In a National Geographic article in 1989, it was stated that the Soviet Union had a booster on the pad at Byakonor with a 100 ton payload capacity (the Energia booster). When I read this I was prompted to consider how the United States could compete. The space shuttle was clearly an inferior program (in fact inferior to just about any alternative program). At first it seemed that this would be difficult, but I quickly realized that the Russian program wasn't very good either. A much better program could be undertaken as a simple application of systems engineering. Namely, use a smaller recoverable main line booster, to put standardized components of an integrated system into Earth orbit.
At this time I knew very little astronautics. Nevertheless I made attempts to communicate the idea, and began to learn some. I have since learned enough to have authored a third paper in astrodynamics and astronautics, and to have produced the software on this Web page. Even knowing very little it was possible to produce an outline, and the outline presented here differs only in detail from my outline in 1990. I submitted this to the NASA Outreach Program (An AIAA Assessment of Innovative Technologies for the Exploration of Space, March - December 1990), and received a Certificate of Appreciation. The review was of the opinion that further research should be done on the lunar program.
I believe an integrated space program should have been adopted in 1990. If it had, America's space dollar would have been much better spent throughout the 1990's. Every attempt I have made to bring this point of view into focus in the astronautics community has been futile. Some of these attempts will be recounted here.
As observed in the outline, a 20 ton payload, unmanned, two stage booster with oceanic recovery is a completely satisfactory main line booster for an integrated program, especially with a large object variant. This could be built almost off-the-shelf in a short period of time. I tried to "jazz up" the program by finding a more innovative booster, and met with some success.
Namely, the takeoff weight of a recoverable booster can be reduced by using ramjets. This has been previously considered in the astronautics literature; however an overall booster configuration which was competitive seemed to be lacking. I arrived at the "2+2" configuration, which seems to be highly competitive, an 1990. I sent the outline, including the booster suggestion, to Vandenburg AFB early in 1991. They replied that I should submit a proposal to Space Systems PK. I submitted an unsolicited proposal, requesting $250,000 for research on 2+2 booster trajectories, in April 1991. Receipt of my letter was not acknowledged. (I have since arrived at the conclusion that a "2+1" configuration is more likely to be better than a straight rocket booster than a "2+2".)
At the same time, I had received a letter from Senator John Glenn that he would be willing to assist my efforts. When I offered him a modest consulting fee to advocate the Space Systems PK contract, I received a letter that Senator Glenn supported the president's space program.
Dr. Bruce Murray informed me that "NASA did not consult him on space station design". I consider the present space station to be the largest piece of space junk ever placed in Earth orbit. I was heartbroken when it was launched; time and time again I had tried to advocate a better program, and every time I was ignored.
I wrote twice to the Planetary Society; they replied apologetically to my second letter (the first was addressed to Dr. Carl Sagan), that they were not aware of the first letter.
One response which showed some glimmer of comprehension was from General Bruce Carlson of the USAF, who replied that he had sent the proposal to the Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space. I shortly thereafter received a letter from Colonel Stanley Mushaw stating that the Air Force was responsible only for expendable launch vehicles.
By this I presume he meant the Delta 4. In my opinion the Delta 4 project, and other U.S. space research, is a waste of money. I had a friend in on the Delta 2 team, and I gave him the proposal. No project was forthcoming, due to management decisions. I sent the proposal to Pete Conrad, who answered that he had "sent it over to personnel". Later I asked him for a University of California, Irvine research contract; he did not answer this letter. Shortly thereafter his magnificent engineering team blew up the DX2, a rocket which could fly sideways. I know some engineers who'ld like their Douglas jobs back.
Chancellor Wilkening of UC Irvine suggested that I try my department chairman; I had already tried three people in the Aeronautical Engineering department, and also one each at UCLA and CalTech. I also tried Walter Jaffe at JPL (quite early on), and Bob McEliece at CalTech, who replied that he had sent it to some "JPL'ers", but I did not hear from them. An unsolicited proposal submitted to JPL also met with no success.
While at UC Irvine, I opened a usenet thread on the subject. This was of some use; in particular one responder referred me to W.J.D. Escher's papers. These discuss ramjets, but not the 2+1/2 configuration. I wrote to Dr. Escher, and he did not reply. Neither did Freeman Dyson. Dr. Stulinger did reply, that he was overwhelmed with mail. The JBIS turned down the outline (it finally appeared as "Outline of an Integrated Space Program" (PDF) in the Proceedings of the 2001 Mars Society Convention, 13 years after I had started the research). I sent email to the "director of space transportation" at NASA Langley, who was involved in the supersonic ramjet project, to the effect that I had a suggestion for an important project involving supersonic ramjets; as usual I received no reply. Later I did hear, and about the same time submitted an unsolicited proposal to NASA headquarters, which of course was rejected with an obnoxious and inaccurate letter.
I believe the second space shuttle accident could have been avoided. Perhaps the most culpable response was that of NASA public relations, which can be found in the above cited article.
I also believe that at this point NASA should proceed with planning for the space shuttle with the intention of retiring it as soon as possible, and with as few flights as possible. This can easily be done if a new program is adopted. I sent this suggestion to the NASA general email a couple of days after the accident, with a brief outline of the 2+2 configuration and a reference to the Mars Society Convention paper. If they took the suggestion seriously there has certainly been no evidence. I might add that scientifically, there is a case that every space project under development should be cancelled.
One responder on the usenet thread asked how an individual could contribute to a profession full of other people, especially an amateur. I have a question of my own. It is an understanding of scientific inquiry as an ingredient of society that it is not subject to arbitrary decisions; when will our scientific community be democratic enough that scientists can at last take this for granted?