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The History of Space Travel: The First Launch to Commercial Flights

Updated on February 7, 2013
The International Space Station Orbiting The Earth
The International Space Station Orbiting The Earth | Source

Here I am going to explore the issues of the space transport/travel. I will research the different spacecrafts used, i.e. lunar modules and space shuttles, why these are used, and for what job each one is used for. Within this hub I will look into how the different transportation's are designed to accommodate for humans, the facilities within them and how they can support life in space. I will also cover a history of space exploration including programs initiated and the lunar modules/space shuttles from the first developed to modern day shuttles.

Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour | Source

Space Shuttle

The idea of a ‘rocket plane’ was first thought of in the 1930’s by a man named Eugen Sanger. The Austrian-German aerospace engineer was among the first people to envisage a ‘rocket plane’ that could carry a crew of people. Eugen contributed a lot to lifting body and ramjet technology; he saw that typical aircraft design had a flaw in its speed in that the wings caused a lot of drag. Eugen’s design of a lifting body resolved this problem. A lifting body is essentially one symmetrical wing, with, as seen in today’s modern space shuttles, the cabin and upper part of the craft on top. This design worked well, however due to such a small wing span, when travelling at sub-sonic speeds, achieving a controlled and stable flight would become hard to achieve. If this design was used on a simple rotary bi-plane, flight would be impossible. However in a ‘rocket plane’ initial speed would help with take off and computers on board can help stabilise the plane when travelling at lower speeds.

Initially, the first spacecrafts sent into space were designed for a one way trip only. In the 1950’s the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials compared the space programs traditional use of expendable launch vehicles to ‘’Throwing away a railroad locomotive after every train trip’’ whereas a reusable shuttle would offer cost effective, routine access to space. Once approval for such space shuttles was given, designs were made and a revolution in space travel was born. In the 1960’s, using Eugen Sanger’s ‘lifting body’ design, several proposals reached design and test stages for space shuttles. How ever due to problems related to budget and design difficulties, the design of reusable lunar modules was held back.

When designing a shuttle, engineers must consider the space they have within the shuttle and what objects need to be included, including sufficient space for the crew’s living quarters, the control room and the cross ways in-between. The shuttle essentially has its own environment; this environment must include all the basic things needed to support human life, as the earth does. A typical space shuttle includes atmospheric control (oxygen supply) and recycling, water, temperature control, light, food, waste removal, fire protection, a generator to make electrical power, systems to contact ground based flight-controllers and bedding/private spaces. The crew cabins’ atmosphere is approximately equivalent to that on Earth, with a composition of 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. A typical shuttle (or obiter) has a wing span of 78ft (24m) and a weight of approximately 171,000lb (77,000kg). With the exception of engines and mechanical and electrical components, the interior is subdivided into two main parts; the crew cabin and the cargo bay. The crew cabin has two levels. The upper is the flight deck, from which astronauts control the space craft during orbit and descent. The lower level is the crew’s personal quarters which contains lockers and sleeping, eating and toilet facilities. The cargo bay is a space 15ft (4.5 m) wide by 60ft (18m) long in which the shuttle's payloads are stored. Payloads can be modules or satellites that the shuttle ports to orbit or back to Earth. The cargo bay can hold up to about 65,000lb (30,000kg) during ascent, and about half that amount during descent. The shuttle though can carry more habitable space than already in the crew cabin. In 1973, an agreement was reached between the NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) for the design by ESA of a pressurized, habitable workspace that could be carried in the shuttle's cargo bay. In this space, named ‘Spacelab’, there is room for a laboratory in which experiments can be conducted, equipment for experiments is arranged in racks along the walls. Each Spacelab module is 13ft (3.9m) wide and 8.9ft (2.7m) long. The whole module is loaded into the cargo bay of the shuttle prior to take-off, and remains there while the shuttle is in orbit, with the cargo-bay doors opened to give access to space. If needed, two Spacelab modules can be joined to form a single, larger workspace.

Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch

Lunar Module Apollo 14
Lunar Module Apollo 14 | Source

Lunar Modules

The first successfully made transport in to space was Apollo 11’s Columbia carrying a lunar module (LM): The Eagle, built for the Apollo program by Grumman Aerospace Corporation. A LM is the part of the space craft that separates from the shuttle and has its own power/fuel source. The Eagle was carried by the space shuttle Columbia. NASA began work on what became known as the ‘space shuttle’ in the 1960’s. The lunar landing module which landed on the moon in July 1969 was designed to carry a crew of two and land on four legs. The cabin for the crew is 6.65m³ (235ft³), inset are two pictures of the lunar module with two views showing the size of the cabin in comparison to the size of the entire module. The module also held batteries, water, fuel, an oxidizer, helium, oxygen and scientific equipment. Thickness and mass was also added by thermal shields. The oxidizer held the job of delivering a continuous flow of oxygen to the crew, an extremely important job. The oxidizer was placed in the middle of the LM near the crew, this was so if any problems did occur the crew were in close range to fix it. Alternatively they would have had to use some of the oxygen from the canisters on their suits, however this would have drastically shortened the time they would be able to spend on the moons’ surface.

