Build a Better Space Station, and the Cosmos Will Beat a Path to Your Airlock

OK, not exactly, but you get the point.

Re-posted from The Orlando Sentinel:

WASHINGTON — Top NASA officials have picked a leading candidate for the agency's next major mission: construction of a new outpost that would send astronauts farther from Earth than at any time in history.

The so-called "gateway spacecraft" would hover in orbit on the far side of the moon, support a small astronaut crew and function as a staging area for future missions to the moon and Mars.

Now, I have a couple of issues with this idea. Not from a technical standpoint, as we are easily capable of building such a thing if we really wanted to. I'm sure we can all agree that there are significant political headwinds for such a project. And then there's the question of where one gets $500 billion anyway. Given the huge cost overruns of the International Space Station, my estimate may be too generous.

My main point is this: the International Space Station cost hideous amounts of money to build and took forever. It doesn't really do anything. As the old joke goes, the Space Shuttle existed to service the ISS, and the ISS existed to give the Space Shuttle something to do. The space station is not particularly useful where it is now.

Instead of building a whole new one in deep space, why not simply re-purpose the existing one? While it is still in orbit, add the modules and shielding it will need to survive long term out near the moon. Give it huge fuel tanks so it can act like a giant gas station. These things are much easier to do in low earth orbit than at the Lagrange points.

After the new space station is complete, tow it out to the final destination. We'll need a space going tug for that, but that isn't too hard to build. To do it, start with a giant frame. Add huge fuel tanks and some large thrusters capable of rapid acceleration. You'd need a small pod to house the two or three crew members who'd drive the thing, but that can is easy to build. Construct the tug in orbit.

Once the tug is built, it will drag the space station out to where it's needed. Later, it will ferry supplies back and forth between Earth, the space station, and the Moon. If we play our cards right, the space station can service moon colonies, with the tug constantly bringing in fresh supplies from Earth.

For the price of refitting an existing space station and building a tug, we can provide the infrastructure needed to service probes going out into the solar system, as well as bases on the moon. It might prove to be our best investment yet.

 

1 Response

  1. This is pretty exciting, I think, but kind of scary too! It will be interesting to see where our space program goes next. 100 years ago or even 50 years ago people didn't think we would be able to do the things we can do now and explore the places we can explore now. I don't think I could ever live up in the space station. Thanks for telling me about this!

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