Three new orbiters, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis are being built or are on order. The shuttle is completely booked up through 1986, carrying up such things as communications satellites, military surveillance hardware, scientific laboratories, and a giant space telescope. Customers are waiting in the wings.
If shuttle flights do become routine, then we’ll start seeing a lot of people going up into space who never dreamed they would. I think we should get to work right away planning a permanent habitable space station. The Russians are working on one.
NASA is proposing one such structure, called the Space Operations Center (SOC). It would be assembled from modules taken up by the space shuttle and would be a space service station. One day pieces of large communications platforms could be constructed at the SOC. Space tugs could dock there and take those pieces on to the higher orbits they require. We might eventually want to use it as a base for building solar-power satellites that will beam the sun’s free energy down to earth in microwaves.
Much sooner than that, I think, such a station would prove worth building if only because it would force us to develop advanced technology. Zero g will be a remarkable new laboratory for basic science. People already predict we’ll learn how to build purer glasses for lasers and telescopes and stronger metals in space. But there will also be a serendipity effect: We’ll discover things we never imagined. Things that will pay for ten space stations.
!HOPE to have a few more flights on the shuttle myself. Then I’d like to play a major role in putting that space station in orbit, maybe by taking up some of the modules. Or maybe they’ll let me stay up there and run it for a while. We could build that structure in another decade; it’s not that complicated.
You know, right after the landing, John said it all: “We’re really not that far, the human race isn’t, from going to the stars.”