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Let's Play BASPM

Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager (BASPM) is a remake of the 1993 game Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space, where players manage a space program around the period of 1955-1975, notably trying to land a human on the moon.

I won’t say BASPM is a great game, but if you’re into the early space exploration period, it’s an interesting game. And since this year is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it seems appropriate to boot it up. In this Let’s Play, I will attempt to play a USA Campaign on medium difficulty and land on the moon with Gemini Direct Ascent, mainly to show people something different from the historical Project Apollo.

Chemical rockets are expensive because fuel has mass too. To get from the Moon to Earth requires fuel, and so even more fuel must be spent getting the spacecraft and that fuel to the Moon. In the Apollo lunar landing, a 3-person Apollo capsule is responsible for getting to Moon orbit and back to Earth, but lunar module is used to travel between Moon orbit to the surface and back. Since the lunar gravity well is much weaker, the lunar module doesn’t need a big rocket or much fuel. With Gemini Direct Ascent, a 2-person Gemini capsule and a rocket large enough to take it from the lunar surface back to Earth and all the fuel needed are all landed on the Moon.

The Apollo lunar landing can stay on the Moon longer and, according to BASPM, the mission components are slightly more reliable than Gemini Direct Ascent. The downside to Apollo is the need for docking operations in the Moon’s orbit, which had some people concerned because, if anything went wrong, help would be a few days and 400,000 km away.

Anyway, I hope people enjoy this Let’s Play, learn a bit about early space programs, and see what BASPM is like.

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Glad to see some Project Gemini love here. Will it let you use the proposed (and rejected) para-glider recovery system?

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Spring 1955

This is the space complex, the hub for controlling our space program. It looks nice, but it’s not great UI as all the important buttons and a lot of information are tucked away in their own menus.

The first order of business is to start construction of an Astronaut Center, Mission Control Center, and Vehicle Assembly Building, so we can hire astronauts, hire mission controllers, and open rocket programs, respectively, since we can’t do any of that at the start of the game.

But we do begin the game with Science/Engineering/Technology (SET) personnel. At the bottom, see the 5/5/7 next to the SET Center icon? In reverse order, that means our SET Center can hold 7 personnel, we currently have 5, and all 5 are currently unassigned.

Here is the SET personnel manager page. This is much more typical of BASPM: loads and loads of numbers. If you like spreadsheets and space, you’ll probably like BASPM.

But in actuality, only some of these numbers are truly important. Right now, the most important number is to the right of the light bulb, indicating that scientist’s Learning Capacity. The fact that Graham is 60.0% while Justin is only 31.9% in Space Probes may seem like a big difference, but Justin can catch up by doing advanced training for 3-4 seasons. So it doesn’t matter what each scientist’s initial specialization is as we can quickly train them in any field, and Learning Capacity is what controls how fast they train.

As an aside, we can only do one round of hiring each year in each department (astronaut, mission control, and SET). Each year, there are ten candidates, and they are randomly generated when we click the Hire button at the bottom of the personnel page. In theory, we get better candidates when department morale is high, so we could game morale by raising or lowering salaries. In practice, I don’t notice a big difference, so I won’t bother with that.

Here is the hire screen for SET personnel. Notice that at the bottom the SET Center now shows 3/3/7. That’s because we fired two mediocre Learning Capacity SET to make room for hiring the four on the right. It’s not nice, but at least this will probably be the only time we’ll fire personnel the whole game.

All of the new hires have Learning Capacity of at least 94. Since the max is 98, we got lucky here. However, new recruits will be unavailable for two seasons while they undergo basic training.

It’s time to put our three available SET to work. We open a couple projects:


And we assign SET to R&D components. Each SET personnel is rating in five different categories (Rockets, Space probes, Human-rated rockets, Crewed spacecraft, and EVA suits), and each mission component belongs to one of these categories. We put two SET on the X-15 because it will fly first; the Explorer I satellite will need to wait until we R&D our first rocket.

An aside on R&D mechanics: I’ve done some math and know how some but not all of how much components improve. Each component has four personnel slots and, going left to right, each slot contributes less and less to R&D. Putting a single SET in the rightmost slot is generally near useless. Bottom line, put the SET with highest ratings in the leftmost slots. There will be a lot of shuffling of SET between positions. This is another place I wish BASPM was a bit more clear and user friendly.

