Since the spectacular Apollo moon landing in 1969 we have lost our way when it comes to big projects for putting humans into space. Some let down was inevitable. After all, the moon landing was one of the greatest achievements in human history. It's just awfully hard to top that. After the Apollo missions we built the space shuttle, which was impressive, but in the end it was pretty much a magnificent space-truck to move people and cargo into Earth's low orbit. In terms of inspiration, the shuttle program was lacking compared to the feat of landing men on the moon and returning them safely to earth.
We built some space stations too, most notably the International Space Station or ISS. But to the general public, these have been yawners and perhaps not worth the money spent. The average person is left wondering why we are spending billions of dollars to build and maintain these fragile habitats. There is just not much inspiring about them, and they haven't mattered much for advancing science either. The ISS may cost over $100 billion before its final days, and one must wonder what better space exploration projects could have been funded in its place. Aboard the ISS there is no gravity, living quarters are cramped, you sleep floating in space -- even using the toilet is comical and primitive. We are still stuck in the 1960s in many ways when it comes to putting human beings into space.
As the second decade of the 21st century rolls along - isn't it time to expect something much grander for our human endeavors into space? Isn't it time for something that will truly inspire us again while at the same time definitively giving humanity a sustainable, permanent presence in space?
If we are going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars putting humans into space, including visiting other celestial bodies like the moon and Mars, it's time to get past the mentality of one-shot space missions. We can afford to dream much bigger.
Doing a one-shot mission to Mars makes no sense given its high cost and that all of the equipment used in the mission will be discarded or put into museums. A one-shot mission to Mars is really just a souped-up version of our first one-shot mission to the moon - once it's finished, the party is over, just like it was soon over after we landed on the moon. So after a one-shot Mars mission we will be back to scratching our heads trying to figure out how humans will ever get firmly established in space. As incredible as it would be to see humans walking on the surface of Mars as part of a one-shot mission, we have to wonder if there is a better way to tackle the challenge of human space exploration.
So instead of a one-shot space project to get humans to Mars for a limited visit, we need to think in terms of a sustainable human presence in space. From this point of view, a mission to take humans to Mars would simply fit into our human-supporting infrastructure in space where humanity has a permanent presence. Thus we need a space strategy that will completely eclipse the Apollo-style programs of rocketing humans to other places as one-shot affairs.
So let's think outside the box. What would be a much bolder vision for human space exploration? We need a profoundly different strategy. And in fact there is something entirely different to consider - and it's sitting right in front of us - inspired by our science fiction.
www.buildtheenterprise.org proposes something truly inspiring. It is this: We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise - so let's do it. The ship can be similar in size and appearance to the USS Enterprise that we know from the Star Trek science fiction. It ends up that this ship configuration is quite functional. This first generation Enterprise can have 1g artificial gravity and ample living space. It can be as comfortable to live in as being on earth. A thousand people can be on board at once - either as crew members or as adventurous visitors. While the ship will not travel at warp speed, it can travel at a constant acceleration such that the ship can easily get to key points of interest in our solar system.
The Enterprise would be three things in one: an interplanetary spaceship, a space station, and a spaceport. Finally we will have a permanent and viable foothold in space - a sustainable, roving village out in the heavens. Building the Enterprise will provide a giant leap forward for the human race when it comes to the task of establishing a permanent infrastructure in space, on the moon, and on Mars - an infrastructure needed to pull us farther out into space, the place we are surely destined to explore and live.
The Enterprise could get to Mars in ninety days; it could get to Earth's moon in three. It could hop from planet to planet dropping off robotic probes of all sorts en masse - rovers, special-built planes, and satellites. It could use its extensive on-board sensors to map and explore planet surfaces and examine whatever it encounters in space, whether near or far away. It could hunt down asteroids that may threaten earth and divert them long before we are in danger. It could drop a hydrobot on to Jupiter's moon Europa (after using its laser to bore a hole through the thick surface ice), which will then drop through the hole and descend until it reaches the water below - next beaming video images back to earth so that we can watch as the hydrobot explores Europa?s vast, hidden ocean.
After the Enterprise enters the Mars orbit it can launch a Universal Lander to put the first humans on to the surface of Mars while carrying two backup landers just in case the crew encounters problems. On Earth we can all watch in awe as the first humans step on to another planet.
The Enterprise could carry huge loads of cargo to key places in our solar system. This will enable the establishment of permanent outposts beyond earth. It could carry the structures, cargo, and laser-digging equipment needed for building large and comfortable underground bases on Mars and the moon where inhabitants would be fully shielded from cosmic rays. It could be used for hauling mined materials from asteroids, Mars, and the moon on an experimental basis. Some of these mined materials can be used to sustain the Enterprise itself. It can have its own on-board experimental manufacturing facilities to, for example, process some mined materials to create its own propellant.
