The nomenclature “National Space Transportation System” will no longer be used

The elements of the von Braun space architecture lead to the development of a permanent space faring system.

The elements of the von Braun space architecture lead to the development of a permanent space faring system.

On 22 February 1990, Robert L. Crippen, then NASA Space Shuttle Director, issued a memo stating that due to the new “mixed fleet” strategy of using expendable boosters to supplement the Shuttle, the nomenclature “National Space Transportation System” would no longer be used, and the current nomenclature is simply “Space Shuttle Program.” – Dennis Jenkins, Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System, The First 100 Missions, 2002, Voyageur Press, Stillwater MN, page v.

Toward the end of the Sixties, during the heady days of Apollo, NASA personnel were eagerly looking ahead to the next program.  Many believed that a human mission to Mars should follow Apollo.  However, both cost and a lack of relevant technology made this goal a bridge too far (as it still is today).  Despite the strong emotional pull of Mars, most engineers understood that a more incremental approach was needed.  Fortunately, more than 20 years previously, space guru Wernher von Braun had already outlined this architecture in his book Das Marsprojekt.  It was understandable and conceptually quite simple.

The von Braun plan utilized incremental steps.  Each step would extend our ability to put people and cargo into space.  We would first develop a reusable launch vehicle to get materials into Earth orbit.  We then would build a space station in Earth orbit to carry out a variety of scientific and engineering research and serve as a platform to assemble and service the spacecraft needed to go beyond Earth orbit.  A “moon tug” or orbital transfer vehicle would be built to get payloads into cislunar space (the space between Earth and Moon).  That development would allow us to access the Moon, first to orbit and then to land using a specialized transfer vehicle.  With these vehicles, a lunar outpost would be built – a place near the Earth where we would learn to live and work on another world.  Finally, an interplanetary vehicle would be built that could send people to Mars.

As each step built the necessary foundation for the next one to follow, this architecture was deemed achievable.  The range of access and space capability would increase over time and it allowed an affordable rate of development (no large funding increment was required at the beginning).  Why then, if this step-wise plan made so much sense, did America not pursue it?   We didn’t because geopolitical considerations trumped technical logic – the call wasn’t for an incremental space faring system but for one that would beat the Soviets by getting an American to the Moon first.  In order to do that, von Braun discarded his carefully considered, incremental master plan of permanent space access and replaced it with the Apollo mission plan – an architecture featuring a one-off, mega-booster with a disposable spacecraft.

Following the successful Apollo missions to the Moon, the Space Shuttle was envisioned as the first part in a return to the logical, step-wise von Braun architecture.  After the throwaway design of Apollo-Saturn, it was hoped that a reusable Shuttle would be more affordable.  In a perfect world, all Shuttle pieces would be reusable, with the main booster returned to the launch site after separating from the smaller orbital stage (which would continue to orbit).  Many different designs, developed by various NASA centers and aerospace companies, were considered.  A system to get both people and cargo into low Earth orbit would be the first step toward a permanent human program to journey to the planets.

Fiscal realities quickly intruded on the design process.  After the massive expenditures needed for the Apollo program, politicians were in the market for an affordable space program.  As the Shuttle was (in part) “sold” on that basis, “design to cost” became the ruling principle.  This led to a vehicle design that featured partial reusability (with Shuttle orbiter and solid rocket boosters being recovered and reused); only the large external tank would be discarded.  Despite this design “compromise,” the basic template – the requirements of the first step of von Braun’s architecture of transporting people and cargo to and from LEO – was fulfilled.  In 1972, after some wrangling between Congress and the White House Bureau of Budget, the new program was approved and funded.

The new manned program was named the National Space Transportation System (STS), or Space Shuttle for short.  Up until now, manned flight programs had been given poetic, symbolic names, usually taken from mythology.  Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo resonated with beauty and symbolism – humankind thundering into the heavens on a historic quest for knowledge and power.  This principle was first abandoned when the prosaically named Apollo Applications Program (the follow-on for the Apollo lunar missions that focused on Earth orbital missions using Apollo hardware) was renamed “Skylab.”  It was descriptive enough but hardly as inspiring as those derived from the Greco-Roman mythological canon.

Though long and cumbersome, the name “National Space Transportation System” was significant because the utilitarian essence of the von Braun architecture was implicit within it.  We were set on a course to establish a permanent space faring infrastructure.  The new vehicle would be part of a “transportation system,” not a one-off, space-stunt facilitator.  The Space Transportation System would contain all the pieces of von Braun’s plan operated as an end-to-end system.  When fully realized, this architecture (shuttle, station, orbital vehicle and interplanetary spacecraft) would maintain program continuity by routinely conducting a wide-variety of missions in LEO and beyond.

The space station was designed and configured as an extension of Shuttle – to serve not only as an orbital laboratory, but also as a staging area for missions beyond.  Each piece would be developed incrementally, enabling us to gradually and steadily extended human missions and operations in LEO out to cislunar space, then to the lunar surface and when ready, on to the planets.  Thus, the STS designation not only represented the Shuttle as an operational program but also envisioned a future in which we would continuously press and conquer the limits of human presence and influence in space.  Shuttle began flying in April of 1981.  It conducted scientific experiments, carried satellites into space and began answering our questions of how humans would fare in space.  Station was to follow next.

After the Challenger exploded during launch in 1986, the decision was made to develop and use a mixed fleet of space launch vehicles (including the expendables Atlas and Delta, in addition to the Shuttle).  This decision made sense from the perspective of one aspect of the Shuttle program, that of it being an all-purpose, reusable launch system.  What had been called the Space Transportation System was now dubbed simply the Space Shuttle Program.  However, with this seemingly trivial rewriting of the STS program name, the idea of an incremental, cumulative space transportation system (of which Shuttle was only the first piece) was jettisoned.  Perhaps a pale remnant of that original idea remained visible as, despite the memo from Bob Crippen quoted above, the “STS” and number designation remained as the official tag of each Shuttle mission.  In part, this institutional loss of focus is inevitable in a program of thirty years duration, wherein the people running the Shuttle program in its later phases did not fully understand (or simply forgot) the reasoning behind the program’s original architecture.

Space Station was designed for assembly in stages.  Segments were built and constructed with the participation of many countries and one by one, they were launched and transported to LEO on Shuttle flights.  Over the course of about 10 years, astronauts assembled the pieces into what is now called the International Space Station (ISS).  Wernher Von Braun’s moon tug and interplanetary spacecraft were never realized.  It now is 2014.  We can clearly see there is no longer a shuttle (except in museums).  The space transportation system never made it beyond LEO and we have no plans for the development of one.

Contradicting philosophies of spaceflight are sharply illustrated in this history of space programs.  The “Apollo template” envisions missions staged entirely from Earth – launched on massive rockets, carrying everything we need up from the Earth (with various components discarded as they’ve served their purpose), then ending with the return to Earth of a small vehicle carrying its human occupants.  In contrast, the “Shuttle template” consists of specialized vehicles, each serving one purpose and creating a gradual, permanent extension into space.  Each spacecraft is customized for use in its intended zone and reusable to the extent possible.  But these two templates (Apollo and Shuttle) are not mutually exclusive.  Parts of an extensible and reusable system can be launched initially using heavy lift vehicles.  By following this incremental architecture, a von Braunian space transportation system can be built that will enable dramatic and spectacular space accomplishments.  The construction of this system affords vast opportunities and gives us the necessary tools to realize true achievement and a return of value for money spent.

The question before us is:  Which transportation paradigm is most likely to develop a permanent and sustainable human presence in space (and all the technology and science that flows from it)?  We do know how to build an incremental space transportation system.  What we don’t seem able to do is embrace the necessary programmatic structure that facilitates a sustainable and permanent human presence in space.

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14 Responses to The nomenclature “National Space Transportation System” will no longer be used

  1. William Mellberg says:

    Excellent analysis, as always, Dr.Spudis. As you point out, the Space Shuttle design was somewhat compromised from the outset. It was not fully reusable as originally planned.

    Designing and building a fly-back booster would have been very expensive upfront. But it might have been more cost effective in the long run. In any case, based on my past experience in the commercial aircraft industry, I believe another problem was the Space Shuttle’s role as all things to all parties — a “standard” launch vehicle for commercial satellites, military payloads and interplanetary space probes alike. The cost of inserting humans into the equation was high. Eventually, it became prohibitively high. An unmanned reusable launch vehicle would have made more sense. In particular, a vehicle which could be adapted to different payloads and varying needs through the use of strap-on boosters. The manned Orbiter should have been used only for those missions where a human presence was truly necessary (e.g., building the ISS or repairing the Hubble Space Telescope).

    The late Ernst Stuhlinger, Wernher von Braun’s chief scientist, once told me that the Soviet Union’s Energia-Buran was probably a better approach to a space transportation system. It could be flown manned or unmanned in different configurations for a variety of payloads. A scaled down version would have matched the Ariane 5’s performance. A scaled up version could have supported a lunar base or manned missions to Mars. Energia was a “mix and match” design based on a common core combined with various strap-on boosters and upper stages. Payloads could be side-mounted (like Buran) or placed on top.

    Energia-Buran was not all that different from the space transportation system von Braun described in Walt Disney’s “Tomorrow Land” program in the mid-50s. Von Braun envisioned a launch vehicle that could be used to launch winged shuttles or unmanned cargo ships. The basic stages and modules could be adapted to different missions, introducing a measure of standardization and cost effectiveness. Think about the Airbus ‘family’ of narrow-body jet transports … four different aircraft were produced around the basic A320 airframe (A318, A319, A320 and A321). Boeing’s original jetliner family (707, 720, 727 and 737) was similar, each design using the same basic fuselage cross-section, but each aircraft serving a very distinct market.

    In retrospect, I believe NASA should have given more support to ESA and its abandoned ‘Hermes’ shuttle — a smaller winged vehicle that could have been carrying crews and supplies to the ISS from the beginning. Hermes would have been especially useful for routine crew ‘shuttle’ flights to and from Low earth orbit once the ISS was completed.

    Bottomline: Wernher von Braun’s original architecture, as you point out, still makes sense six decades later. A truly “sustainable” human presence in space must be built on a long range plan for a complete transportation system — the same sort of system the railroads adopted when they laid the first transcontinental routes. Such a system would make use of common hardware and local resources (trees for railroad ties and firebox fuel … lunar water for manned outposts and rocket fuel).

    If only YOU were NASA’s Master Planner!

  2. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any evidence from the Obama administration nor from Congress that a– permanent human presence beyond the Earth– is part of NASA’s human space policy. Even support for the ISS from the President and Congress doesn’t support such a philosophy since a microgravity environment is inherently deleterious to human health.

    A program to deploy permanent outposts on the Moon and Mars and rotating habitats that produce simulated gravity at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points would be a step in that direction. But that’s not part of the current NASA philosophy probably because of a fear of Executive and Congressional disapproval.

    I believe that part of the reason that a permanent human presence in space hasn’t been embraced by the politicians is because of the– mistaken belief– that such a program would be a lot more expensive than our current human space program which some in Congress already believe is a huge waste of tax payer dollars. But there’s really no evidence to support that!

    But because of this mistaken belief, some space advocates have attempted to prove the worth of our manned space program to the public by turning it into an– Earth oriented– program. So instead of the ISS being used as a gateway to the rest of the solar system, its used as a laboratory to see if we can manufacture products that could someday be useful– on Earth.

    Most people, however, find NASA’s Earth oriented human space program a complete bore. And many scientist don’t even believe that the public is getting its moneys worth for the billions of dollars annually committed towards an Earth oriented ISS program.


  3. Michael Wright says:

    Back to the future! Reading this I was thinking what if USA figured that 13 states is good enough and did not have interest in funding Lewis and Clark expedition, taking opportunity to buy Louisana, etc. Of course interesting “what ifs” of many nations of Navaho, Cherokee and Texas an independent country, California being part of Mexico.

    Looking back even further, and a friend from Taiwan talking about China withdrawing ocean going navies (it seems we are currently like Ming Dynasty where “threats” require massive surveillance and drone operations so conquering space is not a priority.

    “I think when the decision was made to reduce naval fleet size in Ming dynasty time the European sea power was still in their infancy. However power balance changes with time. Ming dynasty had more immediate threats from land. Manchuria, the rising nomad land power with superior cavalry and archery skills and stronger political leaders had their eyes set on the fertile farm lands guarded by the great wall.
    Looking back you can see that the decision maker made sensible decision at their time to reduce naval expense because the western sea power was not bothering them until much later and it was near the end of the Chin dynasty when western steam ships with powdered cannons really caused headache a few hundred years later.”

  4. Joe says:

    One thing that will hopefully be remembered if we ever do get a program to build an incremental and eventually reusable and expandable space transportation infrastructure is not to make the same mistake that was made at the end of the Apollo Program. That is throwing away all of the existing hardware and staring over again from the beginning.

    In the 1980’s I worked for the – now nonexistent – McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Division. While in Huntington Beach, California, I got the chance to look at an extensive set of documents (paper only unfortunately)generated in support of the studies being done in the 1960’s/early 1970’s about how to proceed with the post Apollo program.

    The approach used in these studies was to take existing hardware and designs and modify them for use in the new program. Such things as:
    (1) A reusable first stage for an HLV that could carry either unmanned payloads or eventually a shuttle like vehicle. This was to be based on the Saturn V first stage.
    (2) An entire family of smaller launchers using the J-2 and/or RL-10 engines. These could launch (among other things) crewed vehicles less massive than a full up Shuttle
    (3) The first of these crewed vehicles (that could eventually lead to a Shuttle like orbiter) was called Big Gemini and would have landed on land, been reusable and carried up to eight people (
    (4) A bus space construction module to be developed from the initial Skylab.

    If that approach had been taken there would have been a smooth flow of development and utilization. Instead all the existing systems were ignored in favor of starting an entirely new hardware development program.

    Had Congress not imposed the Block I SLS on the administration, the plan was to repeat that mistake again (or at least to pretend to be doing that, while actually doing nothing).

  5. gbaikie says:

    “The question before us is: Which transportation paradigm is most likely to develop a permanent and sustainable human presence in space (and all the technology and science that flows from it)? ”

    One could say that with the ISS program we have “a permanent and sustainable human presence in space”.
    But one could say it’s not “permanent and sustainable” enough. But I don’t think we will get “enough” if it’s a NASA program, but we can get it, more “permanent and sustainable”.
    An aspect of ISS not being sustainable is it’s yearly cost. Another aspect is ISS is like the Shuttle Program and it’s replacement need of orbiters. And the Shuttle was simply getting old.

    And one could say that NASA should have viewed the Shuttle has an experimental vehicle but NASA regarded as operational- work horse. One could make same argument about ISS- it’s experimental. Or it’s not designed or intended to be permanent or sustainable indefinitely. One can make the argument that ISS is first attempt at “a permanent and sustainable human presence in space”.
    I would like to see ISS be shifted towards a more permanent and sustainable human presence in space- in terms of experimentally. Or we have temporary experimentally, lets go making it more sustainable. And I think it’s bad PR to de-orbit an international space station.

    So to make ISS more sustainable, I think important aspect is to lower it’s yearly cost. I have ideas about how to do this, but what’s important is not a way to do it, but rather general direction of lowering it’s yearly cost- and with removal of the option of crashing it into Earth.

    Other than ISS, I believe NASA needs to experimentally use depots to re-fuel spacecraft. ISS, of course, would long fell out of the sky without it being refueled and/or re-boosted. One say we done some steps in this direction, but I think we get to point where all NASA spacecraft going into space are re-fueled in space. It needs to be done more experimentally and it needs to get to the point where is more operational and routine.

    One could say that commercial lunar water mining depends upon being able to get enough demand for lunar water and rocket fuel made from it, and that exporting water and rocket fuel from the Moon is path to getting more demand for lunar water. And this requires depots and refueling in space [orbit].

  6. A_M_Swallow says:

    What we don’t seem able to do is embrace the necessary programmatic structure that facilitates a sustainable and permanent human presence in space.

    Because creating a Solar System Transport System is not a project but a programme. Beneath this programme are a portfolio of projects to build things like launch vehicles, spacestations, Moon bases and transfer vehicles.

    NASA has never set up a Program Management Office (or abolished it), so was unable to create the transport system.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      NASA has never set up a Program Management Office (or abolished it), so was unable to create the transport system

      NASA can set up all the program offices it wants to, but that won’t give them the competence to create a new space transportation system. You suggest that it’s merely a bureaucratic construct that is missing; I suggest that the problem is much more fundamental than that — the complete lack of a strategic vision and the ability to carry it out.

      • I think that there’s a general consensus in Congress that NASA’s ultimate goal should be to land humans on Mars– even though there is really no such program in place. Plus its still not clear whether Congress wants NASA to send humans to Mars as a stunt or to stay.

        We currently have a human spaceflight related program that hovers around $8 billion a year. That’s $200 billion over the next 25 years. That’s plenty of money to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon and Mars, IMO, while also deploying a reusable fuel depot based space infrastructure that utilizes extraterrestrial resources.

        Someone simply needs to ask Congress and the Executive branch is that what they want NASA to do– or do they just want NASA to spend $200 billion in tax payer money with really nothing to show for after 25 years– which appears to be the current policy!

        Marcel F. Williams

  7. mike shupp says:

    Long term, I’d expect to see a mix of relatively small. reusable, ground-to-orbit and back, carriers like the Shuttle, with gigantic vehicles which never enter an atmosphere, a la Aldrin’s “cyclers.”

    The point of the cyclers is that they last essentially for ever and use no fuel. (Okay, some fuel, since you’ll probably tinker with their orbits from flight to flight, but basically orbital mechanics does the work rather than pure rocketry.) The shuttles can be comparatively small because they don’t have to provide life support for an etended time, don’t need fuel to land and fly back from intermediate locations, etc. And probably you have several categories of shuttles, some rated for human use, some suited to carrying cargo and supplies to the cyclers as they pass by.

    The paradigm for this would be present day commercial aviation. I have to go to the airport if I want to Paris, the 747 doesn’t stop at my doorstep. Basically we know how to handle such operations. The drawback is, this isn’t applicable to near term spaceflight.

    Really long run, of course, we need Warp drives and transporters.

  8. DougSpace says:

    I think that the best way forward is a smart approach which will greatly reduce the cost of sustainably opening up the solar system to development, That includes truly reusable launchers (if they exist), the use of launchers that launch frequently (i.e. are commercially useful), fixed-cost, ISRU (especially the production of off-Earth propellant), and reusable in-space craft. Too often compromises have been made based upon the apparent lack of sufficient funds because the chosen transportation system was too expensive. Those compromises made going to the next step apparently impossible.

  9. billgamesh says:

    The key to any future human space exploration is transporting fissionable material to the Moon. This “Nuclear Moon” scenario is the only option for justifying the increase in spending by way of national security requirements.
    The first half of the 20th century appears as one continuous struggle between competing nations. The contest became quite confusing in 1945 with the dropping of nuclear weapons and completely changed in 1952 with the detonation of the H-bomb. In 1954 the first air drop bomb was tested weighing about 12 tons and 60 years later the current typical U.S. W-88 missile warhead weighs less than 800 pounds complete as a cone-shaped re-entry vehicle. All things military revolve around these bombs. They are the ultimate arbiter in any conflict. The ICBM silos, the number of missiles, the submarines, the bombers, the early warning and communication satellites; the bomb is the apex weapon at the center of all these national security considerations.
    Placing these weapons in deep space Beyond Earth or Lunar Orbit (BELO) on human crewed spaceships makes counter-force or preemptive strikes against opposing powers impossible. It is by far the safest form of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) possible. It also allows these weapons to be used for asteroid and comet interdiction and all global stocks of plutonium to be kept off world. The vulnerability of the several hundred tons of global plutonium to terrorist action is a growing concern. The total mass of these fissionable materials are well within the transport capability of HLVs.
    The Moon is the only place to assemble spaceships using HLV empty stages as wet workshops and moon water as space radiation shielding. The Moon is also the only place to test and launch nuclear propelled as well as armed spaceships. The HLV lifting properly packaged materials and equipped with a powerful abort system is the only acceptable method to transport nuclear materials to the Moon. Empty upper HLV stages in lunar orbit can be connected and refurbished using the same techniques learned in the construction and maintenance of the ISS. The completed torus configuration can then be landed complete on top of the ice deposits to be processed into water shielding. Interplanetary travel is only possible using nuclear propulsion and the only practical propulsion system for pushing the massive shielding and artificial gravity systems required for long duration missions is nuclear pulse propulsion. Basing a manned nuclear deterrent in deep space necessarily requires such systems. The only sources for the level of funding required are those currently allocated to basing the nuclear deterrent on Earth. The military and nuclear industry is thus inevitably and inextricably involved in space exploration and exploiting space resources. There is no way around this.
    In conclusion the three elements of my argument- the military, the nuclear industry, and the SLS- are the keys to any possible success. A Moon based human crewed interplanetary spaceship fleet is the best replacement for current nuclear force platforms. This narrow and inflexible path may be a joint NASA-military program or the creation of a new government agency using both NASA and military resources (a “Space Force”), but the key piece of hardware to start with is the SLS. This program needs to be accelerated with an appropriate increase in funding.

  10. billgamesh says:

    “-both cost and a lack of relevant technology made this goal a bridge too far (as it still is today). Despite the strong emotional pull of Mars,-“
    Mars has become the “goal” because of a pervasive misconception common among space advocates; the insidious “it is just close enough.” The idea that since rockets took us to the Moon they can take us to Mars is the father of lies that has kept humankind trapped on Earth for these many decades. The relevant technology to explore the solar system was available even before the advent of the Heavy Lift Vehicle that took us to the Moon, but as Freeman Dyson explained was left unused due to political considerations. To travel Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit requires a true spaceship; a craft capable of providing Earth radiation, gravity, air, water, and food for years at a time, along with enough room to allow for psychological health. Even meeting all these conditions there is still the requirement of a super powerful propulsion system that can accomplish deep space missions within the approximately half a decade a human crew could be expected to function. This half a decade and high speed would be required because the goal is not Mars, it is the moons of the four gas giants. The subsurface oceans of these dozens of moons are the true space frontier, not the too-deep gravity well of barren Mars.
    As explained, the distance to Mars seems daunting but, by way of wishful thinking, doable on the cheap. Hoping to unravel this puzzle of accomplishing interplanetary travel without paying for it is the stumbling block. The recent realization that space radiation and zero gravity debilitation make even Mars too far for unshielded non-rotating spacecraft, leave only one fault. The primary obstacle is no longer technology or “a bridge too far” as Dr. Spudis mentioned, only the first factor he names remains; cost. There is no cheap. The treasury can only be drawn upon massively to answer requisite responsibilities. Because the first duty of government is defense, any viable space program will have to fulfill that duty and more; defend against threats from space. Trying to accomplish human space travel on the trivial pittance allotted NASA is a forlorn hope. It is probably impossible even with twice or three times the current seemingly inviolable ceiling. Incremental by definition means failure since even complete committal is an interminable project. The first unavoidable given is nuclear energy and since assembling, testing, and launching nuclear systems are only acceptable outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, the path first narrows to the Moon. The requirement for cosmic ray shielding narrows this destination further to the lunar ice deposits. The only worthwhile incremental step to a nuclear propelled spaceship is to station lunar-launched water-shielded rotating pseudo-spaceships in geo-stationary orbit to replace current satellite networks with human crewed cislunar versions. These platforms could also be used to de-orbit space debris with directed energy devices. A spaceship is always the best space station.
    “Which transportation paradigm is most likely to develop a permanent and sustainable human presence in space (and all the technology and science that flows from it)?”
    The troubleshooting flow chart branches to answer this question reduce the faults one at a time till a few key elements and the Moon are all that is left. These elements are the military, the nuclear industry, and the SLS. Only by relocating the nuclear deterrent on Earth into deep space can the vast resources required be justified and brought into play. There is no flexible path, no other option.

  11. billgamesh says:

    “The Space Transportation System would contain all the pieces of von Braun’s plan operated as an end-to-end system. When fully realized, this architecture (shuttle, station, orbital vehicle and interplanetary spacecraft) would maintain program continuity by routinely conducting a wide-variety of missions in LEO and beyond.”
    The mistakes of the Shuttle program have been analyzed and debated endlessly. Understanding these errors will validate the billions spent; ignoring them will be a tragic waste not only of money but of the lives sacrificed. The three cardinal mistakes of the shuttle program begin with the think tank study that stipulated a ridiculously low figure per pound to orbit. Human Space Flight Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit simply cannot be effected incrementally on the cheap. Thus the program was doomed to very limited success before it even started by deception and lies. The second mistake was not in making the spacecraft reusable but in where it went to be reused. Instead of a wet workshop concept that reused and converted the structures of empty upper stages as spaceship compartments, it was the absurd fact of wings in a vacuum and most of the payload wasted on landing gear and airframe. The Shuttle was reverse logic: built to bring most of the mass right back down from space instead of achieving the end goal of launching in the first place: escaping Earth’s gravity well with a large payload. The third mistake was in using a Heavy Lift Vehicle in the same class as the Saturn V only to go to the very destination Apollo was designed to leave far behind; the dead end of Low Earth Orbit. In hindsight it seems bizarre that these and several other fundamental errors in logic occurred. Going cheap resulted in a fragile vehicle without an abort system due to the impossibility of further reducing the already pathetic payload and this killed two crews. The algebra of reversing these choices is simple enough. Interplanetary travel cannot be achieved with the unshielded non-rotating chemically propelled spacecraft necessarily used to travel to the first lunar waypoint. Indeed what cannot be avoided is first establishing an infrastructure exploiting the resources on this waypoint by using these same limited spacecraft. The chemical rocket leaves Earth and travels to the Moon and the atomic spaceship leaves the Moon and travels to the planets. The challenge of escaping the massive gravity well of Earth was met but the challenge of escaping the lesser gravity well of the Moon with a massively shielded spaceship never followed. This progression was prevented by the allocation of resources to the nuclear deterrent and political expediency. These seemingly separate resources were actually intrinsically codependent as the nuclear material was necessary for either Mutually Assured Destruction or for interplanetary spaceship propulsion. Because the space race would never have occurred without the cold war this was not really an either or; the evolution of space travel would be started by and also be stopped by the interplay of these political and military forces. Despite the United States imitating the state run Soviet space effort to a large degree in the race to the Moon the end of the cold war also brought about an end to any discussion concerning this vast expenditure of public funds necessary to accomplish interplanetary travel. The nuclear warheads remained on Earth.
    “By following this incremental architecture, a von Braunian space transportation system can be built that will enable dramatic and spectacular space accomplishments.”
    As Mr. Brown found out early on in Germany, the first increment of any architecture is massive funding from the military. This was essentially the case with Apollo as it was a feature of the cold war more than a scientific endeavor. The space shuttle also greatly suffered from the military requirements built into the design as well as a lack of funding. What is needed to enable any dramatic and spectacular development is massive defense funding by way of revisiting that salient feature of the military establishment; the nuclear arsenal. By stationing the nuclear deterrent in deep space and also taking on the mission of asteroid and comet interdiction, the restoration of a real space program is assured. There is another line of reasoning and spurs driving this relocation of assets; the future prospects of a space solar energy industry that is truly the only hope of meeting 21st century demands by beaming energy down from space. The Beam is the Dream.

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