Man’s initial effort to break his terrestrial bonds and penetrate the fringes of space, is still limited both in performance and scope. Hampered by the necessity of creating an entirely new technology, he is equally restrained by a fear of his own imagination—a hesitancy to accept the really soaring concepts that the ultimate conquest of space demands. This is due mainly to the limitations of the engineering mind, to that professional conservatism that looks askance at radical ideas and mechanisms as yet unproven in actual practice.
However, like the bird from the egg, all human advance must originate in the airy stuff of dreams, from "screwball" visions which spur more mundane minds into creating the working components that turn dream into actuality. To be of any real value, these prophetic notions must of course, have some basic solidity. However weird it may seem at first sight, the dream must rest upon a firm foundation of practical physics and sound engineering principles. Despite the multiplicity of design headaches involved, the idea has to be finally convertible into useful hardware. It is from this sort of realistic imagery, that I present to the readers of AMAZING, a new series of pictorial prophecies—scientifically solid rungs in the ladder of future achievement, up which man will some day ascend to the stars.
At present, we are still in the stage of small beginnings, of tiny electronically controlled vehicles, barely capable of entering and leaving earthly orbits.
The moon has been circled and photographed, monkeys and dogs have been successfully returned from space flights and communications satellites are in operation. The first human being has not yet flown in orbit although he is on the verge of trying.
When he does, he will be little more than a passenger, carried along for the ride merely to demonstrate that he can make it. The only real purpose of our Project Mercury and of its Russian opposite number, is to prove that man can exist, at least for a little while, in a properly designed space vehicle.
Of course, this is a necessary first step. However, the human brain with its unique capacity for observation, conclusion and decision, will be of no use to science until man is able to live comfortably in space for weeks or months on end, to engage in experimentation and research, to record and transmit his findings back to earth, and to travel to and from his spatial laboratories at will and in reasonable safety. To do all this successfully, we require what has come to be called a "space station".
The space station is a large manned satellite, permanently orbiting around a heavenly body such as the earth, moon, or mars. The particular design shown in this picture, is intended for assembly in an earth orbit, of prefabricated parts rocketed up from an earth base. Extracting usable cold from the icy chill of space and generating heat and electricity from solar rays, it needs no artificial power supply.
Using the principle of the balanced aquarium, it force-grows a basic vegetation such as algae in sunlit chemical tubes, mounted around the revolving rim of the wheel-like structure. In its growth process, this vegetation absorbs the carbon-dioxide exhaled by the crew and produces a plentiful supply of oxygen for fresh air. It also provides a protein rich food for emergency rations—a flour like form of dried algae which recent sun-drying techniques have made quite palatable and which can be flavored and used as a food additive in various ways. In addition to algae, most of our more familiar grains, table vegetables and flowers, can be grown in a similar manner. In the illustration, compartmentalized sets of hydroponic tubes and their supporting brackets, are shown partly installed in upper level "greenhouses".
Revolving around its central axis, the rim is subjected to a degree of centrifugal force governed by its rotational speed. This can be nicely calculated to produce an exact simulation of our earthly gravitational pull. Thus, the crew can move around freely, equipment can be mounted and supplies stored on shelves and tables, precisely as they are on earth. No magnetism is needed, no special shoes or bases, no attractive floors or storage surfaces.
This normal gravitation, plus its other features, makes our space station self-sustaining in all the necessary basic fields —air, food and power. With a controlled optimum atmosphere, comfortable living quarters, sufficient exercise areas and regular supply and transport service, it is habitable for considerable periods by a single crew. In practice, however, scientific and operating personnel will be alternated at reasonable intervals, as is now done at arctic bases and atomic submarines on station.
THE earth satellite station can be built in any selected orbit, ranging from the altitudes of present day vehicles—a thousand miles or so—on up to an orbit some 22,300 miles out. At this latter distance, the station completes one round trip every twenty-four hours. Thus traveling at the same rotational speed as the earth, the station remains in an apparently stationary spot in the sky and over the same point on the earth's surface. Regardless of the height or speed chosen, the manned space station has a multitude of uses. Operating in an almost complete vacuum with neither storm clouds nor atmospheric dance to dull the cosmic views, it makes a perfect astronomical observatory.
Our solar system, the milky way and more distant galaxies, can be studied, photographed and spectroscoped with a clarity and accuracy impossible on earth. Capable of continuous, 24 hour operation and equipped with recently developed light amplifiers and masers, these orbiting observatories will permit an unparalleled leap forward in man's knowledge of the universe.
