June Malone
Media Relations Department
(256) 544-0034

Release: 99-290

The leaders of NASA’s advanced space transportation activity have a vision
for the opening century of the third millennium: human settlements on other
planets within 100 years.

“If you look at where we were as a civilization 1,000 years ago, or just 100
years ago,” said Garry Lyles, manager of the Advanced Space Transportation
Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., “it’s quite
realistic to expect human settlements in space in the 21st century.”

As with any pioneering adventure, trailblazers must clear the way to the
frontier. In the case of the Final Frontier, it requires building a highway to

“Safe, reliable, affordable transportation has been the key to exploration and
development of frontiers that emerged throughout history,” said Dr. Row
Rogacki, director of the Space Transportation Directorate at the Marshall
Center. “And transportation is again the driver as we boldly prepare to explore
and develop the largest frontier of all – the space frontier.”

Ocean-going vessels enabled discovery of the New World and initiated global
commerce. The stagecoach transported early settlers and cargo across the
untamed American West, and the transcontinental railway opened up this
new frontier to vast numbers of settlers and commerce. Modern airways are
a critical element of international travel today. And with the dawn of the new
century, space transportation can expand our global economy to a universal

“Once we bring the cost and safety of space transportation in line with
today’s airlines, I believe we’ll have a growth of people doing business in
space,” said Lyles. “The opportunities for scientific research and new space
industries are limitless.” Possibilities he lists include:

    Manufacturing medicines that are far superior to drugs made on
    Prospecting asteroids and mining resources from orbiting bodies
    Generating cheap, clean power from the Sun
    Exploring new worlds and routinely transporting passengers

“NASA’s role is to develop innovative technologies so our industry partners
can develop commercially viable space launch vehicles that meet NASA’s
needs,” said Rogacki.

The X-33, X-34 and X-37 technology demonstrators scheduled to fly in the
early years of the 21st century are designed to reduce space transportation
costs from today’s price tag of $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound before
2010. Marshall’s Advanced Space Transportation Program is pushing
technologies to reduce that cost to only hundreds of dollars per pound by
2025 and a bargain price of tens of dollars per pound midway through the
new century.

At the same time costs are decreasing, safety and reliability will be increasing
to a level that will surpass today’s airline transportation. In fact, spacecraft of
the future will be equipped with intelligent vehicle health management
systems that allow a launch vehicle to determine its own health without
human inspection.

One radical technology being developed at Marshall and other NASA centers
is a rocket engine that breathes oxygen from the air during the climb to orbit.
A magnetic levitation track that uses magnets and electricity to accelerate a
vehicle at speeds up to 600 mph could give a launch vehicle a running start
before it leaves the planet. Propulsion systems that boost spacecraft with
laser beams and propellant-free electrodynamic tethers could also become
operational within the first half of the 21st century. An attractive feature of
these advanced propulsion technologies is that the energy to propel the
vehicle doesn’t have to be carried on board, resulting in significant weight and
cost reductions and better performance.

Marshall scientists and engineers are conducting fundamental research into
exotic, high-energy propulsion required for travel to the outer planets and
other star systems. Sails propelled through space by sunlight – just as wind
pushes sailboats on Earth – could be used for an interstellar precursor
mission as soon as 2010. Marshall is also experimenting with antimatter,
fusion and fission as propulsion alternatives for deep space travel in the third
millennium. And NASA is also involved in basic research on the leading edge
of modern science and engineering, such as space and time warping, gravity
manipulation and theories that might enable faster-than-light travel.

Through intense technology development that will make space transportation
safe and affordable for ordinary people, NASA is building a highway to space
for the 21st century and unlocking the door to the final frontier.