Gary Michael Church
The methodology for civilization expanding into space is to be found in a triad of indispensable human endeavors: defense, communications, and energy. After food and transporting food, the defense/ communications/energy triad is the penultimate draw on technological resources. Nuclear deterrence has precluded a third world war for over half a century. Telecommunications technology has provided real time information on the state of global affairs and provided continuity. The ever-expanding energy industry continues to stabilize the infrastructure and enterprise of civilization. Fossil fuels providing fertilizer, pesticides, and horsepower have allowed humankind to reach the present population of over 7 billion and maintain a state of equilibrium. In the 21st century the triad must relocate into space if looming breakdowns in the mechanisms of civilization are to be averted. Space is where diminishing deterrence will be restored, where communications will be globally refined, and where energy is for all practical purposes limitless.
1. Step one is to DEFINE what space is and how travel through this medium is to be classified. 100 kilometers/62 miles is the present boundary, but this number is quite arbitrary. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has little in common with outer space because underneath the Van Allen belts humans enjoy protection from solar storms. Though analogy is much abused concerning space, it would be fair to characterize LEO as a freshwater pond and above the Van Allen belts as the deep ocean. LEO is not really space. The more accurate demarcation line is Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) over 23,000 miles above the surface. The often quoted claim that LEO is halfway to anywhere in the solar system is an erroneous halfway marker that should be reassigned to GEO. In 1968 human beings left LEO behind and then backtracked after Apollo because of NASA budget cuts. If LEO is not space then the actual space age only lasted four years. Space travel to an actual destination is properly defined as Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Orbit (HSF-BEO).
2. Step two is to CLASSIFY the conveyances used for space travel. The two most misused terms in this respect are “spaceship” and “space station.” Providing an Earth gravity and near-sea-level radiation environment is the key enabler for long duration Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Orbit. Massive shielding and centrifugal artificial gravity are the basic requirements for any HSF-BEO missions. These inescapable requirements are due to the heavy nuclei component of galactic cosmic radiation and zero gravity debilitation. True spaceships will ironically resemble ships at sea in that their crews will be wrapped in a bare minimum of several hundred tons of water. The terms spaceship and space station should only be applied to these rotating-with-basic-shield constructs. By this definition spacecraft and LEO platforms are all that have ever been built. It follows that mating a propulsion system to a space station changes it into a spaceship and vice versa. How to shield these stations and propel these ships is a sea change in worldview that must occur if “a real space program” is to ever become reality.
3. Step three is to clearly EXPLAIN the prerequisite technology to the public. The basic principles and realities of spaceflight are not difficult to comprehend if explained in practical terms. Unfortunately, without standard definitions and classifications the language concerning LEO, space, spaceships, and space travel is very confusing. The unavoidably massive space radiation shielding can realistically only be acquired from the six times shallower gravity well of the Moon. The ice on the Moon should be the central focus of the Human Space Flight community. There is only one realistic method of propelling such a kiloton range water shield on interplanetary missions: hydrogen bombs. These hard facts are quite a shock at first but the denial stage does wear off. The technology has existed for decades. The stark reality is going to the Moon to acquire shielding, assemble, test, and launch nuclear missions is the only path to space. The launch abort hardware exists for safely transporting fissionable material to the Moon where the shielding is. There is certainly no shortage of plutonium for nuclear pulse systems.
4. Step four is to POPULARIZE the end goals of a Human Space Flight program. The most perfect vision to date is Gerard K. O’Neill’s concept of space colonization. The enabler in O’Neill’s vision was solar energy beamed to Earth from GEO arrays effectively ending global poverty and climate change. The only way to remedy the effect of greenhouse gases on the ecosystem is to acquire the energy to run civilization outside of that system. That means beaming the energy down from space. The same beams can eventually power Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) launch vehicles. The revenue to reform the energy industry would come from the 100 billion dollar a year GEO satellite industry. This satellite system will inevitably collapse due to space debris if not replaced by a smaller number of efficient space stations. Wet workshop space stations originating in lunar orbit can clean up this junkyard using laser technology. More seed money for this future space plan would come from basing nuclear weapons off-world in deep space. This would serve to protect the Earth from asteroid and comet impacts as well as continue in their present role.
