Chair Force Engineer

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Marine Shuttle?

The US Marines are seriously considering the development of a spacecraft that could put Marines anywhere on the globe in the matter of a few hours. It's a 21st-century extension of the Marine concept of rapid mobility and expeditionary forces.

A technical solution will not be simple. A ballistic spacecraft would put severe G-forces on the Marines; it's likely that they would be killed by the extreme deceleration. Further, today's rockets are too tiny to send a significant number of Marines anywhere on the globe. A spacecraft based on the X-37 or Common Aero Vehicle could only fit a few Marines, if it were to work at all.

Then I got a crazy idea, based on the craziest of sources. In the James Bond movie Moonraker, an Air Force shuttle delivers "Space Marines" to attack Drax's space station. During a recent episode of McLaughlin Group, pundit Pat Buchanan (reference my last post on pundits who should avoid comment on space policy) suggested that the shuttle be given to the military. His logic was that the shuttle was too dangerous for civilians, but too valuable a commodity to be retired. The military would be willing to accept the risk (except for the fact that the Air Force never wanted the shuttle, and it was forced down their throats by the Nixon White House, in which Buchanan worked as a speechwriter.)

If the Marines want a rocket to ride to a trouble spot on the opposite side of the earth, why don't they use the shuttle? It's capable of a low-stress, lifting re-entry. Its payload bay could carry a sizable contingent of Marines, despite the shuttle's 50,000 pound bringback capacity. Marines are known for doing extremely dangerous tasks that border between incredibly brave and stupid; perhaps a space shuttle flight would fall into this category. Suborbital military missions were given consideration during the shuttle's design, which necessitated the external tank.

With the space shuttle rumored for an imminent retirement, letting the Marines use it wouldn't be such a bad idea. There's no need for them to reinvent the wheel.