The Future of Space Flight

The other day, on Facebook/Twitter, I reposted a snarky comment.

“It’s amusing seeing NASA try to use The Martian to build support for their Journey to Mars. Using hard sci-fi to help sell fantasy…”

Why can’t NASA launch a manned mission to anywhere?

  1. Because it is a bloated bureaucracy
  2. Because “safe” space travel is nearly impossible, and politicians don’t waste their precious vote capital on anything but sure things.
  3. Because it takes 10 years to do a mission. Presidents only last 8. It makes no political sense to make your predecessor a hero. Obama cancelled Bush’s Constellation, whoever comes next would cancel Obama’s mission priorities…if he had any.

JPL runs a tight ship, so I’ve been told. They put instruments on planets. However, deeply unsexy. They tried hard to sell New Horizon, I doubt anyone heard about the Pluto fly-by that didn’t have a space-geek in the family. The last popular mission was Mars, Spirit… landed in 2004. It has been a decade since “normal people” downloaded space images from the internet.

SO, NASA needs a road map that is unsexy and can be followed without glorifying the name of any sitting president, meaning cheap as well.

  1. Get to Low Earth Orbit, LEO

1024px-X43a2_nasa_scramjet

I love space planes. Get them up to MACH 9, hit the outer limits of the atmosphere, release the cargo. The cargo is traveling at escape velocity, a little bit of thrust and it docks with the ISS.

There is a bit of trouble with space planes, they need to be going about MACH 3 before the Scramjets will kick-on.

Launch_ring

SO, we build an accelerator which gets them up to speed on the ground. (I prefer a 10 mile linear, but the ring is an easier picture.)

Do able? yes. Cheaper than rockets? considerably. Further, they fit into the skillset we currently have, not the one we wish we had. We know all about airplanes, we know very little about space travel. We’ve been working with balloons, gliders, and powered air vehicles since the 1700’s, rockets are new-fangled in comparison. We have MILLIONS of hours of air travel, considerably less in space. Work with what we know.

This is only step one, more soon.

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