In their place? Nuclear-fueled ion engines that would provide continual acceleration and allow the Enterprise to go from Earth orbit to the moon in three days. A spinning, electromechanical “gravity wheel” that would enable passengers to operate in Earth-like levels of gravity. Multiple layers of advanced physical shielding to protect the ship from cosmic debris and radiation. A “universal lander” craft – in essence, a cross between the Apollo lunar landers and a miniature space shuttle – that could ferry humans to the surfaces of planets and moons and subsequently return to the main ship.
According to BTE Dan’s schematic drawings, the Enterprise would be 3,150 feet long, more than twice the length of the Empire State Building, and have a mass of 187 million pounds, roughly equivalent to 28 of the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program.
The website also offers a road map for funding a real-life Enterprise, proposing $1 trillion in total expenditures over a 20-year period – about $50 billion per year, or 0.27 percent of America’s total gross domestic product.
To pay for the project, BTE Dan suggests a slight increase in income taxes, coupled with small annual cuts to a number of federal agency budgets, including $5 billion from the Pentagon and $2.5 billion from the Department of Education.
“It’s really a matter of time, money and the will to do it,” BTE Dan said. “If I was president and I had a cooperative Congress – kind of funny at the moment, I know – I would start the Enterprise program tomorrow.”
As a grade school student, BTE Dan said, he watched the original 1966 “Star Trek” series on his family’s black-and-white television and built a toy model of the Enterprise. However, his desire to build a real version of the spaceship comes less from childhood sci-fi fandom than from disappointment in the state of space exploration.
On his website, BTE Dan calls the International Space Station a “yawner” and even mocks its “comical and primitive” toilets. He also laments NASA’s plans for a Space Launch System and Orion Space Capsule that ultimately would facilitate a manned return to the moon and potentially Mars.
In BTE Dan’s vision, an actual Enterprise would serve simultaneously as a space station, a spaceship and a spaceport – able to ferry research probes to other moons and planets, big enough to carry materials needed to establish a manned Mars base, comfortable enough to accommodate space tourists while parked in Earth orbit. The vessel’s onboard laser could be used to create a night-sky light show while flying over the United States on the Fourth of July.
America, he writes on his website, is an affluent nation that can “afford to dream much bigger” than “one-shot” space missions.
“We were supposed to be in space in a big way by now, but we can’t even get back to the moon,” BTE Dan said. “In fact, in the U.S. we now don’t even have a rocket to take people into Earth low orbit.
“The [International Space Station] was a Cold War wind-down program to help keep Soviet scientists busy. The current path of the [Space Launch System] is just a redo of the Apollo program of the 1960s. If that’s the best we can do, we would be better off just spending money on probes and research, then wait for the private sector to get us into space.”
Flight of fancy?
A doctoral student in mechanical and aerospace engineering at George Washington University, Tabitha Smith has never been much of a “Star Trek” fan. However, she has a keen interest in nuclear-powered rocketry and other forms of space propulsion.
Those nuclear-powered ion engines BTE Dan suggests? Not as simple as adding a nitro boost tank to a Honda Civic.
“My adviser at GW is working on ion engines, and they’re currently scaled to about the size of a pencil,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s a nice concept, but you would need a humongous power source for the kind of engines used on this spacecraft. Now imagine launching something like a nuclear power plant into space. For people into propulsion, this is the most obvious problem with [the Enterprise].”