Bill Kerman was being prepped for his inaugural flight command, Wehring, Elbrett, and Miller were cooling their heels in low-Kerbin orbit, Bob was hiding from KSP Command, and the designers announced their most complicated mission to date.
With knowledge of the Jool system limited to long-range telescopes and whatever details could be gleaned by the staff fortune teller (a position now filled by a carnival fortune machine – the flesh-and-blood employee having fled when Laythe turned out to be real), KSP Command instructed the designers to add a mission to PPP Phase Two: find out what the heck is going on up there.
It took nearly all afternoon, but by the end of the day, the design team was able to present a concept to the engineers. Eight minutes later, a mission profile had been put together.
Command gave the green light, but it’s possible they were actually approving a new ad campaign to promote the Perpetual Persistent Presence Mission (“3P: Like We Knew What We Were Doing”). Everyone felt very good about it.
A remote controlled vessel would fly to Jool with four probes sticking out of the top, dropping them off one by one as it flew past.
The flight went surprisingly well.
The only error of note was that no one at KSP Command thought to check which direction the moons of Jool orbited. Faced with a 50/50 choice, they never really had a chance.
And so the Probe Launcher came screaming towards the moons of Jool, moving against the rotation of the system. The two outermost moons of Jool (Pol, and Bop) were not included in the mission, being of little scientific interest. Plus they’re really far out there, and it was going to be hard enough without adding in that headache.
In some of the best flying KSP Command had ever seen, the Probe Launcher stepped inward, encountering each moon in turn for only a few minutes at a time before speeding past, decelerating just enough to drop it’s path toward the next target. Lacking enough spare fuel to escape it’s headlong dive towards Jool, the Launcher performed a final act in the service of science by demonstrating that a gas giant is a terrible place to attempt a landing. It’s just awful down there.
And with that, four probes began chugging away, performing science on an alien system, orbiting the moons Tylo, Vall, and of course Laythe, as well as the planet Jool itself. Even better, the ROI summary report which was delivered to KSP Command later that evening showed that the new “3P” campaign was generating some fantastic buzz. It was a great day.
Next up was Phase Three: leveraging the presence of unmanned probes in the Jool system to help put some Kerbals out there. In short order, and with little fanfare and hardly any coercion, two large structures were launched towards Laythe. Eventually to be part of a long-duration orbital station, a Utility Hub was sent, first. This included storage space for spare fuel and monopropellant, several docking ports, lots of batteries, and huge solar panels that would be able to power the whole structure, once complete.
The more interesting aspect of the Utility Hub, was that Bill Kerman was aboard. Deep in the process of advancing a new class of cadets, KSP Command only had Bill and Bob to work with, and didn’t want to risk both of them at the same time. After all, they didn’t want a repeat of Jebediah – not that anything’s going to go wrong, but you understand, Bill. Plus, scissors beats paper. Now, get in there.
Right on the flaming heels of the Utility Hub, Command launched a Habitation Module to form the living quarters of the station.
Less successfully than the probe mission, both the Utility Hub and the Habitation Module barely made it into orbit around Laythe before running their tanks completely dry. Also, they were nowhere near one another. The engineers had big plans for supplemental craft to send to Laythe, but that would have to wait.
As a historical side-note, the first two Phase Three flights had been launched one immediately after the other. By the time Command discovered the lack-of-fuel problem, the launch window to Jool has passed. It would be nearly a year before a mass delivery of fuel and consumables would even be launched, and close to two years before it would arrive. Later analysis of Bill Kerman’s logs showed that he quickly began to worry that this was how Jebediah’s last flight began. Though Bill’s transmission logs show he requested repeated confirmation that someone would come and get him, please don’t leave him, it’s really boring out here, no corresponding record of receipt exists in the KSP master correspondence summary.
Over the next two years, Bill would often wonder if maybe he wasn’t really alone so far from home. Maybe, he thought, maybe Jeb’s out here, too. Somewhere.