back to article Send old Shuttles to Mars, says Scotty ashes prang man

A former advertising copywriter and web-biz maven turned inventor and rocket entrepreneur has proposed a novel plan for disposing of NASA's soon-to-be-retired space shuttles. Eric Knight, perhaps most famous for temporarily mislaying the ashes of James "Scotty from Star Trek" Doohan, believes that a pair of shuttles should be …

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Alien

How about...

..he is the first (probably only) volunteer.

What a loon!

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Coat

Send 'em to Phobos

And start experimental research into teleporting.

:-)

Mines the one with the double barrelled shotgun down the inside....

Steven R

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Good idea

That's actually a very good idea, although I wonder if the shuttles would provide sufficient radiation shielding.

However, I suspect NASA and the US administration is too conservative to put it into practice. They'd want the very latest technology, or not at all. After all, the bazillions invested in space research is blatantly to create jobs and new technologies; recycling is an alien concept.

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atmosphere

If there isn't enough atmosphere for a gliding landing, why would there be enough for a parachute?

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Huh?

How does the "sufficiently size propulsion stage" get up there? Magic? Levitation?

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Sam

What?

"squeamish [sic]"

What's wrong with that spelling? Am I missing something? Or did you mean squeamish people are sometimes sic? (sic)

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: What?

It's bad grammar, not inaccurate spelling.

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds like fun

though it'd have to be a small crew of one or two, with the second shuttle would be just about emptied and filled with supplies to last as long as possible.

To return, how about firing an autonomous extra-thrust module & fuel tank into orbit around Mars so the whole thing can be done in reverse assuming they survive? Maybe some sort of designed-to-crash-land launch system / kit of parts for a launch system too?

I think I'd volunteer if such a mission had a decent chance of successfully getting to Mars (and was well known/televised). I'm an Engineer, so I'd be useful. And, tbh, I'd rather die being part of the first crewed Mars mission than spend the nex 50 years working so I can die in a puddle of my own piss...

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I'll go

Sign me up.

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Mat

I can

think of a few politicians I'd like to put on those shuttles!

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Boffin

he's loosely tethered, alright

With over six billion people on the world, I suspect there's plenty who would volunteer. Look at all the Survivor entrants. And it's possible some of them would even be "qualified".

But the tethering scheme is pretty dodgy. Not impossible, perhaps, but we're still trying to figure how to predict the interaction of tethered bodies.

If the payload bay of the shuttles is full of parachutes, would there be any room for provisions? Maybe it would be better if the astronuts[sic] involved wore the para-shirts and landed via sky diving. Hey! They could leave the shuttles in orbit and descend to the surface via tether, using the para-shirts as air-brakes!

Sign me up!

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Alien

Oh, come on.

The chances of anything getting to Mars are a million to one.

Even then, the colonists would die from alien germs.

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Anonymous Coward

Pass the popcorn

Hmm, reading this article and the proposed plan reminded me very much of two films - Rocketman (Disney? comedy) and 2010. Especially the bit about connecting the two craft a la Leonov and Discovery in that book/film.

Can't see his plan happening any time soon - too Heath Robinson for NASA I'd be willing to bet. Although I'd be the first to admit that maybe I'm being too hard on the guy for losing the ashes of the patron saint of astro-engineers...

Better get that patent in on the idea fast though - before some troll tries.

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Go

it is an idea

No sure how good it is.

@atmosphere - one hell of a large parachute - don't they weight in at 25 tons each?

And then there is that requirement of a huge (read as heavy) propulsion device.

But, if the ship sails I have a few nominees for riders. Forget volunteers. We have better candidates to be rid of.

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Alien

Titan

this was the plot of the Stephen Baxter novel - Titan

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Heart

Brilliant Idea

I think its a wonderful idea - dump old obsolescent space hardware and have yourself a habitation on another planet to boot.

I dont know how much payload each machine can carry... but you'd surely have enough for an extended stay on Mars plus minus room for manned rovers in CKD storage.

The issues I can see are fairly simple.

Why bother with all the complication of a 'dackelbauch' propulsion system? why not just double up on the launch assist rockets and tank - you'd have 50% left when you got up there and burning that would probably give you enough to get to Mars - alternatively send up one or more of those natty space trucks full of fuel - refill the whole lot.... it should be possible.

