NASA plans to donate or lend three of its space shuttles to museums in 2010 -- but the co-founder of a rocket launch firm thinks the shuttles could help send humans to Mars.
Two space shuttles tethered together would pirouette around a center propulsion stage, providing artificial gravity for the crew. An accordion-style crew transfer conduit would connect the airlock hatches of both shuttles.
The modest proposal, titled "Mars on a Shoestring," surfaced this week on the website of inventor Eric Knight. His aerospace firm, UP Aerospace, previously launched the ashes of Star Trek's "Scotty," James Doohan, and astronaut Gordon Cooper into space in 2007.
Mars pioneers could subsist on food grown through hydroponics gardens and rely on regenerative life-support systems similar to those on the space station, Knight claims. He admits to one catch: volunteers would resign themselves to becoming the first permanent residents of the Red Planet, barring follow-up missions to retrieve them.
Another potential difficulty receives less mention -- studies have shown that deep space radiation poses a high level of risk to any Mars-bound crew.
Knight's pioneering and conservationist spirit notwithstanding, NASA's attention seems focused elsewhere these days. NASA administrator Mike Griffin plans to step down on Jan. 20, and the space agency's plans for the Constellation program's return to the moon could face overhaul by the incoming Obama administration.
Museums have also already begun clamoring for a shuttle-sized piece of history, despite the hefty price tag of $42 million required to prepare the vehicles for public viewing.
But even if Knight's proposal gets filed in the dust bins of history, that doesn't mean Mars will remain forever out-of-reach. PopSci recently paid a visit to the simulated Mars habitats of NASA's Spaceward Bound program. And then there's a very vocal former astronaut named Buzz who says it's Mars, or bust.
Id volunteer for that any day! but when would it happen?I hope you wouldn't have to be like, over 21 or anything...
I few years ago, I suggested to an acquaintance of mine that the shuttle should be retrofitted for trips outside of earth orbit. I suggested that part of the cargo bay could be used for extra fuel for the engines and expanded crew quarters. I was thinking of missions to the asteroid belt, or perhaps to the moon with a lunar lander stored in part of the cargo bay. He said the Shuttle leaked. Not a problem for a few weeks stay in orbit, but missions with months long durations would be a problem. Additionally, he said that geometry of the crew quarters section of the Shuttle had a geometry with too many creases and corners to make fixing the problem not practical. The acquaintance designed the avionics software for the X-38 re-entry vehicle and I have no doubt he has worked on Shuttle systems as well. So, the Shuttle will never fly to Mars.
Maybe they could be used to send the supplies to mars, while the humans go in a different vehicle.
In response to:
"Maybe they could be used to send the supplies to mars, while the humans go in a different vehicle."
Why send the Shuttle at all? It can't land on Mars. It's most unique function is that it can land on Earth (and only Earth) carrying a payload. And just how many times has that ever been needed?
Put the shuttles into space and leave them. The shuttles should be retro fitted to be used as "Space Trucks" to haul people, supplies, and landers to the moon.
They were originally designed to fly for 100 plus missions each, which they are no where near achieving, In addition, most of the stress on the spacecraft (take off and landing) would be eliminated.
Putting them in a museum is a waste of tax payer dollars. Not much different than wasting Skylab.
Don't kill the Shuttles!
Let's see. The orbiter weighs about 100 mT, to lift it from LEO to Mars Transfer Orbit (MTO) requires a Delta-v (change in velocity) of about 3.8 kms/sec. To calculate how much fuel this would take we can use the rocket equation:
final mass = initial mass*e^(Delta-v/Ve) where Ve is the exhaust velocity of the rocket
The Orbiter burns LO2/LH2 the best rocket fuel available with a Ve of about 2400 m/sec. So let's do the math and calculate how much fuel the Orbiter needs to move from LEO to MTO:
final mass = 100000*e^(3800/2400) = 487116.6 kg = 487 mT
So now deduct the mass of the Orbiter and that gives 387 mT of fuel. The Orbiter can lift 20 mT to LEO in its cargo bay, so this would require more than 16 shuttle flights. Let's forget the awkward details about the tank needed to hold all this fuel and the losses due to boil off and now imagine the Orbiter in MTO about a year or more later. Oh did you want the crew alive when they got there?
Add many more tons for life support, radiation shielding, solar panels, and upgrades to extend the Orbiters 14 days on orbit capability. That's at least 4 more flights worth of supply. All this extra wait means you need more fuel but lets forget that and launch to mars. Ok now we can aerobrake down to Low Mars Orbit (LMO). Yay we made it, the Orbiter is now in LMO with the crew alive!
The atmosphere on mars is 1% as thick as earth so if you tried to land you would simply hit the ground at several thousands of miles per hour. Your stuck in mars orbit with no way to land on mars or return to earth. The mission required at least 20 shuttle flights at $500,000,000 each. So at least 10 billion dollars just to fly the stuff up and doesn't count the cost to make the equipment. all this just to strand people in a useless orbit, sounds like a shew string to me.
Jeremy I hope you are ashamed of yourself for helping to mislead people with this impractical and useless concept. There are real people doing real work to try to get to the mars safely and thrive there. UP Aerospace is doing things college students with amateur rocket license can do, even scaled composites is child's play compared to true space work. Report more on real work like that being done by SpaceX.
This comment was adapted from remarks from a brilliant friend cIclops.
Talking to ur self about rockets wont solve the proble,
that is nuts. I say even if we do get to mars and back how on earth will help our econimy. I'm all for exploring space and every thing but in my opinyon we shounld fix us first then look at extending our selves to outer space and trying to colinize it. If we do try to go with out trying to fix our econimy then we will go in to a worse depreshion then ever before.
10 Billion is a relatively small sum when you are talking about the economy of a whole country...
I dont see any point in using those shuttles for an expedition to Mars however.. These vessels werent designed for 6- or 9-month trips.. I would expect using conventional oxygen-hydrogen fuel would NOT be the most economic and sensible way to propel the spaceship between the two planets either. Ion engines or sails might be better?
Shuttles should be appropriate for trips to the Moon tho I guess? I do think it makes more sense to get to the Moon first, maybe even try to establish some "base" on the surface before jumping on a much more complex mission
The shuttle is simply the wrong vehicle for anything other than earth orbit missions. For a Mars mission just retrofitting the Shuttle so it would have power for the entire flight would involve more than designing and building a completely new vehicle. And power is only one element out of many that would have to be addressed. The shuttle also has some very difficult problems when it comes to lunar missions. Assuming that the shuttle could be refueled on orbit so it could make the trip to the moon the reentry velocity from the moon is much higher than that from low Earth orbit aproximately 25,000 miles per hour vs a bit over 17,000 miles per hour. The heat shield tiles are not designed for that kind of thermal load and the structure would be stressed beyond limit. Sorry, It is a fun idea but the numbers just aren't there.
Retired NASA scientist