Rocket man to the rescue
George Bush, president of the USA, announced plans for going to Mars (if only—unfortunately, he meant ‘as a people’, not him personally), and immediately all the other space agencies either dusted off their Mars faring plans or figured ‘now is the time to announce our own secret plans’, or started adapting the goals of vehicles in development.
For instance, the Russians have announced a new space shuttle, called the Kliper. Apparently, this one is much more cost-effective than the Buran, the 1980s Soviet shuttle that was as much a replica of the US shuttle as possible, and just as expensive.
But at least the Russians had a working shuttle in the 1980s. This week’s announcement of the first test landing of a scale model of a European space shuttle called Phoenix raised a few smiles here and there. Ah, the Europeans want to play too…
Why is it that we are dusting off 30 and 40 year old technology to take us to the moon again? Part of that I am willing to believe, is because a lot of knowledge has been lost over the past thirty to forty years. We simply don’t know anymore how to put a man on the moon.
But surely, we have progressed since then too, have we not? This is something I am missing from today’s proposals: the word ‘today’. Here’s a wild conspiracy theory that I came up with all by myself: it’s hard to get into space, because if it would be easy, the military potential would be enormous. You could take off on the other side of the planet and strike the Pentagon in two hours.
And that brings us back to the European Space Shuttle. This is not just a glider, like the space shuttle, but also a rocket that is supposed to be launched by a supersonic plane. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft has got a beautiful site explaining how horizontal take-off works. The technology used is mostly known today: rails, ramjets, rockets. And equally important, this is today’s technology, not yesterday’s.