There is also the radiation situation... easily solved... remove the heatshields and replace with antiradiation equipment - since the last I heard Mars doesnt have an atmosphere - no atmosphere, no heat on re-entry.

As to the one-way trip thing, just get volunteers. If someone volunteers for something then where is the problem.

I have got to say I think it is a brilliant idea and some fairly impressive lateral thinking. God's know what this human race could manage if we stopped trying to kill each other and got on with making progress.

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Tom

parachute vs wings

"If there isn't enough atmosphere for a gliding landing, why would there be enough for a parachute?"

Because you could provide the shuttles with a much larger parachute than their wings. That way you get more drag from the same atmospheric density.

They might be better off keeping the shuttles in orbit and using Soyuz style entry modules to get the crew and supplies to the surface, though.

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@atmosphere By Chris Cooke

Well there probably IS enough atmosphere for a gliding landing, just not with a shuttle wing size.

(and sign me up too, I'll go).

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Coat

Don't be so negative!!!

Hell, I'll go.

I happen to be aware of the fact that the inner asteroid belt provides enough radiation shielding from the rest of the galaxy for us to be able to potter around the inner system... which happily ends just after Mars. I've also noticed that a couple of other things that we've landed on mars have been parachuted in, so I'm happy to trust that method. Also, the B52 aeroplane takes off with something like 240 tons of munitions onboard, so I'm not worried about the odd 25 tons here or there. I'm also happy to go one way, provided sufficient supplies to set up a permanent base are included.

In answer to the 'how does a sufficiently sized propulsion unit get into space'... I'm going to have to reply... BIT BY BIT YOU FOOL! Just like the ISS did, and thats huge. I've been in ONE module of the ISS at Kennedy space centre, and it isnt small. Plus as far as I'm aware the Russians still have working Soyuz rockets, which, once the shuttle is retired, will be the only craft capable of making trips to the ISS, at least until the Chinese/Iranians/Richard Branson get theirs working.

So... Volunteers, check, getting it up there, check, parachute, check, one way mission, check, escaping all the idiots and crap down here, check....

Mine's the one with the 'Mars '09' patch on the shoulder.

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Coat

Spacecrafts?

I'd be very wary of anyone who used the term 'spacecrafts' in a plural sense. Although I'm sure we could find some sheeps to ferry aboard. ;)

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Anonymous Coward

and in English?

"....he wrote a book called Outer Space while still in the third grade."

For the benefit of us English types, what does that mean in terms of his age at the time of writing?

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One Way Trip

Actually, his plans for a one way trip aren't that outlandish.

Realistically if we (as mankind) want to go to Mars, we have to acknoweldge that it is likely to be one-way, or extended stay.

Throughout history this has been known - look at the settlers to the Americas or the Antipodes.

Even during the moon landings it was though, privately at least, that the trip might be one way.

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Coat

I sugest...

that we start this hare-brained scheme the same way the Montgolfier brothers did - with a dog and a basket full of chickens....

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@"spacecrafts" AC

Yeah, I wish people like that would end up sleeping with the fishes. Except the older ones, the poor old deers.

Also, how good was "outer space" in this guy's third grade? Was it "and then captain leeroy jenkins the third piloted his totally awesome spaceship into the baddies and it totally went kablammobooom and 'sploded and the baddies died"? Or an actual readable book?

Also, I agree with the orbiting-shuttles AC; this would make returning to Earth far easier.

Come on, Obama! Commit the USA to getting a man to Mars- and back- before the next decade is out!

And lets just hope there's not some afroed student sat there in a modified diving suit with a wormhole back to california when we get there...

Yes, we- I volunteer as long as it's got some sort of a chance of making the journey!

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Boffin

couple' years, eh?

Gawd, what a rad idea, send some folks into a more than hostile environment with limited supplies and tell them to happily enjoy self-reliance while you promise to get everything sorted till the next launch window comes along. I mean, it is not as if you would hand them a bag of seeds, spade, ax and hoe and tell them to get along once they reach the other shore.