5. Step five is to VALIDATE the funding for exploiting the necessary lunar resources to build the first true space stations in lunar orbit. When considering the staggering price tag of replacing the aging U.S. ballistic submarine fleet, the necessary Super Heavy Lift Vehicle launches (SHLV) become less daunting. Wet workshop lunar space stations only require a nuclear pulse propulsion system to transform them into true spaceships. Funding for all nuclear weapon delivery systems on Earth, submarines, missiles, and bombers could thus be diverted. By replacing the GEO network with space stations in concert with spaceship construction the costs could be further reduced. The same nuclear devices used to propel spaceships can also be modified to create lunar underground factory space. A “Nuclear Moon” infrastructure would be used to lift from the lunar surface the immense solar power satellite arrays necessary to power civilization on Earth. Beam propulsion would drastically lower the cost of both lunar lift and the cost of launching from Earth allowing for ever larger numbers of space travelers.
6. Step six is to DISCARD unnecessary programs the move into space will make obsolete. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent maintaining legacy nuclear delivery systems vulnerable to a first strike, dangerously compromising deterrence. Almost all of these systems are past due replacement. Missile silos are precisely targeted, submarines can no longer hide, and bombers are no longer kept in the air round the clock. Spaceships will not be any more expensive than these delivery systems and have a great deal of technology in common with nuclear submarines. Unlike Earth based systems, spaceships will not have minutes to launch but more likely months. In addition, the planet itself can be defended with these spaceships from asteroid and comet impacts. Beside the nuclear defense industry, the telecommunications and ultimately the energy industry are most efficiently entirely space-based. Human-crewed spaceships and GEO space stations are the key to this new infrastructure. The opportunity to vastly improve conditions for humanity on Earth by the end of the 21st century has arrived.
7. Step seven is LEGISLATE a long term program. There is no downside to expanding the human presence into space. As the defense/communication/energy triad is gradually moved off-world the benefits to humankind will manifest in direct proportion. Slowing the hair-trigger nuclear response of deterrence will be complemented by space station direct human visual observation. This will greatly reduce the present nuclear inventory and support structure resulting in huge defense savings. The global connectivity provided by GEO space stations will be an order of magnitude improvement and enable a wireless world. The end-game of space solar power virtually eliminating fossil fuel use on planet Earth is the precursor to lowering the population. The promise of space colonization is to actually create artificial hollow moons from lunar resources and homes for tens of billions of people. The promise of beam propulsion is cheap SSTO lift into cislunar space on the scale of commercial air transportation. The people of the United States and of the rest of the world will support this vision of a bright future.
In conclusion, the most powerful device ever created by humankind, the H-bomb, is the only force capable of propelling a spaceship through interplanetary space. Nuclear pulse propulsion was endorsed by a cadre of celebrity scientists including von Braun, Sagan, and Clarke. The concept was also validated by the work of the originator Stanislaw Ulam, Freeman Dyson and Theodore Taylor. The Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative added mountains of classified research applicable to the directed energy devices used in pulse propulsion. Space Radiation shielding on a massive scale that provokes shock and dismay is unavoidable. However, the main difficulty with bomb propulsion is building spaceships on a small enough scale, so the two problems solve each other. The larger the mass the more efficient and economical pulse propulsion becomes. Lighting off nuclear devices near the Earth or inside the Earth’s magnetic field is unacceptable due to fallout. This is no drawback since the lunar-ice-as-shielding this powerful system will push is to be found on the Moon and outside the magnetosphere.
The logical sequence is to start by replacing the present GEO satellite junkyard by assembling wet workshop space stations in lunar orbit. These water-filled stations can then be transited back across cislunar space to GEO or completed as spaceships. The stations will generate revenue to defray the cost of the nuclear armed and propelled spaceships replacing the obsolete Earth deterrent. A few pounds of plutonium in the palm of a gloved hand holds the same energy carried in a fleet of supertankers. The only efficient way to release this energy outside of a star is in the pulse of an H-bomb. The counter-intuitive constructive harnessing of this destructive event is the key to space travel and colonization. The same devices that can push a water shielded spaceship through interplanetary space can deflect any asteroid or comet threat to Earth. If natural “super-lava-tubes” are not found these same devices can create underground lunar factory space to manufacture millions of tons of solar energy components. The same devices can lift those millions of tons into cislunar space from the surface of the Moon to power civilization on Earth.