And that’s it for this season. This was a long post because it takes a bit to get up and running and to info dump how the game works.

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Sadly, neither BASPM or BARIS go into that level of customization. Both games give three options for American lunar landings (Apollo, Gemini Direct Ascent, Gemini Earth Orbit Rendezvous) and two or three possible Soviet lunar landings (Soyuz and LK-700 Direct Ascent). The recovery system is 1 or 2 steps out of ~20 steps for a lunar mission, and it uses the Gemini capsule’s reliability value. So developing the recovery system is folded into R&D for the whole Gemini capsule. The mission videos all use parachutes and splashdown recovery, though.

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Too bad. Piloting a Gemini capsule for a three-point landing at Edwards would be something to see! :sunglasses:

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Summer 1955

Between seasons, this screen shows the results of R&D. Every mission component has a reliability value, which is used to simulate how well (or how badly) a mission goes. The only thing R&D does is increase reliability of mission components.

Below, we see that the X-15 reliability has improved by 20.2%, going from 3% to 23.2%. That 20.2% may seem like a lot; four more seasons of this, and the plane will be perfectly reliable. First, no components can have 100% reliability. Anything a human’s life depends upon has a max reliability around 94 to 98%; satellites may have a max reliability around 91%. This means no part of the mission is perfectly safe, there’s always some risk. Also, R&D cannot raise reliability to the maximum. Above a certain threshold, we have to test components on missions to really be sure they will work reliably.

Second, reliability improvement is a decaying exponential function. We went from 3 to 23% in one season. Going from 70 to 90% may take over a year. Part of the game of BASPM is deciding when R&D gains are too incremental and to put components to the test. And the X-15 is a relatively easy component to R&D. The most complex component we’ll R&D in this Let’s Play will be the Saturn V rocket, which will be about six times slower to R&D.

The Mission Control Center has finished construction, allowing us to hire up to five mission controllers. There are four hire with Learning Capacity 93 or higher, so we hire them. We only need five for the first several years, so we don’t need to expand the Mission Control Center for a while.

At the bottom left of the screen is our current cash reserves and seasonal balance. If we ever run out of money, we’re fired for mismanagement. Our current budget $2750 per season, but facility maintenance, personnel salaries, and program/component maintenance cuts into that. After hiring the mission controllers, we down to +$1585 per season, which is around the cost of flying an Explorer I mission. What I’m trying to say is we shouldn’t expand too fast, too soon.

Fall 1955

That said, we are going to upgrade the SET Center so we can hire more SET personnel. This is a space race, and to get mission components reliable quickly, we need lots of R&D.

Now that the Astronaut Center has finished construction, we hire a couple astronauts. Unlike historical space programs, which would select an astronaut class from candidates and train them for specific programs, BASPM can get away with having a small number of astronauts across the entire game. Since we’re only flying 2-person Gemini capsules, with luck we won’t need to expand beyond the basic Astronaut Center, which can only handle seven astronauts.

Also, now that the Vehicle Assembly Building is done construction, we can open our first rocket program: the Jupiter-C booster. Below, now that the SET personnel we hired in spring have finished basic training, we’ve rearranged the department to research all three current components.

I’ve split the 7 SET 2 / 2 / 3 between the X-15 / Explorer I / Jupiter-C components as the Jupiter-C has some catching up to do. As mentioned last time, there are diminishing returns the more SET we put on each project.

Also, notice that our continued expansion means we’re only +$900 per season now.

Winter 1955

Our first four mission controllers have finished basic training. Now it’s time for them to start advanced training to prepare for upcoming missions. Digging through the game data, we should need at most 14 mission controllers during this game. In priority order, they are:

  • Crew and Payloads
  • Trajectory & GNC
  • Propulsion
  • Flight Director
  • Spacecraft Systems
  • Spacecraft Systems #2
  • Mission Operations
  • Spacecraft Systems #3
  • Trajectory & GNC #2
  • Trajectory & GNC #3
  • AFD
  • Mission Operations #2
  • Trajectory & GNC #4
  • Crew and Payloads #2

The Flight Director and AFD roles use all five mission controller skills, so they should develop them all. The other roles only use one skill, and so they should focus on training that particular skill. Below, Delicia is better at Mission Operations, but we really need a Trajectory & GNC controller for the X-15 missions, so that’s what she’s training.