"Have you, applicant, been diagnosed as at least latently suicidal or do you suffer from an acute death-wish?"

"Yes."

"Would you, applicant, be happy to die from decompression, undamped impact, fire, radiation or starvation, all on a mission classified as one-way by design?"

"Sure thing, bring the pain!"

"Welcome aboard, Spaceman."

OTOH it would be quite a waste not to use the remaining orbiters as a basis for some bigger space-built craft. I'd imagine you would have to add a massive amount of cargo space just to bring sufficient water & food, not even to speak of equipment and fuel. The whole thing would be much too big to land, so the more rational approach would be to have detachable cargo-bays that can survive going down to the surface on their own and use a landing module for the crew while the main craft stays in orbit. That's if you want your crew back alive. If you man the whole thing with people you want to get rid of, well, you can use the old orbiters, pack them to the brim with those to be expended and tie the bays shut with shoestring. Tell them they are going to deflect a killer-meteor or something. But that is *not* a nice thing to do.

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Alert

Problem..

Exactly how much air will they need to get there?

And once they're there how in the bloodly hell will they breathe?

Is this guy aware that there is no breathable air on mars?

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Awesome...

I'll go :-D. Although not a completely sound idea, the priciples at least are correct. Were do i sign up?? And for all those flaming and baiting this idea, there is no real scietific, physical etc reason this isnt possible, probabl - no, possible - yes! Would gladly lend a Physics degree to the project :)

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Erm, NO

One way trips are out of the question, you might volunteer but others might not enjoy listening to your rapid decent into madness and inevitable suicide, or alternatively death from lack of Food, Water, Oxygen or medical assistance. I Think TV might have lied to you about space travel being all about meeting strange feminine looking aliens who fall in love with you, if you want to practise try locking yourself in a caravan for a couple of years and let us know how you get on...

Actually come to think of it it might make good reality TV, didn't some one fake something like this for some airheads a couple of years ago?

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Stop

@Sarah Bee

If it's bad grammar, "sic" should come at the end of the grammatically incorrect bit, not after the bit that makes perfect sense.

"I think society may be squeamish" is not grammatically incorrect. Reg readers would be better served by adding the obviously omitted word, thus :

"I think society may be [too] squeamish to support a one-way trip."

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Coat

Think of the children

Load them up with pedos and blast them into space.

News just in; a 12 year old boy has been loaded onto the space craft by mistake. This is exactly the sort of thing we did not want to happen!

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Supplies

He forgot to include any food or drink...

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Paris Hilton

Nonsense idea

This is absolutely not a brilliant idea. It's the most retarded thing I've seen in a very long time.

1) Shuttle & crew can't survive an off-runway landing. You're supposed to jump out with your chute if it looks like you won't reach the runway.

2) The Shuttles are _massive_. Two shuttles in such a configuration would mass well over 200 tons.

You'd need a tremendous amount of fuel, and a way to loft it all. That would take many, many Shuttle flights to construct. It would be bigger than ISS.

3) The shuttle's can't operate for more than a few weeks as-is. The fuel cells dry up. The volatiles leak.

You'd need extensive redesign to accomplish any of this, and it won't be cheaper.

The fact that the Shuttles already exist does not mean you actually save any money.

People throw this kind of thinking around a LOT. However it is nonsense.

Likewise, you would not save any money trying to turn a Toyota Previa into a jet car, even though the Previa indistiputably already exists.

4) The Shuttles are delicate and don't stand up well to debris. Even in LEO they are routinely hit by debris. The most recent mission got SMACKED IN THE WINDOW BY A METEOR. It was later described as the CLEANEST orbiter they've ever flown.

And that's flying it in the safety of the upper atmosphere. When you start flying it off in the middle of nowhere, that's when it starts to get a lot more dangerous that a meteor on the window.

5) It's not a one way trip. It's a 1/10th way trip, since that's how far you'll get before you die because it's a stupid, stupid, nonsense idea.

Paris, because we know who REALLY came up with this.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Huh?

You carry the tank & fuel inside the two shuttles. Once the shuttles are in orbit, the cargo hold is converted into living quarters and the tank is assembled externally.

