We've always complained that the reason we had to do all these things was because we couldn't afford space travel. Well now we have decided that was nothing more than small-mindedness. So we are going to the Moon on the cheap.
We expect this will take a few years, since right now we don't have a space ship. We are also going to need a fair amount of help, but reach the Moon we will. And assuming we survive the attempt we'll make sure you can engage in adventuring through the final frontier too.
Like skinning monkeys there are many ways to get to the moon. NASA went for the brute force approach, sellotaping a bunch of guys to a very large bomb - commendable spirit but possibly not the cheapest method. We shall be using the Institute of Adventure Research (I.O.A.R.) lab to test out ideas and gradually build up to a manned flight to the moon. It won't happen quickly but it will happen and we need to start somewhere.
We need your help too.
Mr Tom invited his chum Buddy down to explain the plan and formally launch our quest to get the Moon on a cheap stick.
A quick chat with Mr Tom
Feeling like we needed a bit more information than the Institute's somewhat brief video explanation, we sat Mr. Tom down and asked him some questions. "The goal is to start running adventures in space," says Tom, "We missed out on the last age of exploration by a century or two so I'm not going to miss the next. If we can get to the Moon there will be a big queue of other people who need some lunar adventures in their lives."
Fair enough, but that's slightly more complicated than arranging a fleet of Peruvian sofa-bikes for a Mototaxi Junket. So we probed into the nitty gritty of essentials like 'are you joking?' and 'how the hell are you going to pay for it?'
Hello Tom, can you please explain to me in layman's terms what exactly this 'Space Programme' is all about?
"Getting to the Moon."
Thanks. That was pretty layman. Can you elaborate slightly? Where did the idea come from and what is the point?
"Well, I'm always complaining that the world is a little bit safe and has already been explored by some cheeky bastard with a handlebar moustache and pantaloons who’s fucked off in a boat and sailed off the edge of the world before us so we can’t... But we can fly off the planet. Alright so someone’s been to the Moon before, but it’s a good step forwards. Space is the next big frontier to explore. It’ll be like being Francis Drake, no not him, he didn’t explore anything, Columbus, that’s the one, like being him and sailing off the edge of the world but we’ll be doing it on a rocket."
It does slightly sound to me like a joke, that is quite unfeasible. Is there anything you can say to persuade me otherwise?
"I’m not joking."
"Unfeasible? I think it’s difficult but not necessarily unfeasible. They did it in the 1960’s and essentially all they did then was strap a load of guys to a bomb and point it at the Moon. That turned out alright. We’ll make it work through sheer persistence. Also the science isn’t cutting edge anymore. We're not trying to work out how to make rockets since humans are quite good at it already. A lot of the science has been declassified or is readily available on the internet. It’ll be rocket science by Google."
One of the things that makes me think it might be quite tricky is the cost. I did some research. According to NASA the cost of getting the chaps to the Moon on the Apollo programme in today’s money was $109 billion dollars, or $18 billion per lunar mission. How much is it going to cost you and who's going to pay for it?
"I think we can do it a lot cheaper than that. There is some sterling work being done by a group called Copenhagen Suborbitals, who are getting about building a rocket by trial and error on a microscopic budget. Admittedly they are currently only planning to go suborbital, which is a straight hop up and back down again so a bit cheaper, but they have already had a full scale test rocket off the ground.
If you look at some of the money NASA spent I suspect some of it could have been saved. Take the Shuttle for example. As I understand it the original design was quite different and efficient until the military came along with plans to laser Russian nukes out of the sky on the Star Wars project. They instructed NASA to make the shuttle big enough to send something the size and weight of a double decker bus into orbit. Then NASA had to slap that giant fuel tank on the belly, then to get the massive weight of all that extra fuel up they had to stick the two booster rockets onto the side. So the whole thing ended up costing a fortune on what was intended to be a cheap project. I've slightly gone off track as that had nothing to do with the Moon but it illustrates my point.
Re-entry is another good example of NASA spending a lot of money. They used all manner of ceramic tiles and cleverness. The Russians just put Yuri Gagarin in a giant steel ball and it fell through the atmosphere getting hot until it reached a height he could survive and he just jumped out with a parachute. Genius. Space pen versus pencil; there’s a million quid down the loo in anyone's book.
So... A: This is not new technology, rockets are old hat, B: Government projects are not renowned for saving money, and finally C: I don’t really know what I’m talking about so I can be stupidly optimistic.
In terms of where the money will come from I haven’t worked that out yet. We’ll start small and we’ll work big and do everything ourselves and we’ll see what happens."
When you say you’ll start small. What’s the first step?
"The next bit is to get a panel of experts, like physicists and er, someone who knows about rockets. There are many different ways to approach the problem of getting a person to the Moon. So we need to sit down and come up with a general plan first. Are we going to use balloons to get to the edge of the atmosphere? Then how will get enough speed to maintain an orbit? Then where will the power come from to get us out of orbit and on the way to the Moon? There's a whole heap of problems to make up answers for so we are going to come up with a basic approach first, then break that down into smaller steps. Currently with no real training my fancy is tickled by an Earth orbit rendezvous followed by a lunar orbit rendezvous, but we’ll see."
What kind of people are you going to approach for your panel of experts?
"Well we are going to approach everyone, even people who are just generally enthusiastic or fashion designers and interior decorators because you want to look jazzy while you’re going into space. But for the initial meeting we're looking for physicists and rocket scientists and people who know what they’re talking about... unlike me."
Is your aim with this mission scientific or something else?
"I don’t think it’s scientific. The goal is to start running adventures in space. We missed out on the last age of exploration by a century or two so I'm not going to miss the next. If we can get to the Moon there will be a big queue of other people who need some lunar adventures in their lives."
How much will a ticket by do you think?
Pull a number out of the air... £6.50?
"Out of the air... a bit more than the Mongol Rally"
Per person or per team?
Do you see this as the starting gun for a modern space race between Copenhagen Suborbitals and Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic and Space X and Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin and you?
"I think the race has already started. We might be playing catch up but we’ll be doing it in a unruly way so we will therefore win. Like the little fat guy that runs along at the back, no not that... the fat guy never wins the race does he..."
Er.. the tortoise?
"That's it, something about a hare and a tortoise, only we are the hare and the tortoise started ages ago."
What expertise do you have that qualifies you for this?
"None, bar mindless optimism."
What are the main dangers involved?
"I would imagine being blown up. Both by the rocket of a shoddy homemade spacecraft and the vacuum of space, getting the maths wrong and firing yourself off into space indefinitely..."
"...being irradiated, getting stuck on the Moon - that would suck, coming back into the atmosphere wrong and getting frazzled."
Who is the first to go up? Is it you or some kind of small dog?
"Probably me, we’ll get done for animal cruelty if we send a dog. And I’m cheaper than a monkey."