As specialized laboratories, the stations provide unique conditions for varied fields of research — physics, electronics, geophysical, weather prediction, communications and many others. Television engineers tell us that with three relay stations, properly placed, they can blanket the world with almost perfect TV transmission. The programs will originate on earth, be beamed to the station, amplified and rebroadcast back in wide, cone-like zones. Coming from above the atmosphere at a near vertical angle, they will penetrate the deepest valleys without hindrance. Present limitations due to hills, mountains and earth curvature, will cease to exist.
Among other uses, civil, military or possibly as a U.N. policing device, space stations can serve as staging bases for further exploration of the cosmos. Specialized, electro-powered spaceships can be assembled beside them in orbit and launched for more efficient interplanetary travel.
The space station will be serviced by "Ferry Ships", shuttling back and forth from earth bases. The examples shown in the illustration have atomic power plants, using liquefied hydrogen as an operating fluid. On a single loading of plutonium, these reactors can function continuously for several years. In operation, the heat generated by nuclear fission is conducted through a transfer agent to the rocket's "combustion chamber". Here, a stream of hydrogen gas is admitted, expanded to many times its normal volume and then permitted to escape through the nozzle. As in all rockets, the reaction force of this rearward gas jet, drives the vehicle forward. In passing through the chamber, the gas may become slightly radioactive, so to avoid contamination of base launching pads, the ferry is launched by a powerful, chemical-fuel booster. This is a recoverable vehicle, manned by a pilot and co-pilot, who fly it back to base after it has lifted the ferry to a safe operating altitude. The booster is powered by a girdle of standardized, solid-fuel rockets which can be grouped in various power combinations, tailored to the load lifted. Once beyond the contamination level, the ferry cuts loose, switches on its power and accelerates into the target station's orbit. Meanwhile, the booster glides back to base and uses its remaining fuel in a tail-down descent. It lands and takes off on tripod landing legs which fold into the three directional fins during flight. (Note trailing edges).
The ferry is designed in the form of a streamlined bar-bell, with a control and passenger compartment in the nose, and its atomic power plant in the tail. Connecting these units is a long, slender tank in which the liquid hydrogen is stored. In assembling a station in space, the ferry is partly cannibalized. Prefabricated building sections are peeled off from around its center tank and fitted together to form the station's sides and decks. A variety of basic forms are used, all designed to nest one within the other and fit around the tank. In the picture, this operation is shown in the lower foreground, with the partially assembled station above it. In the upper left, an ascending ferry parts company with its booster and in the lower center, another, stripped of its load of building material, returns to earth. A completed station appears in the lower right, with a service ferry locked in the trumpet shaped loading dock beneath it.
Let's step aboard one of these outward bound service-ferries and see what life in a space station is like. Perched atop its fat, rocket girdled booster, our two-stage transport looks enormous from the ground level.
Squat, heavy legs support the lower component, lifting its circular array of nozzles clear of the concrete pad. Beside it, a tall gantry tower rises on its tracks in a maze of scarlet steelwork.
A capsule like elevator whisks us to its top and moving gingerly across a windblown upper deck, we enter the ferry's access hatch. Inside, we find a compact, circular cabin, with a ring of acceleration couches radiating from its center. In company with the other passengers, a couple of blaze young physicists and a prim looking girl technician, we make ourselves comfortable. After a little wait, our pilots enter, check our couch belts and climb the ladder leading to the control compartment. With a buzz of electric motors, the hatch closes and locks and all eyes shift to the ceiling count-down indicator.
After another pause, we hear the co-pilot's metallic warning: "Ten seconds to take-off". Alongside the indicator, a red light flashes off, a green one on and an illuminated number nine appears.
We brace ourselves and follow the diminishing numerals as they flick across the dial. The take-off is not as severe an ordeal as we had been led to expect. As the engine roars and the ship gathers way, our bodies are molded to the couch padding by an increasing downward push. While the gathering pressure seems irresistible and holds us pinned like bugs on a board, it is never actually painful. It eases a moment as we attain maximum booster speed, then clamps down again as the stages part and the ferry's atomic motor cuts in.
Again, the pressure eases, gradually dying away as our ship reaches terminal velocity and coasts smoothly in an upward arc. We can unfasten our belts, now and take a look out of the portholes.
