Sunday, August 9, 2009
FAREWELL SPACEPLANES, HELLO AGAIN CAPSULES - BUT WHAT ABOUT THIS CONESHIP?
Sad to say, the days of those beautiful streamlined spacecraft beloved of science fiction illustrators are no more. Even the dumpy Space Shuttle will soon be no more than a bookmark of history, while single-stage-to-orbit concepts like the X-33 remain an unfulfilled dream.
In their place are coming a new generation of spacecraft that hark back to the successful days of the 1960s and 1970s, when ‘spam in a can’ astronauts rode aboard capsule craft such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. Today the longest-serving spacecraft is the Russian Soyuz, much improved over the original craft, but essentially unchanged since the first flight in 1966.
Before settling on the shape of NASA’s next-generation crewed spacecraft, many hybrids have been considered, including the one shown here, as envisaged by the supremely talented cgi outfit often used by NASA, John Frassanito & Associates. This particular design features seats for six astronauts plus racking bays for a pair of spacesuits. Riding down from orbit tip-first, soft landing would be achieved by parachutes and airbags, with skids to take the craft’s weight once on terra firma.
It’s a handsome-looking piece of machinery that would offer greater flexibility in landing-point selection than a conventional capsule. However, this advantage is not enough to outweigh the design’s extra cost, weight and complexity.
A pity - it looks good.