During the Eagle excursion, one crew member (Michael Collins) stayed onboard Columbia and after 21 hours of landing on the moon Edwin Aldrin and Neil Armstrong launched the Eagle and reconnected to Columbia. The LM was left in Lunar orbit whilst the three crew members safely retuned to Earth. Inset are some pictures of the crew, the Eagle, the moon, and the Earth. After the successful mission by Eagle, the go ahead to design reusable lunar modules was given and one year later Apollo 13 unveiled Aquarius, the first module able to re-enter the earths’ atmosphere. The Aquarius however did not land on the moon due to malfunctions and instead returned to Earth 6 days later, landing in the South Pacific ocean. And ocean landing was planned though the initial landing was planned for the Indian ocean.

An Artist's Impression of The Apollo Lunar Module

The Skylab in Orbit Around Earth
The Skylab in Orbit Around Earth | Source

Skylabs

The Skylab was the first space station the United States launched into orbit, and the second space station ever visited by a human crew. I.e. a space station as it is essentially ‘stationary’, though at the same time, literally moving as it is in orbit. The 100 ton space station was in Earth's orbit from 1973 to 1979, and it was visited by crews three times in 1973 and 1974. It included a laboratory for studying the effects of microgravity and the Apollo Telescope Mount solar observatory. The design of the interior of the Skylab was lead by Raymond Fernand Loewy, an extremely influential designer of the 21st century. As well as a space designed for easy movement and an un-cramped look, Loewy wanted a social area, yet with privacy. Loewy looked back at ‘habitability studies’ he previously researched when designing the Skylab to help him create the environment he envisioned. He also argued the need for a viewing hole, this could help with issues of claustrophobia. As well as this Loewy introduced a triangular dining table to the Skylab. Being triangular, no-one could be head of the table and he felt that in a three man crew it was vital that no man, even if unconsciously so, should dominate the others.

The Skylab, has an entire crew compartment of 2325ft³ and consists of three decks; the flight deck, the mid deck and the lower deck. The inset picture (fig.6) shows these sections. The flight deck is the upper most deck and contains all of the controls and warning systems for the space shuttle, in other words the upper deck is the cockpit. The cockpit houses two specialist seats for the commander and the pilot. Presumably these seats are designed to secure both crew members in place safely whilst able to use the controls with ease.

The next deck down is the mid deck. This deck houses the living quarters (galley, sleeping bunks, toilet), stowage compartments, exercise equipment, an airlock and an entry hatch. The stowage compartments hold personal possessions and mission-essential equipment for experiments. As in space there is no gravity, the bodies of the crew will not be under any strain, and so after a while muscle degeneration will occur. This is the reason for the exercise equipment, however I imagine a lot exercises would be written off, again due to lack of gravity. For example weights would be of no use in zero gravity.

The lower (and lowest) deck is the equipment bay, this area contains the life support systems/equipment and electrical systems.

Astronauts In The Skylab

The ISS With a View of its Solar Arrays
The ISS With a View of its Solar Arrays | Source

The International Space Station (ISS)

The ISS is a research facility currently be assembled and positioned in ‘low Earth’ orbit and can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The station is a joint project among the space agencies of the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and eleven European countries. The Brazilian space agency also participates through a separate contract with NASA. Since 1998 four parts have been sent up to and attached to the space station and since November 2000 it has been permanently staffed. Currently, despite the size of the station (roughly that of a football field), the ISS has capacity for a crew of three, though current plans are in place to enlarge the capacity to six. The ISS has an independent power source; the sun. Light is converted into electricity using the solar arrays (panels) spread outwards from the main body of the station. The solar arrays can track the Sun to maximise the amount of solar power produced. The array is about 375m² in area and 190ft (58m) long. The ISS as a whole has a living volume of 26500ft³ (750m³), is 240ft³ (73m³) long, 306ft³ (93m³) wide and 90ft³ (27.4m³) in height. Inset is a photograph of the ISS with a good view of the solar arrays.

Onboard the crew have a schedule, a typical day begins at 6.00am for the crew followed shortly by ‘post sleep’ activities and a morning inspection of the station. The crew then breakfasts and takes part in a daily planning conference with Mission Control on the ground, before starting work at around 08:10am. Later on the crew exercise, after which they continue to work until 13:05pm, following a one-hour lunch break. The afternoon consists of more exercise and work, before the crew carries out its 'presleep' activities, beginning at 19:30pm, including dinner and a crew conference. The scheduled sleep period begins at 21:30pm, when the daily schedule is complete. Crew in the ISS live by ‘coordinated universal time’ which regulates their day. At ‘’night’’ the windows are covered to give the impression of darkness since there are 16 sunrises and sunsets a day.

A Tour of The International Space Station

Space Travel

Space tourism is now becoming a reality, with people paying for flights into space. Currently orbital space tourism opportunities are limited and very expensive. The only space flights currently available are from the Russian Space Agency. The flight goes from Earth to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and currently cost around $20 - $28 million. The Soyuz (Union in English) which, was initially made to carry cosmonauts to and from the ISS, has a cabin area of 254.27ft³ and is crewed by three astronauts.

The suborbital space tourism industry is being developed through construction of spaceport in numerous locations around the world, including the US, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.

At the end of 2008 six people have became space tourists and visited the ISS.

In 2006 Virgin Galactic, more specifically Sir Richard Branson, partnered with Rutan to create ‘The Spaceship Company’. The company’s goal is to build a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and to make commercial space travel affordable.

It seems soon then that space travel may be readily available to the ‘average joe’ and so further explorations of the universe will commence.

The Vigin Galactic Space Shuttle: White Knight 2
The Vigin Galactic Space Shuttle: White Knight 2 | Source

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