A former advertising copywriter and web-biz maven turned inventor and rocket entrepreneur has proposed a novel plan for disposing of NASA's soon-to-be-retired space shuttles. Eric Knight, perhaps most famous for temporarily mislaying the ashes of James "Scotty from Star Trek" Doohan, believes that a pair of shuttles should be lashed together and sent to Mars.
Knight unveiled his plan in a press release yesterday, having posted details on the site of one of his companies, Remarkable Technologies. The concept, referred to as a "thought paper" by Knight, is titled Mars on a Shoestring. It opens with a section titled "My Lifetime Fascination with Space", in which Knight candidly reveals that he wrote a book called Outer Space while still in the third grade.
"As some have said, out-worldly thinking is apparently in my DNA," he discloses.
In essence, Knight's shuttles-to-Mars ploy appears simple:
• Fly two Space Shuttle orbiters into earth orbit.
• Rendezvous and connect the two orbiters together -- top to top -- by a truss.
• At the center of the truss, dock a sufficiently sized propulsion stage.
• Install a "crew-transfer conduit" -- a pressurized, accordion-style inflatable system that connects the airlock hatches of the two orbiters so that the crew could freely move between the two spacecrafts.
• Once the propulsion stage has accelerated this entire system on its trek to Mars, the truss is detached from the two orbiters and the truss-propulsion assembly is jettisoned.
• The two orbiters then separate to a distance of a few hundred feet, but remain connected - top to top - by a tether cable that is spooled out.
• Once the orbiters are at their maximum fixed distance apart, they would simultaneously fire their reaction control systems to set the pair into an elegant pirouette - creating a comfortable level of artificial gravity for the crew's voyage to the red planet.
On arrival at Mars, the shuttles would separate and descend to landing. Naturally the Martian atmosphere is much too thin for a normal glide landing: Knight suggests instead that they be equipped with "a very large parachute system" enabling them to "land wheels down with surely a pretty good thump".
As to the matter of the astronauts getting back to Earth, Knight sees this as something of a luxury, to be sorted out by some later mission if at all.
"There would be many thousands of qualified volunteers (astronauts, scientists, researchers, etc.) with the desire to be the first permanent settlers of the red planet," he writes.
"However, I think society may be squeamish [sic] to support a one-way trip. A more likely scenario would thus be an "extended stay" mission, in which the first explorers of Mars would reside on the planet for a couple of years until a replacement crew arrives."
Knight is probably best known as the CEO of UP Aerospace, a rocketry company offering "low-cost access to space" in New Mexico. The firm famously arranged in early 2007 to launch the ashes of much-loved former Star Trek actor James Doohan (who portrayed the uncooperative dilithium-crystal-obsessive engineer Scotty) on a temporary suborbital space trip along with the remains of other illustrious figures.
Sadly the rocket malfunctioned, crashlanding far from the intended landing site in troublesome mountainous terrain. Doohan's earthly remnants were only recovered after an extensive search.
Another notable triumph for Knight came in 1996, when the US Patent Office named him as a top American inventor for his "Para Shirt" concept - the idea being that joggers, cyclists etc would get a better workout by wearing a shirt designed to increase their air drag. Knight later offered the Para Shirt patent for sale on eBay.
The space kingpin and inventor has also had an extensive career as a web-business consultant and before that as an advertising copywriter. He was also, according to his potted bio, a pioneer in the fields of search engines, online travel agencies and even e-commerce, having set up a dial-up bulletin board payment system as long ago as 1985. ®