The ferry's programming has been accurate and after a few minutes, we find ourselves swinging into orbit within easy sight of the target space station. For a short time, we zoom along in its wake, behind and slightly below our quarry. The spectacle holds us glued to the tinted glass. Below, the swell of the earth slips by in a hazy, cloud flecked curve. Above, a blaze of unfiltered sunlight glints on the giant wheel as it slowly revolves against a background of star spangled black velvet. The sight is one that we will never forget.
In the ferry cabin, we feel a slight nudge of movement, and then another, as the pilot gently gooses his auxiliary rockets. Slowly, we overtake the whirling station, climbing foot by foot into its shadow. Then a delicate touch of retro-rocket correlates our velocities and the two vehicles speed along their common orbital course in company. We are directly below the station, now and the final linking maneuver begins. Ever so slowly, our nose swings to the vertical until it is pointing up toward the trumpet-bell mouth of the landing dock. Inside the station, the Operations Officer throws a switch and a set of powerful electro-magnets are energized.
Our ferry responds to their pull, its nose sliding smoothly upward into the bell. Higher it moves, accurately balanced and centered by magnetic force, until it is securely seated in the tubular dock. We are locked within the central spindle of the space station, the static axis about which the great wheel revolves.
A moment later, the access hatch of our compartment swings open and we see the Operations Officer grinning in at us.
Explaining that we are now in the motionless core of the station and therefore weightless, he guides us up through the hatchway. Eerily, we float out into the slowly turning hub chamber. Above us, an identical hatch leads to the upper spindle, with its astronomical labs and ball-mounted observatory. Around the cylindrical walls, four other hatchways give access to the quadrupal spokes of the wheel. Following his directions, we glide feet first into one of them and find ourselves in a tiny elevator. Its door automatically closes and with a woosh of compressed air, the little lift descends. However, it is like no elevator we have ever ridden in on earth. As we progress downward, the usual falling away sensation is reversed and the floor presses increasingly against our feet. By the time we reach the "bottom" of the shaft, the effects of weightlessness have disappeared and we again experience the familiar pull of gravity. When a side door opens and we step out, we could just as well be in an air-conditioned office building on earth.
We are out in the rotating rim of the huge wheel, the area in which the station's crew live and work. Corridors lead off to either side and a staircase ascends to the deck above. As we stroll down one of these brightly lit hallways, we notice that each sector of the rim can be shut off from the others by airtight doors, and forms a separate, pressure proof entity. This, our guide points out, permits the isolation of any section accidentally pierced by cosmic debris. Opening off either side of the corridor is a succession of labs, storage and workrooms, each equipped for a specific purpose or specialized research function. Those on the upper side are designed to use the intense light and heat of direct sunlight, the lower tier, the zero cold of spatial shadow in the arches beneath the Moor, are air-conditioning ducts and plumbing, plus tanks for the storage of water, chemicals, and bulk supplies.
Ascending to the deck above, we find the station's public rooms—lounge, library, music, TV and movie rooms. A bright, well appointed dining room adjoins the lounge, with kitchen and service pantry beyond. This level also contains living quarters for the station personnel.
To permit precious privacy, there is a stateroom for each member of the staff and crew. The cabins on the shady side of the station have doors opening on a protected promenade that circles the satellite's rim. Through its plastic enclosure, superb views of the solar system unfold, with the sunlit earth appearing to revolve slowly around the stroller in a continuously changing panorama of cloud and landscape.
Above, on the sunny side of the giant wheel rim, are the hydroponic gardens, brightly green beneath their canopy of heat controlling plastic. Donning dark glasses, we are permitted a peep at several of the compartments. Like the rest of the station, these are isolated from one another by pressure tight bulkheads. Each is completely self-contained and in case of damage by meteoric fragments, can be closed off and repaired without disturbing its neighbors.
Carefully selected strains of algae are grown in nutrient solutions, circulating through a system of horizontal plastic tubes. These are the atmospheric heart of the station. Oxygen, given off by the plants as a regular process of growth, is gathered in the tops of the tubes and piped off for purification and recirculation.
Carbon-dioxide, exhaled by the crew, is added to the nutrient solution and provides the plants with a necessity for growth. As the algae wax fat and mature, they sink to the bottom of the circulating solution and are drained off. This excess crop is then sun-dried and shipped back to earth as a byproduct of the station's operation.
Experiments have proven it to be equal to eggs and beefsteak in nutritive value. Warned that the ferry ship is ready for the trip back to earth, we return to our cosmic taxi. We have had a glimpse of tomorrow—an inkling of what life will be like when man succeeds in completing his first real step into the illimitable universe that surrounds us.
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