Mike Wall, Space.com (June 28, 2011)
(NASA, via Space.com, used w/o permission)
"The last-ever space shuttle launch — that of Atlantis, scheduled for July 8 — will come just over three decades after the first one, which took place April 12, 1981.
"But that's not to say NASA's iconic shuttle program just turned 30 years old. It's actually pushing 40, since President Richard Nixon officially announced its existence in January 1972. And the shuttle's roots go much deeper than that, stretching all the way back to a 1930s concept vehicle the Nazis hoped could drop bombs on New York City.
"The story of the shuttle's birth is one of big dreams and slashed budgets, of shifting visions, of NASA and the nation's attempt to find their way in space after beating the Soviets to the moon in 1969. Here is a synopsis of that long, involved tale. [NASA's Space Shuttle Program in Pictures]
"Roots: The Silbervogel
"In the late 1930s, the Nazis initiated the 'Amerika Bomber' project, an effort to build an aircraft capable of taking off from Germany and dropping a bomb on the continental United States.
"Various engineers, including a man named Eugen Sanger, submitted proposals. Sanger's idea, developed with the mathematician Irene Bredt, was a type of winged rocket called the Silbervogel (German for 'silver bird').
"The reusable Silbervogel would ascend to suborbital space, then drop down into the stratosphere. At that point, the increasing air density would give the vehicle lift, bouncing it to a higher altitude again. The process would repeat, with the Silbervogel making the trip across the Atlantic in a series of leaps and bounds...."
That sort of transatlantic roller coaster isn't likely to ever be used for passenger service - but it's got possibilities as a freight carrier. Provided there's a high demand for ultra-fast transcontinental package delivery.
The article traces the Space Shuttle's development, through the X-15 rocket plane that flew, the X-20 Dyna-Soar that didn't, the Apollo program that skipped over steps we're taking now, with the International Space Station (ISS).
Or, rather, that NASA and the American government would be taking, if the Beltway folks hadn't run up a mind-boggling debt. Which reminds the Lemming of college kids with credit cards and indulgent parents - and that's almost another topic. (May 16, 2011)
'When It's Time to Build Spaceships - - - 'Right now, if the American Congress decides that developing better ways to get people and cargo to Earth orbit: It'll make a difference.
If Congress also decides to stay out of the way of folks who run outfits like Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America, SpaceX, and Blue Origin: America will probably be one of the countries with commercial properties in orbit - and beyond. Which will present a dilemma of sorts for Ivy League universities: They'll have to consider whether to have an expedition outfitter with a local office handle their science projects; or impress folks by outsourcing to France. Or maybe India. There seems to be a sort of prestige involved with going to another country - to get what's available down the street.
On the other hand, if Congress decides to 'protect' 'the Masses' from big, dangerous spaceship and the reckless people who build them - well, Japan has a quite active space program, so do India, China, and quite a few other nations.
Someone may even have the nerve to let private sector firms develop transport systems - that work reliably, safely, on-schedule, and on-budget.
The Lemming's been over this before:
- "When it's Time to Build Spaceships, People Will Build Spaceships"
(October 4, 2009)
This is the Apathetic Lemming?!In case you're wondering about the Lemming's name? Check out "About the Lemming."
What's Next?You can buy tickets for suborbital flights right now - although Virgin Galactic hasn't brought its tourist service out of development yet. Other firms are concentrating on less glamorous freight and passenger service to the ISS. And rental properties like the ones Bigelow Aerospace is developing.
The Lemming doesn't expect anything with quite the 'wow factor' of the Apollo project. Not any time soon. International politics don't seem right for something like the 'Moon Race.'
Still - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA have been discussing starship design. (PCMag.com (October 30, 2010)) It's not exactly "Star Trek" stuff - physicists are still wrangling over warp drive theory (June 12, 2009) - but the Lemming thinks we're closer to having a working interstellar probe now, than we were to having people on the Moon in 1955. (December 12, 2010, May 9, 2010)
And, for all the Lemming knows, somebody may have worked the bugs out of Alcubierre's theory.
Meanwhile, Blue Origin and SpaceX are building flying gumdrops that promise to offer practical ferry service to and from orbit.
- "Atlantis: "Inspirational," the Last of Its Kind (and what's next)"
(July 8, 2011)
- "Endeavor's Last Flight, Orbital Hotels, and Spaceports"
(June 1, 2011)
- "Last Trip for Space Shuttle Endeavour; and Reaching for the Stars"
(May 16, 2011)
- "Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, and the Hanseatic League"
(April 29, 2011)
- "Space Shuttle Infographic: From Steering Thrusters to Rudder/Speed Brake"
(January 31, 2011)