Abraham, being not as good in the first three skills we need, gets promoted to Flight Director. Funny how that works. Below is a screen asking which skill should he train. Like with R&D, skill training is also a decaying exponential function. Unlike the other mission controllers, who are improving one of their better skills, as Flight Director, Abraham will most improve by addressing his low Operations skill.

Each advanced training class costs $100 and takes three seasons. The class can be stopped early, with a lower skill gain, but the training cost is not prorated.

Spring 1956

It’s a new year, and that means we can hire personnel again. The SET candidates are not very good though. We hire the two candidates with Learning Capacity 92 or higher. Hope this doesn’t slow down R&D.

We also hire a 5th mission controller to fill the building and hire the best astronaut candidate of the year. While it doesn’t hurt to start training astronauts early (besides the cost), there isn’t a huge rush either. Also, the first three astronauts so far are all male, and I would like female representation in our space program.

With the upgraded SET Center and new hires, we’re now down to +$360 per season. That’s just a handful of advanced training courses.

Fall 1956

We skipped summer because we just stayed the course: R&D and training.

Fall has an interesting decision: it so happens that our first couple astronauts finished basic training at the same time as the first mission controllers finished advanced training and, after another SET shuffle, the X-15 reliability will rise to 82.4%. We could give everyone another round of training and get another nine months of R&D. Or we could fly the X-15 now and, if all goes well, finish the program sooner so we can close it (saving some budget) and reassign R&D to the Explorer I and Jupiter-C components, since intelligence told us that the Soviets are working on Sputnik.

You know what? Let’s do it.

Here is the screen where we assign mission controllers to roles in the mission:

For crewed missions, we also need to select the astronaut crew. Wayne Holmes will be our first test pilot.

To schedule a mission, we also need to pay the mission component costs. I think the idea is components the SET team has been working on is used on the mission, and we need to construct a new one for the next mission. Anyway, this mission costs $683, which is almost half a year’s budget surplus right now, which advanced training classes also comes out of.

Enough accounting. Let’s talk about how missions work. Every mission is broken into a number of steps. At each step there is a chance of a minor or major malfunction, which is based on component reliability (for example, when launching a satellite, the earlier steps during launch depend more on the rocket’s reliability while the later steps during deployment depend more on the satellite’s) and skills (each step uses a mix of mission controller and astronaut skills). I believe if there is a major malfunction, there is a chance of catching or fixing it based on astronaut and/or mission controller skill. If a major malfunction isn’t fixed on a crewed mission, that’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

The tensest but most fun part of the game is watching missions play out from mission control, waiting and hoping that nothing goes wrong. While the X-15 only has about 82% reliability, this is a simple mission with only six steps. The Gemini Direct Ascent we’re aiming for has 21 steps, and I would not attempt it without thoroughly testing the equipment out first.

I won’t end on a cliffhanger. The mission is a success! Pats on the back to all the personnel that made this possible. We’re off to a good start.

Winter 1956

The X-15 project has three missions, and we’ve only flown the first, the flight test. It’s often convenient to perform project missions in consecutive seasons since the mission controllers are available. Also, the flight raised the X-15 reliability up to ~87%. A season of R&D will only get us an additional 1.8%. So we reassign the SET personnel to other projects and schedule the next X-15 mission, setting an altitude record.

Astronaut Wayne is resting after last season’s mission, so Thomas Brown will be the test pilot. To fly missions in consecutive seasons, we’ll need at least two crews to rotate between.

With the X-15 SET personnel freed up, we have nine SET personnel and two projects to R&D, and the fourth R&D slot isn’t very effective, honestly. So now is a good time to restructure the SET department and think about the future. We won’t need to R&D EVA suits until the Gemini project, so we earmark each of our current nine SET to specialize in one of the four other categories. A few SET are sent to their specialization advanced training while the remaining continue R&D.

The X-15 altitude record mission is a success.

Spring 1957

But we’re hit with a bad event: Diane Dozier, our Propulsion mission controller, was dismissed. This isn’t good since we needed her for the final X-15 mission and the upcoming Explorer I missions.

