Monday, June 13, 2005

Moving men and material into space

(Picture credit
Excel-web sharing of spreadsheetsInteresting article on the challenges of transporting people and material into near-Earth orbit. Say, logistic support for a Mars colony or an interstellar mission, for instance:

"What you need is a launch system that stays on the ground"... One option is laser propulsion. Researchers at [RPI] have shown that they can propel an object weighing 5 ounces 300 feet into the air with a laser. A real-life version that could launch people in a vehicle "about the size of a Volkswagen" would require a 1,000-megawatt laser located on top of a mountain, he said...

...Another option is the Slingotron. "It is a huge slingshot affair that accelerates your payload on a spiral track and then, zoom--off to outer space," he said. It would kill humans but could be used for cargo.

A third option is the space elevator, a large structure made of customized molecules that could spring people into outer space, according to proponents...

Project Orion (The Space Site)
Dyson himself worked on Orion, a project to land people on Mars, in the 1950s and 1960s. Orion, which would have been built by a submarine company in Connecticut, would have literally been a spaceship.

"We were going to walk on Mars with our notebooks and draw pictures of everything. It would have been true 19th century exploring," he laughed.

To propel it out of orbit, however, would have required exploding 3,000 atomic bombs, one every two seconds. The bombs would have been tossed out of a hole in the plate in the ship, delivered by "essentially what was a glorified coke machine," he said.

Engineering prototypes and simulations showed that the project would work, and it would have cost far less than Apollo. The original plan was to get to Mars by 1965 and the moons of Saturn by 1970.

"The fatal flaw of this scenario, of course, was radioactive fallout," he said, the ill-effects of which were being discovered at the time. "Technically, it worked very well, but it was political death."

Let's colonize space for fun

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