Monday, August 13, 2007
To infinity and beyond!
A good friend and I were chatting this morning about the heat tile damage issue with the shuttle and the conversation turned to, "What's next?"
He wants a Star Trek Enterprise. Hell, who doesn't? Still, we need to do a few things first.
1) Low cost mid earth orbit lift vehicles in the 40k-60k payload range.
2) Low cost mid earth orbit people lifter.
3) Keep expanding the space station - actually add another on a better orbit as more of a transfer station for lunar missions.
4) Lunar transfer vehicle that runs orbital routes between earth and moon
5) Lunar transfer station
6) Lunar surface station (with lunar orbital lift vehicles)
There's no way for us to get all the materials needed for off planet missions by lifting it from the surface of the earth into orbit. Fuels and materials need to be mined and fab'ed from the moon and other sources.
These solutions (and more) are already in the pipeline, and most of them from commercial ventures, not NASA. (Thank God) Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big NASA fan. But the commercial sector can, and will, do it better. Remember folks, NASA may have FUNDED the space program, but American companies BUILT the space program. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo and the shuttles were all built by American (and select international partner) companies.
Today we have startups that are going to space. Everyone's heard of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne that won the $10 million X-Prize in October 2004. They're now contracted to build SpaceShipTwo for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. My former business partner George French is living the dream with KistlerRocketplane which is tackling both the commercial lift vehicle AND civilian spaceflight projects. Not easy, or cheap to do.
It is a dangerous and expensive undertaking for sure. But the rewards, both monetarily and emotional/spiritual are out of this world. Literally.