I don’t like it, but we take Luke out of Spacecraft Systems advanced training so he can do Propulsion for the X-15 speed record mission. Abraham has slightly better Propulsion skill, but we’ll keep him in Flight Director since he has better all-around skills. We also hire a new mission controller to bring us back up to five.

Astronaut Gerald has graduated from basic training. The first two crewed Mercury missions will probably be flown by Wayne and Thomas, but the third mission will probably be the 24-hour duration flight, which emphasizes Fitness skill, so Gerald begins advanced training that.

We also hire three more SET and one more astronaut. The X-15 speed record mission is completed without mishap.

Summer 1957

When we successfully fly missions and complete goals (like having the first artificial satellite), we earn prestige. Every four years, our government will look at our prestige and adjust our budget accordingly. So it’s really important that we get 2500 prestige by the end of 1958. Thanks to the X-15 project, we’re already at 2336. Successfully flying the Explorer I will get us across the line. Since we’ve flown every X-15 mission, there isn’t much additional prestige to be gained, so we close the project to save maintenance costs.

The Jupiter-C Booster is not quite ready for a live test (reliability will be ~77% after this season), so we send the mission controllers to advanced training while SET continue R&D. Our newest mission control hire is actually pretty good at Propulsion, so we move Luke back to Spacecraft System.

Astronaut Thomas is earmarked for our second crewed Mercury mission, the first crewed orbital flight, so he goes to Leadership advanced training.

Fall 1957

The new SET hires have graduated from basic training, and the first round of advanced training has finished. We reorganize the twelve SET equally between the four categories. Half continue R&D while the other half do advanced training.

Astronaut Wayne, who is planned to pilot the first crewed suborbital test, trains his Piloting skill.

Then the Soviets announce they have successfully launched Sputnik, beating us to having the first Earth orbiting satellite. We’ll still fly Explorer I, but we won’t get as much prestige since we’re second.

Winter 1957

The Jupiter-C booster will be up to 82% reliability at the end of this season, but we’re going to be second in the space race anyway, so we’ll wait one more season before launching Explorer I, when most of our mission controllers have finished their 9-month advanced training courses.

Spring 1958

The newest mission controller, Simon, is removed from Propulsion advanced training a season early for the Explorer I mission.

The last Mercury mission will be a joint launch, which requires particularly strong Leadership skill. Our newest astronaut, Patricia, doesn’t have particularly strong Leadership, but she has a very high Learning Capacity. Hopefully, the mission is far enough in the future that she can earn her place on that mission. She begins training Leadership.

We hire two SET, reaching our limit of 14, and one astronaut. We can’t hire any more mission controllers right now since that building is full.

The first few steps of the Explorer I mission go smoothly, but a problem occurs during the ascent. We are given the option to hire tigers teams to help fix the problem. I think this is meant to simulate situations like Apollo 13, but it doesn’t really make sense for something as short as the ascent stage of a satellite launch. Also, the cost is really high for not a large improvement in probability of success. I usually don’t hire any teams.

Our mission controllers fix the problem, and the mission completes successfully.

Summer 1958

Now that the Explorer I mission puts us at a comfortable prestige of 3668, we can prepare for our next milestone: Project Mercury. We expand the Mission Control Center so we can hire more staff next year.

We also open the Thor-Able booster rocket and Pioneer 4 lunar probe projects. We probably won’t fly this projects, but by improving the reliability of these components, future mission components will start with a higher reliability, something called reliability transfer.

Finally, we launch the Explorer I extended mission, attempting to keep the satellite operational for three seasons.

This uses up more than half of our remaining cash reserves. And that is why tiger teams aren’t worth it. And we still have to pay for advanced training courses.

Fall 1958

With Mission Control Center newly expanded, we hire four more mission controllers. We’ll need one more to be able to fly Mercury missions.

Unfortunately, the Explorer I’s solar cells don’t work (we couldn’t afford any tiger teams anyway), and the mission fails, losing us prestige.

Winter 1958

We have just enough cash left to launch a replacement Explorer I mission, which launches just fine.

Spring 1959

We open the Orbiting Frog Otolith program. We’ve made enough progress on the Pioneer 4 probe that we can close that program, freeing up SET for training.

