they stayed soundly asleep during landing. Jeb wished that had been an option for him at this point.

Jeb pulled the controls around into a gentle right turn. Once the aircraft was lined up, he eased the controls into a gentle, straight glide path towards the site, and extended the landing skids. Due to their not being a useable runway, they were forced to use the solution most bush pilots used... only for them to discover that the shuttle’s gear system was incapable of being adapted sufficiently for them to mount the large rubbery wheels resulting in the mounting of skids as the only viable alternative as landing gear. Jeb had made several notes to shout at the engineers when he got back to Kerbin.

The aircraft glided serenely towards the landing site, its grace belying its remaining longevity, or lack thereof. Seconds before touchdown, one final error message flashed across the leftmost MFD:

APU FS DPL(6). This was the message that indicated that the hydrazine fuel for the Auxiliary Power Unit had been depleted, and the aircraft was now switching to battery power. The second the aircraft came to a halt, Jeb activated the solar panel array that was mounted to the side of the shuttlecraft, causing it to deploy in preparation for tracking the sun when it came up tomorrow. For now, Jeb leaned back in his seat, and slowly began drifting off to sleep.

Rainbow Dash wandered aimlessly, losing herself in her flight as she contemplated why she felt so conflicted about something that had been brought up at one of Pinkie’s parties last night.

Specifically, the notion that she should teach Nyx and Scootaloo how to fly. They could already hover, and fly low relatively quickly, but lacked the stamina and wingpower to achieve altitudes much higher than a few feet without being barely able to move forward without losing altitude. She was somewhat enthusiastic about the idea, after all she thought of Scootaloo the way Rarity and AJ thought of Sweetie Bell and Apple Bloom. But for some reason she couldn’t discern, the thought of Nyx participating in any flying lessons made her somewhat uncomfortable. She wasn’t pleased by this, for obvious reasons. After all, Nyx was Twilight’s daughter for crying out loud!

Rainbow was gliding over an abandoned, empty part of Sweet Apple Acres, when she spotted something that made her stop mid-air before intentionally folding her wings to her barrel and diving for all she was worth, stopping herself just above the ground. There was some kind of metal thing sitting in the middle of the field. It certainly seemed like something no Equestrian would have built, with strange, wing-like protrusions from it’s sides. She decided to start stealthily approaching it on the ground, reasoning that due to the mane that had become almost something of a trademark for her, she would have been far too easy to spot. As she approached, she noticed the strange, somewhat alien writing on it’s side. It was similar to Equestrian, yet also different. As she approached, she noticed that the machine had a set of dark blue panels sticking out one side, tracking the sun as it moved across the sky. She also noticed the twin drills embedded in the ground, making a low rumbling noise as they spun.

Curious as to what the unusual and vaguely ominous thing was, Rainbow continued to approach until she reached the edge of the clearing. Once she reached the edge of the clearing, it was clear that the machine was in fact some form of vehicle, at least originally intended for flight. The fact that it sat upon what looked like very wide skis indicated to her that the vehicle could no longer achieve flight. She sat observing the craft for a few moments, before stealthily retreating, and then taking to the air, flying back towards Ponyville.

Twilight probably wanted to know about this.

Author's Note:

(1) - Remember what I said about video games and TV shows? That applies for missions in space as well.

(2) - Jeb would later admit to having wondered what would kill them first when they landed at any of the sites: Contact with locals, impact with trees or large rocks, or the shuttle going over a hill and nose-diving into the ground on the other side.

(3) - The boffins back at the KSC had forgotten to include some form of flotation for the module. Also, Jeb had once landed a prop plane in a similar lake on Kerbin, and so knew how to recognize them from a distance.

(4) - The communications back and forth between the Falling Star and Kerbin were being recorded for posterity.

(5) - The Draco Mk.IV's native systems were triply and doubly redundant. The new jet engines? Not so much.

(6) - I took inspiration for the error messages you'll occasionally see from the ACARS messages of Airbus A380 aircraft.