Build the Enterprise – in 20 years, for cheap!

May 21, 2012

Build it in orbit, where it belongs…

A gentleman who calls himself “BTE Dan” has put up a very deep web site called BuildTheEnterprise.com. He envisions building a spaceship capable of reaching Mars in 90 days, within 20 years, for roughly $ 50 billion per year. That works out to a trillion dollars! (But that’s in today’s money, and I expect that $ 50 billion even ten years from now might not have the same buying power.)

I’m not going on a rant about how we spend billions each year on stuff not nearly so awe-inspiring, or any of that. I just wanted folks to see what Dan was doing. He has a somewhat unique vision, I think: would it be more inspiring to build a spaceship that could travel throughout our solar system if we named it “Enterprise” and made it look like a TV spaceship from 50 years ago? How would you do it?

While his Enterprise is not warp-capable – he’s basing it completely on technology already in place or in development today – he may have a point. I remember the elation in the “Trek community” when the first Shuttle to be rolled out was named Enterprise. Then we found out that it would never go into space – that it was a “test article.” We watched it fly around on the back of a 747 and do some glide tests, but I know many of us felt our dream had been crushed again – held out, then snatched away by realists at NASA.

The name Enterprise has a history unique in our culture. Of course Gene named his after the aircraft carrier, the first nuclear carrier in the world. By the time “The Next Generation” rolled around, rather than trying to use a different name, it was updated but called the Enterprise-D; the continuity of the name was deemed important.

And it is; symbols mean things. I’ll be “Star Trek” inspired hundreds of thousands of young people to become scientists and engineers over the years. (I think “Star Wars” is looked at rather differently, but I’m not ready for that argument!)

And I think Dan is right: the ability to build an “Enterprise-like” spaceship is now technically within our reach. Getting to orbit is getting easier, and over the next three or four years it should get easier still. By the time components need to be put in orbit – and that’s where you build it, J.J. Abrams, not on the ground! – access to orbit will be easier and more reliable, and somewhat less expensive. Such a program might even encourage the commercial space access companies to move faster. Part of the reason they aren’t moving faster now is that the market is too small and too variable. Does any other company have a backlog of 20 missions or more, like SpaceX?

So read through Dan’s pages. I would love to think this would be the start of something really big!




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