As usual, I suck at blogging. I keep not finding time to do
it. I dunno, I just don't do it. And I really should. I tried
to encourage it last time I updated this one, and you can see how
well that worked!
Anyway, my announced topic was space travel. And it's starting
to become a big thing once more, now that so much is starting to
come together, and so many new discoveries popping up.
Our big mistake came in the early 70s, when we threw away all
of the Apollo know-how, and retreated. Even Skylab was one last gasp
to get rid of some of the left-overs from the Apollo series. All
Skylab really was was a left-over third stage, that they
We had a space station - true, it was a crude one - but we had
one. We could have added on to it. We could have started projects
of actually growing algae in space, and other recycling projects to
learn what worked, and what didn't. Instead, we flew to it three
times after it was launched. The first manned mission (the launch
mission was unmanned) was mostly spent repairing things that went
wrong during launch, which to my way of thinking was a perfectly
wonderful job, since it showed that even if things went wrong, we
could repair them in orbit!
Instead, we quickly dropped the Skylab missions, and went
forward to the Space Shuttle concept. And if any project ever
developed a nasty case of feature creep, it was the Space Shuttle.
It quickly became a case of things being added - first it was
supposed to be strictly an experimental airframe for testing, then
it was supposed to ferry satellites to orbit, and then the idea of
repairing satellites in orbit came, then ferrying parts and supplies
for a space station got added.
This ignored that there were really two different modes of flight
needed. Cargo flights could go up with much lower reliability
requirements, and with higher thrust profiles that humans can't
really withstand. Human flights need lower g-forces, but at the same
time, you want them blowing up much less often.
And really, we did get a fairly modular system. We have the
Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), which are fairly easily recovered and
reused. We have the External Tanks (ETs), which for some odd reason
we decided to throw away, instead of boosting into orbit and storing
- something that didn't actually need any extra fuel. And with the
current costs of launching material to orbit, those tanks would have
been valuable sources of raw materials to be put to use as shielding
for a space station, or even storage space. Left over hydrogen and
oxygen could have been recovered, and used for breathing, or for
burning in fuel cells to provide power and drinking water.
But even without the Space Shuttle, we could have done so much
in space just using the Apollo systems. Costs would have come down
with the ordering of more vehicles - anyone in manufacturing can tell
you that on a per-item basis, it's generally cheaper to make a
hundred of an item, than a one-off. There were three fully
functional Skylab modules built - one which was launched, and two
that are now at space museums in Washington DC and Johnson Space
Center in Houston. If the second had just been launched, using
the lessons from the first one's launch, there'd have been a
nice-sized base to use to build onto.
Still, we have hope today, in the growing private sector
development of space travel. We have Dick Ruttan, Scaled Composites,
Richard Branson, and Virgin Galactic developing the infrastructure
to move people up and down to orbit. We have Robert Bigalow of
Bigalow Aerospace developing space habitation modules, using a
program of requiring second and third sources for all parts and
materials being used. We have SpaceX building the Falcon series of
reuseable cargo lifters, aiming for a per-pound launch price less
than a tenth of current prices. All of this is a good start.
But eventually, we need more. Every remaining Space Shuttle
launch should be loaded as heavily as consistent with its mission,
parking extra supplies - even if it's just large rocks that can be
slowly shifted to match orbits with the Space Station for making
a bow shield against orbiting debris. I'm sure more useful things
could be easily found to fill the cargo bay with.
The Space Station also needs a "janitor". Admitted, this would
have to be a janitor with degrees in mechanical engineering, and
a thorough understanding of the systems of the Space Station, but
he would free up the scientists from having to take care of things
around the station they're trained in from an emergency care point
of view. He could also prepare meals for them. In general, with
one janitor, the station could then handle having 6-8 other crew
members with ease.
We also need a station around the Moon, probably attached to a
space elevator-type construction, which due to the Moon's lower
gravity, would be much shorter, and much easier to build - probably
not even requiring particularly exotic materials, as the Earth Space
Elevator would require. Then it might be convenient to have a
Station that orbited in a figure-8 fashion between the Earth and the
Moon, to act as a ferry, with ships carrying crews to Earth orbit,
a quick hop to the ferry as it flies by, dropping off the Moon crew
coming back from their tour.
That's another thing those external tanks might come in useful
for - providing a framework for building lunar settlements. Drop
an ET on the lunar surface, cover with dirt, and start inflating an
airtight inner liner, and you have somewhere to live! Of course,
we don't really know what we'd be doing there on the Moon. It's
really senseless to try to guess. We've barely been there. But
if there's one thing history tends to show, it's that we always seem
to find something to do when we get anywhere new.
Oh, well. We'll get there, sooner or later. There's too many
people like me who will, once we get there, find something
to do! Me, I can see trying beds of plants to find which ones best
grow in the lunar soil, and exchange oxygen most efficiently. I'd
also be working on ways to store light from the day phase on the
Moon to light my plots during the night phase (though, if the lunar
colony is planted near the poles, might not really need to! Just
arrange light-pipes to gather from whichever way is lit!)
And I think that's enough rambling for now. Wonder when I'll
come up with more. Still, space travel is something I feel pretty
strongly about. It seems a crying shame to me to look up at the
full moon rising, and to know that we've been there, and just gave it
Looking at the way this is going, I think I'm really going to have
to think about the organization of this page!