When out of Earth's orbit, such as when going to Mars, the crew aboard the Enterprise will be fully shielded from galactic cosmic rays and from the radiation generated by sudden and dangerous solar storms on our sun.
The main ion propulsion engine will be powered by a 1.5GW nuclear reactor. 1g gravity will be created by a .3 mile diameter rotating, magnetically-suspended gravity wheel inside the saucer-shaped main hull of the Enterprise. This large gravity wheel will give ample living space for the crew and visitors. And the ship's spaceport doors can open to launch Universal Landers that can go to and from earth, the moon, and Mars. It becomes a ship right out of our futuristic dreams. Yet, incredibly, it's a dream we are fully capable of constructing in the real world provided that we set our minds to it.
Thousands of people will visit the Enterprise each year whenever the ship is in orbit around the earth. It can serve as a space station and destination for eager space tourists - letting them see and explore the Enterprise firsthand as well as giving them a spectacular view of our marble-blue earth and beyond.
But - above all else - the Enterprise will inspire us. The ship will be over a half mile in length. The size and technological achievement will be truly awe inspiring - a worthy successor to the Apollo space program. It will be bigger than any craft or building ever constructed by humans. We can finally demonstrate that the human race has figured out how to build comfortable and sustainable living quarters in space and that we are there to stay.
And some of those inspired by this undertaking will surely be young people - many of whom will likely become motivated to pursue careers as scientists and engineers. After all - we are building the first USS Enterprise!
A new Enterprise-class ship can be built every 33 years - once per generation - giving three new ships per century. Each will be more advanced than the prior one. Older ships can be continually upgraded over several generations until they are eventually decommissioned. And one day - perhaps a century or so from now - a 4th or 5th or 6th generation ship will have the engines that will be able to maintain a constant 1g acceleration for the nine years needed to travel to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to Earth. From there, when the human voyagers look back at our sun it will be just another star in the Milky Way galaxy. In time Enterprise-class ships will be able to visit more and more stars in the galaxy. Humanity will be on the way to the explorations that we are destined to pursue. And as we detect more and more planets in the habitable zones around stars we will more than likely discover other life in the universe besides that on our planet earth. A future Enterprise can visit those strange new worlds, discover new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no human gas gone before.
If you don't think it's possible over the next two decades to build the first USS Enterprise, given the national will and funding to do so, think again. This website will tell you how it can be done. The only obstacles to us doing it are the limitations we place on our collective imagination.
It's a big universe out there. Let's ratchet up our plans and technologies to explore it!
Problem 1: The saucer section has the wrong orientation for simulating gravity. You'd have the most motion-sick crew imaginable every time the thrusters fired.
A number of solutions have been proposed on the site, such as installing a smaller wheel inside the big one, spinning the other way to negate the motion-sickness that might come. There's also a good nine years (at least) of R&D planned before construction begins.
The reason the saucer is oriented like that of the Enterprise is because the main point of the ship is to be inspirational. If something generic like this were proposed instead, very few people would have been interested. The idea is to latch onto a cultural icon as a way to get people interested in space exploration again.
Nobody's saying the Enterprise is the best configuration. But with some clever thinking, it's good enough to do its job. If necessary, the next ships can have a different layout.
EDIT: According to the site, part of the reason ion engines are planned is because they have a more gradual acceleration - only about 0.0001g. That means a 200 pound person will feel a weight shift of just .02 pounds as the wheel spins. This should not be perceptible.
The Enterprise seems like a spacecraft that needs to be built in outer space or utilize some technology like Structural Integrity Fields to get it to outer space. Without a reasonable method, I just don't see this being built until Interplanetary Tourism has been around for a few decades.
Impersonating a moderator is also not allowed.
A space station could be built in that configuration, but as a functional ship it would be impractical, the design would collapse in on itself under any sort of motion, it would be an enormous waste of materials just for the sake of appearance.
A number of solutions have been proposed on the site, such as installing a smaller wheel inside the big one, spinning the other way to negate the motion-sickness that might come.
That would also negate any perception of gravity... Whoever proposed that "fix" was trollin.
As much of a Trek fan as I am, I'd feel *much* more comfortable with the generic ship you linked. Something simple, without a strange mass distribution and a lot of construction issues, is less likely to screw up.
We can get people around the galaxy in style later, I just want to stick to efficiently and safely to start with.