Publication of this special aerospace issue of Design News wouldn't be complete without mention of the late Alan Shepard, the first American in space and the only person to hit a golf ball on the moon. He died July 21, 1998.
His fellow astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, reportedly called Shepard the pioneer's pioneer and the pilot's pilot. He was more than that, of course: He was an inspiration to many, and his 16-minute flight in his Mercury spacecraft in 1961 helped restore the nation's confidence after Yuri Gagarin's first-ever space flight nearly a month before.
Recent engineering activity could make it possible for everyone to experience what Shepard and other astronauts have experienced. The X Prize Foundation is offering a $10 million prize to encourage development of technology for making space travel available to everyone. Meanwhile, Zegraphm Space Voyages has partnered with the aerospace company Vera Technology Development to design and build reusable re-entry space cruisers for consumer space tourism.
Using Microcadam's Helix Design System on Gateway computers, engineers at Vela are designing a two-stage sub-orbital launch system that would take off from and land at a commercial airport. The first stage is a twin-jet-powered, broad-wing aircraft that carries the second-stage Space Cruiser. The latter, with a propulsion system consisting of three nitrous oxide/propane pressure-fed rocket engines, would have a shell of carbon fiber composite and would fly to over 100 km. At that altitude, passengers would experience two to three minutes of weightlessness and see views of Earth's curvature.
While that and the several registered X Prize projects could eventually enable all of us to experience, however briefly, some of what Shepard experienced, they'll never make us all Alan Shepards. Only one person can be the first, and in America, he, with his winning smile and steely self confidence, was it.