Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Re: SSTO's would have made possible Arthur C. Clarke's vision of 2001.

Copyright 2012 Robert Clark

 Very interesting article on The Space Review discussing a recently
discovered copy of a 1963 TV interview with Arthur C. Clarke:

The perils of spaceflight prediction.
by Jeff Foust
Monday, December 5, 2011

 In the interview Clarke gives some predictions of the future of space
exploration. From the standpoint of the beginnings of human
spaceflight, he suggests a manned Mars mission within 25 years, which
would have been by 1988, and Moon bases by the end of the 20th
 This turned out to be too optimistic. But as I argued in this blog, this
could indeed have been technically and even financially feasible: if
it had been recognized that reusable SSTO's are possible and in fact
aren't even really hard, we would have had routine, private
spaceflight by the 1970s.
 Such wide spread, frequent launches using reusable spacecraft would
have cut the costs to space by two orders of magnitude, at least. This
would then have made the costs of lunar bases and manned Mars missions
well within the affordability range.
 The important point is that the required high efficiency engines and
lightweight stages for SSTO's already exist and have for decades. All
that is required is to marry the two together. An expendable test SSTO
could be produced, like, tomorrow. Just this one simple, cheap test
would finally make clear the fact that routine spaceflight is already

Bob Clark


  1. Bob, congratulations on the new blog. Arthur C. Clarke was certainly a visionary. It is a shame that some of his views turned out to be too optimistic.

  2. The killer for Clarke's vision - all those space stations - was automation that no longer required on-site human technicians to service the space stations. Most of the justification for humans in space for commercial applications vanished, largely due to the electronics advances of the 1960s.

    Of course the other issue is the Van Allen Belts and Solar-flares etc. making all the higher orbits so much more unhealthy than Clarke (and Heinlein before him) imagined in the 1940s/50s. The shielding requirements cooled a lot of enthusiasm for stations so far out.

  3. I'm sure you're aware that the primary justification for space stations was never servicing space assets. It was for the human habitation of space.
    In an upcoming blog post I'll discuss the fact that the SLS will make feasible an old idea of using the shuttle external tanks as space stations in LEO. They can also be used for the space stations NASA has recently discussed at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.

    Bob Clark