The Need for New Space Travel Systems

NASA is known worldwide for putting people into Earth orbit. The agency is also known as the only organization that has shot humans at escape velocity speeds to the Moon. However, NASA could also be known as an agency that's going nowhere fast (David). Even NASA's chief Sean O'Keefe is eager about the need for speed. "The agency is stuck in slow gear, scooting about in spacecraft today at velocities not much greater than when John Glennfirst entered Earth orbit over 40 years ago" (O'Keefe).
The horrendously high price to orbit of over 20,000US$ per pound is a bitter indicator for the need of new propulsion systems. Fatal accidents as the Columbia tragedy early last year show the extremely high loads on materials and structures that occur during launch phases with actual propulsion systems and thus the utter need for totally new propulsion concepts. Space flight such as missions to the Moon and Mars and the exploration of deep space require new propulsion technologies that not only reduce travel time, but are cost effective, safe, and have short turnaround periods.
The illusion that the Space Shuttle along with its traditional chemical propulsion was a safe enough system to commercially transport people into Earth orbit was tragically ended by thefirst Shuttle tragedy in late January, 1986, when the Challenger exploded only 73 seconds into launch. The seven member of the Challenger crew were all killed in this terrible accident. A Presidential investigation commission composed of 13 members quickly found the mechanical cause of the accident to be the failure of the joint of one of the Solid Rocket Boosters. The commission came to the conclusion that the design was not well understood and that it had not been adequately tested.
Seventeen years after the Challenger accident yet another tragedy of the same dimensions traumatized both the population and NASA. At 9 AM EST on Saturday, February 1, 2003 …

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