I like the idea. If I was qualified I might even have volunteered.

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surly this would be a massive saving aswell

the decommissioning cost of a shuttle is pegged around $42 million (the figure given in the register article about donating the shuttles) that gives the project a budget of $84 million dollars

unfortunately the per-launch costs of a shuttle including 30 tonne payload is about $60 million (unfortunately this is a wikipeidia quote but all i could find quickly)

so just to get the shuttles into space along with the equipment will cost $120 million plus then launching the booster system and fuel into space and research and development of a tethering system, researching long term air supply systems for the "long term" occupants and then there is also the issue of how well would a shuttle stand up to a Martian sand storm and what heating system are they going to be using to stop everything freezing the rovers don't need to be kept above zero but im pretty sure any Martian inhabitants would like to stay above ~20 deg C

i don't think strapping some massive solar arrays to the shuttles would be particularly cheap

look at how much fuel the antartic research stations use this becomes the biggest hurdle to deal with

this plan though intersting seems to have more holes than anything

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Bod

No chance

The shuttles were never designed for anything other than relatively low earth orbit. The stresses involved in the thrust and gravity fields to take it to mars, not to mention the radiation outside of low orbit, having to refit them for life support to mars (and maybe back)... it's just going to cost 100s of billions.

And that's not even considering the complexity of using the ZX81 power of computing they have to fly to Mars! ;-)

@Lewis Mettler, re: weight.

Indeed. 25 (metric) tonnes in Mars gravity (very aprox). They're apparently 68 tonnes empty weight on Earth. Can go up to 105 tonnes though for an Earth landing (so 39 on Mars). Though would lower gravity allow a greater maximum weight tolerance for landing?

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Go

Redundancy.

Yes, good plan apart from the gravity idea, it would up the risks a bit much. Muscle degeneration you say...ah well, Mars has less gravity...

Just weld 'em together and send them off, I say. If one of them is compromised, you can use the other one and jettison. Or if successful, prior to landing leave one in orbit for the return trip.

Supplies is the real issue, if you leave the Rovers behind and stock up well, I think it really is plausible.

DO IT!

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Stop

@ Erm, NO

Whats your point? :-) I'll still give it a whirl, where did we ever get not taking risks?

Carry on.....

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Anonymous Coward

Manned space exploration is a waste of money

For the foreseeable future, much more would be learnt by spending the money on unmanned space exploration. If the money were available.

If some nutter wants to do some privately funded manned space exploration, then we might as well let them, but the only benefit to mankind will be as a psychiatric case study. Let's not waste public money on this.

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Definitely....

Sounds like a fantastic idea, well actually suicidal and couldn't possibly work, forget the fact that even spinning a probe at slightly the wrong speed ends up with it turned into bits all over the place, I'm sure a "big parachute" will be fine, hell it's not "rocket science" is it?

Let's look at the parallel, "Golgafrinchans", send all the people that we really don't have any need for (and anyone who thinks manned mars missions is a good idea), less people on the planet and a stronger gene pool, it's a win win situation.

Maybe we should keep a few telephone sanitisers.

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Alien

Candidates for the trip

Sure, just fill it up with telephone receiver sanitation technicians and the like (trying to remember what other occupations were on that ship, cosmologists maybe?)

I'd support sending a mission to Mars just so someone can locate amanfrommars, he appears to have taken an extended holiday. Maybe the website redesign irritated him too much?

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@ Joe Cooper

Nice :) Thing is, if you deem the crew expendable anyway, you don't have to care as much whether the craft is really up to the job.

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Go

B-Ark?

Calling all hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants and telephone sanitizers.

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jon
IT Angle

Mars - a step to far?

The leap Mars is 'do able' though granted a bit ambitious. However the technology to make it possible has been public domain information for some thirty years so maybe one day perhaps. Until then you will just have to make to with the free space flight simulator.

Now I wonder if anybody thought of using the old shuttles for a shorter haul flight, say the moon and back on a regular basis or perhaps one of the Earth crossing Asteroids after all in terms of Delta V requirements they are more reachable.

The IT angle... what OS would you trust with your life?

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@Manned exploration is a waste of money

And this attitude is why the human race is near stagnation.

