Updated: Jun 22, 2020
We first set foot on the Moon in 1969 and what advances in space technology have me made since? We had the Space Shuttle, which was developed to carry astronauts and cargo to an orbiting space station, where it would dock, unload, and return to earth to prepare for another trip. We also know about the launch of deep space probes to nearby and distant planets and moons, and even probes to an asteroid and comet. And, of course, we cannot forget the fantastic Space Telescope that has revealed many wonders to our curious eyes and, of course Skylab. However, that is about all we have done during the last 51 years.
This technological progress pales in comparison to the technological progress made between 1903 and 1964. For example, the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903 was roughly at a top speed of 35 mph and a few hundred feet. It was only 61 years later, after this historic first manned flight, that the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird made its debut flight.
The Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird was a technological marvel at the time, and even today is still considered the fastest jet aircraft to ever fly. It looks more like a spacecraft when you have a look at it. The pilots who fly the SR-71 go through the same training program as do the astronauts that venture into space today. The actual ceiling or maximum altitude that the SR-71 can attain is still classified today. It has a top speed of roughly Mach 3+; however, it set a land speed record of 2,243 mph when flying on just one engine. Most impressive, is it not? So, in fact, we already had a spacecraft that could take off from a military base and reach space as early as 1964. The SR-71 Blackbird was retired in 1999, and since then Lockheed Martin has been developing the SR-72, which is reported to fly at Mach 6, or approximately 4,200 mph. In body shape it looks similar to an airliner, except without any visible windows. It looks as though it was developed for space flight. However, all of this advanced technology is supposedly designed for military applications. What else might we not know about?
I remember reading years ago about a planned similar aircraft to the SR-72 that would carry hundreds of people on a single flight to an orbiting Space Station Hotel, and return them to Earth. It was for purposes of tourism. Taking off and landing without the need for a rocket to boost the craft into space.
What else might we have available that could take us into deep space. None other than our retired Space Shuttle. Why do we call it a Space Shuttle? Simply because it is similar in use to an 18-wheel tractor trailer rig, which carries cargo from one facility to another facility. That is in fact, what the Space Shuttle was designed to do, is it not? To carry cargo to and from the International Space Station?
What if the Space Shuttle was traveling to the Moon or even Mars, let us say? What would be required to do that? To begin with, two Space Stations. One in near Earth orbit and another, let us say, in near Mars orbit. Then all that would be required is fuel for the flight between Earth and Mars. Which would be minimal given the fact that once orbit is reached the Space Shuttle can fuel up at the Space Station and have plenty of fuel to make it to Mars and return.
It has been estimated that it would take between 150-300 days to reach Mars from Earth. At a distance of 140 million miles, it would require an average speed of roughly 26,000 mph, assuming a travel time of 225 days, which is the mean of 150 to 300 days. Now, if we could reach Mars in 150 days, then the average speed would be roughly 39,000 mph. So, as we can see, once the spacecraft is in space and free of Earth's gravity, then there really is no limit to how fast a spacecraft can go other than the thrust available and Einstein's equation of E=MC^2.
In comparison, Apollo 8 took 69 hours and 8 minutes to travel from Earth to the Moon. Let us say they launch when the Moon is nearest to Earth, which would be 225,000 miles distance. The average speed calculated would be approximately 3300 mph in order to achieve orbit around the Moon in the time span given.
Now, let us consider just how fast the Space Shuttle might be able to fly. The thrusters on the Space Shuttle provide considerably more thrust than the thrust of the tiny engines, in comparison, to those on the Apollo spacecraft. Therefore, we can assume that the Space Shuttle could, and probably did fly deep space missions, perhaps to Mars to orbit the planet and then back again. All that would be needed is for the Space Shuttle to carry enough fuel with it to travel to Mars and return again. And, let us keep in mind that the Space Shuttle had a huge cargo bay. Once the Space Shuttle attained the speed required, it could then shut off the main thrusters and then just cruise to Mars.
This goes to show how we already have what is needed to reach Mars in a matter of days or perhaps even hours, since we cannot say exactly what technology is available to our space program. Might there be an even faster engine that could be mounted on the Space Shuttle so that it could obtain speeds beyond 10 million mph. It is not too far-fetched, is it not? Knowing that we have a spacecraft currently named the Lockheed Martin SR-72, that in Earth atmosphere can obtain speeds in excess of Mach 6 or 4,200 mph; what speed could it attain once free of atmospheric resistance and the gravitation pull of the Earth? The sky is pretty much the limit, is it not?