Obviously in the real world that we know, Space Stations have been around for a long time. In fact, the first space station was the Soviet Salyut-1, launched nearly a half-century ago, and led to several more stations from the Russian space program, eventually leading to the Mir station. During that time, we here in the United States launched the Skylab station, with a rotation of American astronaut crews, before it plunged to Earth in 1979. Eventually we worked with Russia and the other international partners to emplace the International Space Station (ISS) in 1998, and it has been continually crewed for over 20 years.
So. We know what space stations are.
For Outbound OPS.17 – Human Space Stations – LEO, we see the value in stations and would at this point of the proposed timeline begin with simple stations such as the single-module Salyut design, with the idea of positioning humanity in space to stay. I would say that’s the real difference between the early days of the space program we’ve had and the early days of a space program we would want. Technological longevity. Of course, we at Outbound have the benefit of hindsight. We see the temporary nature of the early stations and think we could do better, right? Certainly that is true, but with that hindsight also comes a real ability to recognize failures of vision. All the Salyut stations before Salyut 6 had one docking port, which means that there could be no visitors, no resupply ships, only one crew up and one crew down. Skylab was no different. It’s a guarantee that the station will be periodically unmanned, and also vulnerable to malfunction with no human crew to attempt to repair.
The early missions of previous space programs were an exercise in incrementalism, and it worked to produce baby-steps to get us into space. It’s understandable, and not something that I’d personally criticize too much. I definitely salute those who braved the unknown in the ways that they did. But imagine if planting humans and not just flags had been a concrete goal? How would history unfolded differently?
The Outbound vision is to get humans into the space beyond Earth and keep them there. A ground rule in that case would be to allow no operational design or procedure that normally demands a human retreat from an outpost.