10 August 2011

Re-Commission the Enterprise: A not-so-modest proposal

      Looking at a Network World slide show for some uses for the retired Space Shuttles I had an idea; something hinted at in the presentation, but not explicitly stated by its author. To wit: we must return the Enterprise to service. Enterprise was built to show that the shuttle’s design could safely glide back to earth and land, and she did that wonderfully. Concept proven she was partially dismantled and packed off to the Air and Space museum and thus into history. I say this is a waste of an opportunity.

     Enterprise will soon enough have company in DC in the form of her younger sister Discovery, and DC will have 2 shuttles on hand, each prestigious in its own right. Discovery has had all her inner workings removed. I'll wager it would take a lot of effort to balance out that air frame so she could be piloted from the sky back to earth. Enterprise never had dangerous engines to be removed, I bet she was put on display as is. So now, 30+ years later, as Discovery takes hr place in space flight history, let’a patch up Enterprise (anyone who’s sat around for 30 years is going to need some work before going back into the field, and never mind the parts that will need to be put back in which were removed for use in other shuttles), retro fit her as I'm about to describe, and put her back in service.

I see it so:

     A refit Enterprise will be mounted on the back of a 747. Tourists, thrill seekers, whoever can afford a ticket will board the craft which will be flown as high as the 747 can go. The shuttle will then separate from her mother ship and then glide back to earth, and everyone on board gets to say they've ridden in a space shuttle. I envision two mission profiles. The first is the pleasure cruise, tourists in souvenir jumpsuits riding in a cargo bay where the doors now have huge windows and a domed module allows the passengers to see around them.

     The second is scientific, the 747 is fitted with sensing equipment so it can take measurements when it is up in the air, and the shuttle can do likewise, testing the atmosphere and investigating things that otherwise would be muddled by aircraft engines.  Have the passengers conduct some experiments. Admittedly my science is reaching here, but I'm making a general point.

     Both missions would benefit from a parabolic trajectory glide path. How much would someone ay to say they were weightless in a space shuttle? Hopefully enough to cover the cost of the fuel, upkeep, and salaries. Science grants could maybe help defray the costs, and some private companies might want to get their logos on those jump suits. I was weightless on a space shuttle and I was drinking coke while doing science experiments.

     So NASA, don't be so gauche as to have 2 of the same craft in the air and space museum.  Return Enterprise to duty as a platform of good will, nostalgia, and PR.  Sneak a little science in while you’re at it.
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