After the lunar landings, NASA was indeed decimated, having been felled by the weight of their success. However, optimism abounded: a 1970s–era NASA plan driven by the philosophy of reuse and commonality called for a true Two–Stage–To–Orbit (TSTO) Vertical–Takeoff–Horizontal–Landing (VTHL) space shuttle that would carry a payload consisting of cargo and a human crew into space. The two vehicles would have been fully reusable with a planned fifteen flights per quarter (sixty space flights per year). If NASA could have accommodated a fleet of 3 of these shuttle pairs, that would have equaled an incredible 180 flights per year, which is about one shuttle launch every other day!

The first of the two space vehicles would have been a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) that had wings and a crew of two pilots on board. The RLV was to carry the actual orbiter, called a Reusable Reentry Vehicle (RRV) on its back, which had wings, engines, cargo, and crew. Once mated together, it would be towed to the launch site like an ordinary airliner (see Image 1), then erected and held to a vertical position. The crews and propellant would be loaded, and the two ships would take off using only the RLV engines.
Image 1: An RLV mated to an RRV being towed to the launch site

After the RLV had expended its propellant, the two vehicles would separate, and the RLV would Return To Base (RTB), gliding back to an unpowered landing. Meanwhile, the RRV would fire up its rocket engines, and complete the final leg of the journey into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Once safely ensconced in space, the orbiter would act almost exactly like the US Space Shuttle did, such as opening the payload bay doors to expose the cargo inside, docking with other space hardware, deploying satellites, and ending the mission with an unpowered RTB atmospheric reentry and glide landing.

The previously–described aspiration would have revolutionized the space industry in that NASA would have had a working and fully reusable spaceliner up and running during the mid–1970s instead of the partially reusable Space Transportation System (STS) that was flown in the early 1980s. That, along with the Saturn V rockets that were originally planned to fly once per quarter (four times per year), we would surely have obtained everything seen in the seminal movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” by the year the film was set, with orbital spaceliners and space stations that would have included hotels and restaurants.

That is because by the year 2001, the space shuttle would have flown over one thousand times and the Saturn V over one hundred times, lifting a total of over eleven million kilograms (twenty–five million pounds) of cargo in that period of time, which is more than enough for a decent starter space station. From there, it would have been relatively easy to conquer cislunar space. It quickens the pulse to contemplate what might have been.

Astonishingly, there was more.

The NASA plan also called for an Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) “Space Tug,” which was to be reusable (of course), reducing costs and complexity while increasing the flexibility and the variety of payload configurations. The OTV would have conveniently been carried inside the aforementioned space shuttle (reuse and commonality and all that) and would have been deployed in space. The OTV could carry a Crew Module (CM), and even had a kit that would have converted it into a lunar lander! Orbital propellant replenishment would have been key to the reusability of spacecraft, so the plan was to refill the OTV propellant tanks whilst in orbit after attaching various payloads to the vehicle (see Image 2). After completing its mission, the spacecraft would return to its point of origin, and the cycle would start again; lather, rinse, repeat.
Image 2: Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) in various attire

The NASA plan called for vehicles that were capable of ferrying cargo and crew from LEO to Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), to Semi–Synchronous Earth Orbit (SSEO), to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), to Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GSO), to Low Lunar Orbit (LLO), to the Lunar Surface (LS), and beyond. It called for space stations virtually everywhere: in LEO, GEO, and LLO. This would truly have been a versatile vehicle that would have revolutionized the space industry and along the way, changed history.

Again, all of the aforementioned would have occurred well before the year 2001, allowing industry to capitalize on everything that NASA hath wrought. We would all be living in a science fiction paradise right now had their plan been allowed to bear fruit. The only thing that stopped it was the same behemoth that stalks all other serious space contenders: money. As was famously written in the gratifying book “The Right Stuff:” No bucks? No Buck Rogers.

This technical paper attempts to learn from history, dust off the old NASA designs and update them with modern technology and materials, and try to turn the illusive sci–fi dream into reality by providing a very detailed paradigm for an affordable, sustainable, routine, and profitable commercial tourism service. Unfortunately, because of the nature of sustainable spaceflight, this means a fairly substantial short–term upfront cost. Fortunately, however, this also means a tremendous reduction in long–term operational costs. Of course, this all assumes that we are capable of learning from past mistakes.

Once we learn our lesson and the off–world infrastructure is in place and fully functional, the conquering of cislunar space will begin in earnest, and the human race will embark on its greatest adventure as it takes the first feeble steps in becoming a true spacefaring species.