Wednesday, January 23, 2013

EMPIRE Building

David Portree (Beyond Apollo) has a cool article about an early 1960's Mars exploration study: EMPIRE Building: Ford Aeronutronic’s Mars/Venus Piloted Flyby Study (1962). I won't paraphrase the entire article but will borrow a few figures. The first provides a scale profile of various options that were studied. The interesting points are 1) the options of choice were to employ NERVA nuclear propulsion, and 2) the weight savings that could be realized by using a 'Symmetric' trajectory vs. a 'Crocco' trajectory.

Credit: Ford Aeronutronic/NASA

Next is the Aerodynamic Re-entry module that would be required if everything else worked properly. Looks a tad more sci-fi than you typical lifting body.

Credit: Ford Aeronutronic/NASA
Finally, here's a classic photo of LANL's Kiwi-B nuclear rocket engine. Yeah, it appears the most glaring flaw in the study was assuming the NERVA engine would ever exist. Still, it's cool space history!

I'll end with a quote from the EMPIRE final report (I assume the brackets imply bold text.):
[b]y attacking the areas of interest at this early date[,] it will be possible to obtain a clearer picture of the requirements for early manned planetary and interplanetary flight. Thus the nation’s resources, and the NASA and other United States space programs[,] can be oriented toward long range goals at an early date. [EMPIRE] represents an unusually early attack on this type of analysis.