Getting You Off the Ground

Let’s assume you weight about 150 pounds.  It would cost somewhere between $750,000 to 1,500,000 to launch you into space.  As we all know, fuel prices are high right now, but that’s only part of the problem.

In order to get you off the ground, your rocket must carry X pounds of fuel.  In order to keep you at a high enough velocity long enough to escape Earth’s gravity, the rocket will also have to carry Y pounds more.  But now we’re talking about launching 150 + X + Y pounds, which means we’ll need even more fuel to get the rocket started, which in turn makes the rocket heavier, which then means you need more fuel.  And I haven’t even mentioned the weight of the rocket itself.

The good news is that as the rocket goes, it burns some of that fuel and gets lighter… but still, that’s a lot of fuel.

So if we’re going to build an intergalactic empire, we need to find a way to make space travel cheap.  Jules Verne suggested one possibility.  In his book, From the Earth to the Moon, mankind’s first spacecraft doesn’t carry fuel at all.  Instead, a large machine like a gun fires it into space.

This would still require a lot of fuel, but not all that extra fuel to carry the fuel.  There are still other problems.  The initial acceleration would be a lot greater—great enough to kill any human beings inside the ship.  But a good science fiction writer can invent ways around that problem.

* * *

Footnotes

  • Experts and other people on the internet disagree on the exact cost of launching one pound of matter into space, but everyone does agree that it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’m assuming it’s somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per pound.
  • The cost will also vary depending on what you use as fuel.  NASA’s space shuttle uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as well as solid fuels like ammonium perchlorate.
  • According to NASA’s website, each time they launch the space shuttle, they use more than 1,600,000 pounds of fuel, and each mission costs about $4,500,000.
  • How much acceleration can a human survive?  Click here to see my previous post on this subject.
  • Dr. Michio Kaku recently described one possible ground-fueled launch system on his blog (click here).

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