15 January 2008 10:48 am ET
By Bill Christensen
The Russian space agency stated that it intends to develop a space platform from which missions to the moon and to Mars could be launched. According to agency director Anatoly Perminov, the space platform project should be up and working after 2020. Russia plans its first moon mission for 2025.
The International Space Station will be decommissioned sometime between 2015 and 2025; by that time, the new space platform should be available.
As far as I know, the phrase "space platform" was first used in a scary short story by E. B. White. His short story,"The Morning of the Day They Did It," was published in The New Yorker magazine in 1950.
"We had arranged a radio hookup with the space platform, a gadget the Army had succeeded in establishing six hundred miles up, in the regions of the sky beyond the pull of gravity. The army, after many years of experimenting with rockets, had not only got the platform established but had sent two fellows there in a Spaceship, and also a liberal supply of the New Weapon."
The concept of a space platform is at least several years older. In an annual report delivered by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in 1948, an "earth satellite vehicle program" was mentioned. Forrestal remarked, "The earth-satellite vehicle program, which is being carried out independently by each military service, was assigned to the committee on guided missiles for coordination." It was specifically described as a platform from which missiles could be launched; it could function as an unmanned station.
The "earth satellite" was presented to the public in a great retro painting done by Frank Tinsely. Note the thoughtful details, including an astronomical observatory, cosmic ray traps, a sun power plant, rocket air lock, search radar and television sender. (See this more detailed drawing of the satellite base.)
Several years earlier, in 1946, General Curtis E. LeMay mentioned something similar in a research program announcement. He called for "flight and survival equipment for use above the atmosphere, including space vehicles, space bases and devices for use therein."
Shaf's take: Given Russia's economic challenges, I'd be really surprised if they pulled this off. Perhaps it's a prelude to a second "space race", this time to exploit lunar resources and manned exploration of Mars.