It's the same old reasons:

"Its more efficient to send unmanned" Not really. Humans are more reactive, can improvise and make immediate decisions. Even limp wristed liberals or pen pushers have their moments.

"Its not safe" The health and safety fascists need to grow a backbone. There are no rewards without risk, and there areplenty willing to take that risk.

"Its too expensive/ it's a waste of public money" As opposed to using public money for supporting the drinking habits of the unemployed, or providing state funded IVF to add to over-population? It's worth both public and private money - especially with the possible end result of colonization.

The only country likely to succeed is China - They are putting in the investment and have the pride and daring to get the job done.

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Thanks for the feedback! (Yes, I am the author of this Mars concept.)

Hi everyone.

The vast majority of you here are much more open-minded than the readers on my side of the pond. I hope some of my U.S. readers will be inspired by your creative thinking.

I heard about Lewis Page's excellent article about my "thought paper", so I had to visit to take a look. I really enjoy his writing style, including the subtle humor he has woven into the story.

I truly appreciate your thoughts and ideas. I'll continue to evolve my "thought paper" over time. For quick reference, the link to it is: http://www.remarkable.com/marsonashoestring.html

Regarding the question of how old I was in third grade: I was eight years old.

Thank you for the ideas and words of encouragement.

Dream big.

Cheers.

-- Eric

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Anonymous Coward

@Ian Ferguson

"...blatantly to create jobs and new technologies..."

Horrors!

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@Jemma

Extra fuel on Earth is not the same as extra fuel in orbit.

A normal space shuttle launch uses two 590T booster rockets, and a 762T external fuel tank to supply the shuttle's three main engines (3.2T each). This will lift a 109T shuttle into low earth orbit.

An extra fuel tank, two boosters and three main engines buy you an extra 100T of payload (a bit less really, because you need something to hold the extra bits in place).

If you want to take a space shuttle and a full external fuel tank to low earth orbit, you would need a stack of one space shuttle, 10 external fuel tanks, 18 booster rockets and 24 extra main engines.

The crawler-transporter would not be able to move your stack to the launch pad and the shuttle's orbital maneuvering system would be severely under powered. The external fuel tanks are designed for use inside the atmosphere. I doubt that one would survive the entire journey to earth orbit.

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@Various

@Flocke Kroes

"If you want to take a space shuttle and a full external fuel tank to low earth orbit, you would need a stack of one space shuttle, 10 external fuel tanks, 18 booster rockets and 24 extra main engines."

Hypothetically you just wouldn't bother doing it that way in the first place... You take it up in pieces. That's what the Space Shuttle is designed for, and that's how we used it to build ISS.

@Eric Knight

It frightens me when these sorts of ideas propagate because they're so very hard to shake, and because we live in a democracy, and it just makes it harder for people to understand what NASA is doing. It amounts to negative propaganda against the few people who are actually trying to make this Mars thing work.

This reinforces the ridiculous notion that because X already exists, you can simply turn it into Y for less than the cost of doing Y from scratch.

A lot of armchair engineers love throwing this thinking around, but it rarely works IRL.

Nobody would suggest that I could turn a bowl of tuna salad into chocolate covered strawberries.

This idea is a exemplary of why this thinking doesn't work. The Shuttle is designed, start to finish, to land on Earth, on a runway, carrying it's massive engines with it, so that it can be used again, after a brief stint in LEO.

Please try to understand what the box is before you try to think outside of it.

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Boffin

Stephen Baxter

As Jeff pointed out above, this was the plot device in Baxter's 'Titan' novel (an excellent read btw, far better than his later stuff). In the novel, a crew of 5 took around 6 years to reach Titan in a one-way trip in shuttle hardware, prior to descending onto the moon itself in Apollo CMs. As you might expect, bad things happen on the way.

(Read 'Voyage' for his alternate history manned Mars mission)

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Boffin

@Paul Donnelly

Clever B52s in your neck of the woods.

My references for the B52H give a maximum take-off weight of 220 tonnes (airframe, fuel and munitions) which is somewhat short of your 240 tons of munitions. I doubt that any later versions would have a maximum take-off weight of 240 tons (another 10% approx.).

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