Eric Knight has one of the more interesting concepts I’ve heard in a while on how to get to Mars. Although the details and specifics are a bit sketchy the idea is certainly food for thought.
“Instead of retiring the Space Shuttle, and simply moth-balling the orbiters at museums and “rocket parks” around the country, could we give the fleet a heroic assignment? A grand mission commensurate with their thirty years of service? Something that would be truly historic — even through the lens of time a millennium from now? “
• Fly two Space Shuttle orbiters into earth orbit.
• Rendezvous and connect the two orbiters together — top to top — by a truss.
• The ends of the truss are anchored to the bases of the orbiters’ payload bays.
• At the center of the truss, dock a sufficiently sized propulsion stage.
• Install a “crew-transfer conduit” — a pressurized, accordion-style inflatable system that connects the airlock hatches of the two orbiters so that the crew could freely move between the two spacecrafts.
• Once the propulsion stage has accelerated this entire system on its trek to Mars, the truss is detached from the two orbiters and the truss-propulsion assembly is jettisoned.
• The two orbiters then separate to a distance of a few hundred feet, but remain connected — top to top — by a tether cable that is spooled out.
• During the separation, the accordion-style inflatable crew-transfer conduit equally elongates.
• Once the orbiters are at their maximum fixed distance apart, they would simultaneously fire their reaction control systems to set the pair into an elegant pirouette — creating a comfortable level of artificial gravity for the crew’s voyage to the red planet.
Read his paper: Mars on a Shoestring
What will happen to the Shuttles? It was reported last month that NASA will probably sale at least two of them.