We hire three mission controllers but no astronauts as the astronaut candidates weren’t that great. This will be enough mission controllers to do any Gemini mission besides the Agena rendezvous missions.

The Soviets successfully launch Sputnik II:

Summer 1959

We open the Juno II rocket and Biosatellite programs. Both of these have over 60% reliability, so we close them this season as well.

The second Explorer I extended mission completes smoothly.

Fall 1959

Now that Explorer I has completed, we close the Explorer I and Jupiter-C projects. Thor-Able is also in a good place to close. We open the Redstone human-rated rocket and the Pioneer Sun orbiter programs, though we close Redstone this season as well.

Intelligence tells us that the Soviets have opened the Voskhod spacecraft project. They are really pushing forward with their crewed space program, which has me antsy.

Winter 1959

It’s finally time. We will use Project Mercury to help us reach our 1962 prestige goal. We open the Mercury spacecraft and Atlas human-rated rocket programs. However, the Mercury capsule starts at 37.4% reliability, far behind the Atlas at 63%. I should have put more resources into researching probes so Mercury starts with higher reliability transfer. I also should have specialized more SET into Crewed Spacecraft. Oh well, I haven’t played for a while. There isn’t enough money left to pay for everyone’s advanced training.

Spring 1960

Our currently SET Center is full with 14 personnel. It’s time to expand it. Also, since it’s a new year, we hire four mission controllers (that building now full too) and one astronaut.

Fall 1960

We open and close the Atlas-Agena rocket program. This i the last of the small rocket programs, so it’s time to upgrade the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Winter 1960

The Soviets have successfully tested their Korabl-Sputnik 2 Biosatellite:

Spring 1961

At the start of the year, we hire three SET, one astronaut.

Summer 1961

With the newly upgraded Vehicle Assembly Building, we can now build medium-sized rockets, so we open and close the Atlas-Centaur rocket program.

The Mercury capsule will finally exceed 80% reliability, so we schedule the first mission, an uncrewed suborbital test. However, it’s plagued by malfunctions, a few of which are successfully fixed. However, during the retrofire jettison stage, the retropack fails to separate, and the capsule disintegrates.

This is a huge setback. This failure has exposed problems in the Mercury capsule design (reliability fell by 9.9%), and we need to get an astronaut into orbit by the end of 1962 so we have enough funding to get to the moon. At least Atlas has reached max R&D reliability, so we can put more people into advanced training while concentrating on getting Mercury ready.

Spring 1962

We start the year by hiring two SET personnel. The SET Center is almost full again.

But now is the moment of truth. This is as late as we can push the second uncrewed suborbital test and still put an astronaut in orbit by the end of the year. Over the last three seasons, SET has gotten Mercury a little higher than the same reliability as before the first attempt. Thankfully, this mission goes smoothly.

Summer 1962

As does the uncrewed orbital test:

Fall 1962

Okay, deep breath. Thomas Brown climbs into the Mercury capsule to be the first human in space. There are potential problems during suborbital flight and reentry steps of the mission, but our spacecraft and team are good. Thomas make history and returns safely.

Winter 1962

There is a reshuffle of astronaut assignments. Thomas Brown has collected valuable experience flying the X-15 and Mercury capsules, so he’s the best astronaut to command the Mercury extended mission scheduled for Spring 1963, replacing Gerald, who will probably in turn displace someone on the Summer 1963 joint launch mission.

Finally, we launch the Mercury orbital flight. Wayne is the first human to orbit the Earth. President Kennedy commends NASA for the accomplishment.

So I screwed up the above campaign because I forgot to perform a lunar survey mission, which is needed to unlock crewed lunar missions. So I finished another campaign the night before the 50th anniversary of the moon landing but couldn’t upload until now because my internet was out. Since I’m not sure anyone else found the details as interesting as I did, let’s cut to the chase:

Fall 1956: X-15 space plane
Summer 1957: Explorer I satellite
Spring 1959: Pioneer 4 lunar probe
Spring 1961: Mercury uncrewed suborbital flight test failed
Spring 1962: Mercury mission successful
Winter 1964: Gemini capsule missions
Fall 1966: Gemini Direct Ascent missions
Winter 1967: