Space travel, at the moment, is rather limited. The number of people who spend time in orbit in any given year is measured in dozens, and low dozens. Only very wealthy government programmes can get anyone into space, and even when they do, it’s only to low Earth orbit.
If space travel is to become anything more than this, several things need to happen. First off, the cost needs to be reduced, drastically. Secondly, private citizens need to get up there, on non-government systems, to open the whole thing to normal folk. Thirdly, there needs to be a purpose in getting there, for most folk; spending an hour in a glorified mobile home probably isn’t enough incentive to convince most folk that the training and physical battering is worth it.
Then there’s all the work needing done on the system. A shuttle that requires a six month turn-around, a two day countdown and a support crew of hundreds isn’t practical for the annual launches we have at the minute, let alone for any commercial programme. And it’s not exactly comfortable either. Oh, and if anything goes wrong, there is no such thing as ‘Plan B’.
Which is where these guys come in. With their plans for designing a sort of bail out system for space travellers, initially from a mere 22 miles up, but aiming for 60 and then a proper orbital 150 miles.
How delightfully science fiction. el Reg‘s writers even comment on the books that it puts them in mind of. Of course, in science fiction, you can happily discount things like 240° temperatures and 4.4g’s of deceleration. I don’t think it’s as easy in the real world.
In fact, I totally agree with the rather simple summation offered by someone at the JPL:
he doesn’t see “anything fundamentally wrong with what theyâ€™re doing … Itâ€™s just scary as hell.â€
Amen. I wouldn’t want to be the test pilot, that’s for sure…