Pioneering Crews and Passengers

Dr. Enzmann – 1980s

Orion Passage – Robert Page Burrus, Washington D.C.
“Philip Chien says about the Orion rocket project that  ‘it’s hard to believe anyone would want to risk riding a spacecraft pushed by nuclear explosions.’  Given the choice between going to the Moon or Mars on an Orion vehicle or into low Earth orbit on the Shuttle, sign me up for the Orion for safety reasons alone. Incidentally, tell Chien that SALT I didn’t kill Orion. Orion was done in by the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1967. SALT I was just another nail in the coffin.”

Courageous Volunteers and Explorers

Many people are compelled to explore, sometimes at great personal risk and sometimes with the end being almost certain personal destruction. The public forever patronizes and supports with enthusiasm an endless variety of hazardous sports, including tightrope walking, sword swallowers, fakirs demolition Derbys, cliff diving, and many others.

Many more people are compelled to place themselves at risk or even sacrifice themselves for others. This attitude has always received the highest accolades in all societies. Sometimes such hazardings or sacrifices are misdirected; more often, they are not. What is wonderful about them is their devotion to others.

The space efforts of the 1960s and 1970s brought endless inquiries from highly competent men and women who wished to volunteer for one-way missions. NASA, of course, never accepted them, but should the matter have been more seriously considered? One man could easily make a trip to one of the moons of Mars, establish a station, and with any kind of competence and perhaps a little luck, survive for at least five years on stores brought on the first voyage. Would not such a station be an inspiration to all of us? Would it not inspire “interplanetary care packages” and perhaps even a series of small supporting missions – some manned and some unmanned? After a few years of these, it might well be possible for the volunteers to make the return trip.

The Nuclear-Pulse rockets designed and built in the 1950s could easily have been upgraded for a one-man, one-way fly-by of several of the stars near the Sun. The public would probably be surprised at how many men volunteered during feasibility studies of unmanned interstellar probes to serve as the guiding robot, thus saving much weight, reducing fuel requirements, and increasing the reliability of the system.

To be sure, NASA policies then and now seem diametrically against such one-way missions, but are the objections valid? They do grip the imagination; there have always been such men. There always will be. Wouldn’t it be a magnificent way for a talented, reasonably fit scientist-astronaut in his 60s or 70s to retire? An example that comes to the writer’s mind is of the doctor who, against all advice, built the first heart catheter, then tried it quite successfully and without harm – on himself! Are we so jaded in the United States that we can no longer understand that men leaving on such expeditions might enjoy both the departure and every bit of the trip? Daniel Boone would have understood. His foot-slogging expeditions did not climax on the River Platte;  he once wintered in Yosemite and very probably reached the Great Waters of the Pacific.