Epilogue

Its time to wrap up this journey through spacecraft design. I hope readers have found it useful, and that it has fed their interest in space. For my part, I have found the process of writing enjoyable and quite therapeutic, a bit like a download of my interests, enthusiasms, and experience, and I hope in such a way as to make it accessible to people who do not have a technical background. I have found this aspect of trying to explain fairly complicated ideas in an informal and entertaining way challenging.

As I write these final few paragraphs, it is October 2007, which marks a significant anniversary. It is 50 years since the former Soviet Union lofted a small satellite called Sputnik 1 into Earth orbit, thus heralding the dawn of the Space Age! I recently read a quotation from Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo astronaut who followed Neil Armstrong onto the Moon's surface during the historic first landing in 1969. In 1957, Aldrin recalls, Sputnik 1 made no great impression on him: "It seemed little more than a stunt.'' It is easy to understand this reaction, considering that he was then flying fighters from bases in West Germany at the front line of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. No doubt the beep-beep signal from space seemed to him to be inconsequential compared to the reality of training for a conventional or even nuclear war in that region of central Europe.

However, this view wasn't shared by Buzz's bosses back in Washington, D.C. The Scientific Advisory Board Ad Hoc Committee on Space Technology met in December 1957 at the Department of the Air Force Headquarters in the aftermath of Sputnik. Their report (National Security Agency NSA 00600, dated December 6, 1957), once classified as secret but now released under the Freedom of Information Act, is summarized by the statement, "Sputnik and the Russian ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] capability have created a national emergency.'' To counter the perceived Russian threat, the committee recommended the urgent commencement of a number of active Air Force-led programs:

• A program to develop second-generation ICBMs having a certain and fast reaction to Russian attack

• The acceleration of the development of reconnaissance satellites

• The establishment of a vigorous space program, with an immediate goal of landings on the Moon

So the intention to land men on the Moon was on people's lips long before President Kennedy's famous speech of 1961.

The shock of a little piece of Russian technology over-flying U.S. territory, with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, rocked America, and the first manned flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961 was like twisting the knife in the wound. How the story unfolded from there is well known, with the Cold War competition between the two superpowers driving the space race to the Moon, culminating in Armstrong's first lunar footprints in 1969. This all seems a distant memory now, but it is for me one of the most vivid, enduring, and inspirational memories that I have of the first half-century of the Space Age. However, as I have said before, the other overriding feeling I have is one of impatience, a feeling that we ought perhaps to have already sent astronauts to stand on more distant planets. It seemed that 15 years into the new Space Age, with the departure of Apollo 17 from the Moon's surface in 1972, manned exploration of space appeared to have almost stalled.

By comparison, the Aviation Age began in 1903 with a 30-mph flight of the Wright brothers' first heavier-than-air airplane at Kitty Hawk. From these humble beginnings, the development of aviation continued unabated, and if we take a snapshot of where things stood half a century later, the first jet-powered civil airliner was already in operation, and experimental aircraft had already flown at twice the speed of sound—fifty times faster than the Wright flyer, at around 1500 mph! If we could achieve a speed of fifty times faster than Sputnik 1 now, we could reach the orbit of Mars in less than 3 days!

Although this kind of argument is flawed, nevertheless it does point to the undeniable fact that the Space Age has differed from the Aviation Age. Looking forward to the next half century, I have a greater optimism that manned exploration of space will accelerate. With the restructuring of the American space program, brought about principally by the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in a few years and renewed international competition from nations such as China, I have confidence that we will return to the Moon and venture to Mars. The other big issue, of course, is the cost of reaching orbit, and again I feel optimistic that the problem of aircraft-like launcher operation to Earth orbit will be solved in the next couple of decades. I feel the time is right.

This is all a bit late for me and for my career in the space sector, but nevertheless I have greatly enjoyed the era of the boom in space applications—communications, navigation, and Earth observation—and space science. What we have learned about the universe through the eyes of instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope has been phenomenal.

I look to the future with optimism, and I hope that this book will play a small part in inspiring young people to get involved in space science and engineering.

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